What do these three things have in common: the recent Biden vs. Trump war of threatening words, the Dozens, and Inuit song duels? They’re all ways that people threaten each other in an almost-comical way, in which the real competition is about who is being the wittiest and boldest in speech. They are all substitutes for an actual physical fight and are also popular spectator sports.

That’s the way I see this:

[Biden and Trump], who have long engaged in schoolboy-style taunts, have taken it to a new level recently, with Biden boasting about how he would “beat the hell” out of Trump “behind the gym,” and Trump responding Thursday that if the two fought, Biden “would go down fast and hard, crying all the way.”

“Crazy Joe Biden is trying to act like a tough guy,” the president tweeted Thursday. “Actually, he is weak, both mentally and physically, and yet he threatens me, for the second time, with physical assault. He doesn’t know me, but he would go down fast and hard, crying all the way. Don’t threaten people Joe!”

Earlier this week, Biden – who has not ruled out a 2020 run for president – taunted Trump by telling University of Miami College Democrats that he could have taken the president in a high school fight.

“They asked me if I’d like to debate this gentleman, and I said, ‘No.’ I said, ‘If we were in high school, I’d take him behind the gym and beat the hell out of him,'” Biden said.

Trump is 71. Biden is 75.

Speakng of schoolyard taunts, Trump could correctly claim, “Well, he started it!”

I’ll pass on the opportunity to predict the outcome of that bout if it were to really get physical. Let’s just say I think it’s good that we’ll never have to witness the spectacle of these particular two old guys duking it out.

It all reminds me somewhat of several old traditions of trading verbal insults. The first is what’s known (or what used to be known; I’m not necessarily up-to-date on this) as the Dozens:

The first academic treatment of the Dozens was made in 1939 by Yale-based psychologist and social theorist John Dollard, who described the importance of the game among African-American males, and how it is generally played. Dollard’s description is considered pioneering and accurate. The Dozens is a “pattern of interactive insult” evident among all classes of African Americans, among males and females, children and adults.

Usually two participants engage in banter, but always in front of others, who instigate the participants to continue the game by making the insults worse. Frequently used topics among players who “play the Dozens” or are “put in the Dozens” are one’s opponent’s lack of intelligence, ugliness, alleged homosexuality, alleged incest, cowardice, poor hygiene, and exaggerations of physical defects, such as crossed eyes…

Participants in the Dozens are required to exhibit mental acuity and proficiency with words.

If you read the whole Wiki article, you probably can see the connection between The Dozens and rap music, which is a much later manifestation of a related impulse.

And then there’s the Inuit song duel tradition, one I learned about long ago in anthropology class:

Instead of fighting, two people who were angry with one another came before an audience and took turns singing songs that pointed out the others’ faults and weaknesses.

Encouraged by the hoots and hollers of the crowd, the singers tried to outdo one another by making the funniest insults.

Unfortunately, neither Trump nor Biden were all that witty in this particular exchange.

[Neo-neocon is a writer with degrees in law and family therapy, who blogs at neo-neocon.]