The Basics of Flyting

By J. A. Coburn

A time-honored tradition of the past most notably from Albion according to writings. However, it must be mentioned this tradition extends into the rest of the Hyperborean peoples and customs as well, though different words might be used to describe the same custom. While the form may vary from region to region the intention is the same. A battle of both wit and word!

The battle of wit to prove one’s cunning and word as the weapon to prove one’s intellect. The word aspect of the contest however is not dependent on a large or obscure vocabulary as those who witness the battle must understand what is being said. Instead, the word aspect of the battle is the use of the words not their complexity, poetic and rhythmic, descriptive, and of course as always, a crowd favorite is double meanings. These competitions might be poetic or verse or the favorite of all of us low born is the flyting or flinging of insults.

The rules of these games might vary region to region as well as from time period to time period depending on what was in fashion during that particular time in that particular place. As to who is the victor and who is the loser in these competitions the reasoning may vary but the intention remains the same. As, I am sure; Someone once said, “We shall duel to the wit!”. The victor often declared by the crowd or by concession of one participant declaring the other victor finding himself at a loss of words unable to continue the fight admirably. Another important fact to raise here is a flyting competition need not always be taken seriously but must be seriously taken as they would often be spontaneously initiated at large gatherings such as feasts or celebrations, being boisterously declared with the first rhythmic utterance usually leveled in jest.

Now as has been stated these battles of wit and word may take several forms; in this article as indicated by the title we shall focus on the flyting. In many ways this particular game of serious jest still continues to this day and is often referred to as “Giving him shit” or “Ribbing” where two or more participants fling insults at each other in jest. Though it must be mentioned that the talent for such games has in general long fled our people and so we must take it upon ourselves to rediscover this talent. And truly it is a talent as you will soon discover. In addition, there is in the loosest sense a pointing system however it is a pointing system that does not possess math or even actual points. Much like gallows humor flyting is more about winning the crowd.

The rules possess a simple yet complex beauty to them.

First and probably most importantly the jabs or insults must be true as there is no room for lying in a contest of flyting. Truth after all is both the keenest of weapons as well as the basis of comedy upon which true wit is built. A player might exaggerate or embellish even elaborate upon the truth, but each pass must at its core be true though the expression might be more or less than true.

The second rule is also very simple yet might become very difficult to uphold if you find yourself sparring with one seasoned in flyting. You must take turns. You cannot interrupt or cut your opponent off and must remain calm. To interrupt or to lose your temper is to lose the contest of wits. So, the custom is to stand and grin at your opponent in the most nonchalant and arrogant way possible as if you have not a care in the world.

Rule three is also pretty simple in concept. The retort must be returned in short order taking no more than the space of two or three breaths to begin the retort. The longer the time for the response the less power it has and can indeed indicate a lack of wit. One must be able to think on their feet and instantly improvise thus the quick retort, not the speed of the speech but the length of time to the speaking is of utmost importance.

The rest of the rules are not rules so much, as they are guidelines for a good performance and do not doubt flyting is a performance. To doubt or fail in the performance aspect of flyting will all but ensure a loss of the contest. A good performance will highlight and showcase your wit as well as your grasp and understanding of language, not only the words but their meanings and implications. Good flyting is performed with a rhythmic cadence and if it can set to a rhyme all the better. In addition, while it is an insult game the insults cannot be direct as that too is an indication the speaker lacks wit and imagination while also having a poor grasp of language and its usage. Body language, tone of voice, confidence being bigger than life all add to the performance of the flyting. Remember performance is the key to winning. You might have the best of the language skills, the quickest wit, the most cutting of remarks yet! If you fail to win the audience, you will surely lose the contest. You must win the audience!

When it comes to flyting there is no such thing as a private contest. That is sparring or practicing. For true flyting there must be an abundance of witnesses who very well might end up participating or interfering. Which again is why performance is as important if not more important than the sentences uttered. The speaker must be able to take control of the situation from everyone present. His opponent as well as those present to command their attention, to guide their emotions through shock and awe and wonder at his magnificence! Should the participants of this contest lose control of the audience it will surely at best be declared a draw. Should they lose control of themselves then they will surely be considered the vanquished. However, should all the proper conditions be met through skill and eloquence then surely, he shall be crowned the victor.

Many people when they first attempt flyting will resort to low brow, low wit insults due to their limited understanding of insults as well as a lack of imagination and may very well resort to something along the lines of “You son of a bitch!” however this is merely aggressive and lacks any poetry or eloquence. Should however they open with something more like “You mewl like a wet pup whining after his mothers last tit.” Now you have painted a verbal picture of the opponent as a puppy that is scared and weak in addition to being the son of a bitch which is indeed a female dog.

Or you might wish to describe your opponent as “Yeah? Well, you are ugly and stupid!” this once again is not flyting but simply an insult the likes of which you might here children leveling at each other. Do not be the child. Instead, you might respond with a chuckle to the first onslaught and a grand gesture to pull the audience in while responding “Truly a pup like myself could never compare to one who is so grand as to possess the face of a mule and very quite nearly the intelligence to match!”. In this case you have taken control from the opponent by acknowledging his insult as well as playing off it; by using the word mule in place of mewl, as well as building up the insult to insinuate he has an inflated ego while not realizing himself to in actuality to be mentally inferior as well as ugly.

Then to remain with the school yard insults one might respond “At least I don’t stink like you. You smell like shit.” As one might notice by now there is a decided lack of flare to such a response that is not fitting in such a competition of wit. Instead, to shake his head as a mule might; again, acknowledging the slight offered by the opponent he might even stamp his foot in mocking display at being called a mule to then mockingly retort “Truly and truly I cannot compare to the groveling mutt that follows so shortly upon my rear that he finds himself crawling through my muck.”. Once again, this statement and the body language acknowledges the comment made but seconds before while playing it up for laughs then once again makes reference to previously calling his opponent the offspring of a female dog then builds upon it by describing his opponent as so small and insignificant as to be forced to crawl through the speaker’s dung. This also implies that his opponent stinks and sets up a possible later insult to clearly state it in some manner befitting the next round.

In this way round after round they will continue and attempt to win over the audience through comedy or simply dazzling them with the words spoken as well as the cadence and general performance with includes more than a little audacity. To insult in such a thoroughly descriptive manner without the need to resort to base insults that can be flung with little to no thought while delivering a physical performance on the fly. Well that my people does indeed require skill and finesse. True wit and cunning, quickness of mind and a kind of brutality that might indeed sharpen the minds of everyone involved. In addition, quite frankly. It is fun! A game worthy of our people! The ruthless and brutal nature of such a game fits our own ruthless and brutal nature which can be truly entertaining for both the participants as well as those who spectate.

I truly hope this inspires you to learn and practice this beloved custom of our people from long ago to breathe life back into what was discouraged in our people long ago, returning this wonderful expression of our frivolity to our people. To share it and elevate this custom once again into prominence in drinking houses and at back yard festivities everywhere once again.

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