23 Mar

The power of words: a well-thought-through threat

For some unknown reason, an incident popped into my head, from about 12 years ago, illustrating the power of words when used sparingly.

I was a student, in Manchester, and I was at a drum n bass night in a sweatbox of a club (I know, I know, but it was over a decade ago…). The DJ playing on the night was Bryan Gee, alongside Tonn Piper (MC)

My friend was really into drum n bass, went to many events, and knew DJs and MCs on the scene quite well, so she was talking to Tonn Piper at the DJ booth.
Unfortunately, some young oik wandered up to the booth and started trying to butt in on the conversation and get my friend interested in him.
Despite not getting much feedback, this young lad persisted until Tonn Piper stopped talking to my friend, turned to the lad and simply said, sternly: ‘listen son, this ain’t a school dance’.
The lad stepped down immediately, tongue-tied, and wandered off.

Those seven words – ‘listen son, this ain’t a school dance’ – constitute the best/most effective threat I’ve ever heard, not least as it wasn’t actually a direct threat as such: it was a step removed.

Firstly, this was said by a well-respected MC, and it was (in part) his night at that club: he already carried clout in general, but particularly at his own event.
Secondly, he was quite a big guy: you wouldn’t start on him unless you were sure you could finish the job.

The opening two words – ‘listen son’ – work perfectly with the points above, but were also deliberately condescending, as in: ‘look mate, you’re harassing this lady and she’s not interested: I can tell from years of experience’ and ‘look mate, stop being a prat. Everyone else here is acting like an adult. Do the same’.

‘…this ain’t a school dance’ simply hammered home the message ‘don’t act like a child here, just because this is a lively club night’ and ‘you’re not going to get the attention of women by acting like that’.

What I find particularly interesting though, was that this was a very subtle threat:  a threat without quite making one.
The MC didn’t imply violence of any kind, but he did imply (in part, by his tone, which obviously had to be heard at the time) that the young lad was acting like a bit of an idiot and that this was his chance to stop behaving like that. It was a warning shot.
It diffused the situation without the need for any further conversation, and had far more impact than ‘listen mate, go away’ or ‘do you want to get chucked out?’ or ‘do you want a slap?’

Words – when used sparingly – can have an instant impact: it just depends who is saying them and how.


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