On the front page of the NYT sports section today: a piece (“The Last Word in Trash Talking”, by Greg Bishop) about Jets linebacker Bart Scott, who
talks trash freely and incessantly, all day, on any topic, on matters from petty to profound.
… Scott views trash talking as an art, or science. He has developed and refined his method. He has studied loquacious athletes [and pro wrestlers] from years past. And he has practiced, from the first day he tugged on a uniform all the way to Sunday, when he will unleash another torrent of mostly unprintable barbs on the Atlanta Falcons.
For Scott, trash talking is a weapon of intimidation, designed to throw opponents off balance. He starts with research on things he can use to distract them:
He scours ESPN, Google and scouting reports, which include pictures. He wants to understand the opponents he will talk to, understand what angers them, what makes them tick. He looks for police incidents, problems with wives or girlfriends, expanding stomachs, funny faces.
He then goes on to
mixing fact with fiction. Scott wants his barbs to be believable, but he often uses exaggerations, or lies disguised as truth, for maximum effect.
Scott is always prepared:
“I keep ammo on everybody, even if they never joked on me,” he said. “Because I will never be caught off-guard. No one will ever out-talk me. Ever.”
For obvious reasons, there aren’t many direct quotes in the story.
I don’t know if trash talking has been studied systematically, by sociolinguists, scholars of discourse, and the like. There’s a huge amount of material about verbal harassment, verbal abuse, and threats, but mostly from practical and legal standpoints.