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"I See You Can't Take A Joke."

Humor is usually an excellent icebreaker, but at other times, it can strike at the heart of someone's vulnerabilities. Some so-called jokes leave you experiencing a whirlwind of emotions.

Jokes are meant to be funny, but who finds them funny or distasteful is subjective. There is a Jamaican proverb, "Frog seh wat is joke fi yuh a death to mi." In short, it is translated to mean what is funny to you may not be funny to someone else.

I would venture to say other cultures may have similar sayings that caution against statements made in jest without being mindful of the joke's impact on the other person.

Some people are so adept at disguising put-downs as a joke. It is challenging to understand their intent because they use ambiguous language. They are passive-aggressive and would instead have you believe their "joke" is friendly fire when it comes from a place of malice. This way, they can avoid a confrontation and seek refuge by saying, "It's just a joke." The "joke" can be a subtle bullying tactic.

Not only are they skilled in using jokes as a put-down, but they know how to make you think or even feel like your response to their "joke" is an overreaction. Some may attempt to defend their intent rather than how their words affected the other person. They may respond with statements like:

  • "Aren't you a little sensitive today?"

  • "You can't take a joke?"

  • "I was only kidding."

  • "You should be able to take a joke."

  • "You should know my personality by now."

  • "I can't believe you would think I'd make a malicious joke about you."

  • "It's just a joke."

  • "It's a joke; get over it."

  • "You should know I would never do anything to hurt you intentionally."

When someone uses humor as a put-down towards you, it is not always easy to nod, smile, or respond assertively because you are caught off guard. Consequently, you feel confused because you are unsure of what happened to you. If the person making the barb does it frequently, you may feel the urge to retaliate immediately with a few precision strikes for the other person to discern precisely what you are feeling.

Some put-downs can seem innocent on the surface; you may be unable to tell if it is a joke, a subtle barb, or constructive feedback. They leave you feeling lost, not knowing where to turn, and unbalanced, like the rug was pulled from under you. Put-downs happen in all types of settings and even among professionals and their areas of specialization.

Still, it is pertinent to remember when you are feeling embarrassed, annoyed, or attacked; it might not be the best time to fight back with brimstone and fire. Some nifty retorts that may be useful at the moment are:

  • "You are so right, that is so typical of me."

  • "I appreciate you bringing that to my attention."

  • "Yup, you got me."

  • "Touché."

  • "Oh, not again; I must be an easy target."

  • "That's not something I would've expected from you."

  • "I do not think you intended to insult me, but please help me better understand your point."

  • "I don't get it, what do you mean when you say..."

How you respond to these "jokes" is your choice, but be mindful of your responses and the associated outcomes. It is also crucial that you examine if you present as an easy target or, in the past, you were too accepting of these "jokes" that were made in poor taste. Whatever the reason, you must stand up against these so-called "jokes," should you find them offensive.

Empowering Minds. Inspiring Lives.


ARISTIDES. (1987). Life and Letters: The gentle art of the resounding put-down. The American Scholar, 56(3), 311-318. http.//

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