Some Good Slow Burns For When You Need Them

Image: Annie Roi

I learned the gentle art of the slow burn from my grandmother. She was an extremely nice person, but even nice old Catholic ladies called Jean need to cut loose every once in a while. She was so good at it, man. She made absolute hay, for instance, with the word “extraordinary.” Like this:

“They were playing the most extraordinary music”

Translation: the music was terrible and unsuitable for the occasion).

“She was wearing the most extraordinary dress

Translation: the dress was bad and do I even need to say anything about her shoes no I do not.

“The speech he gave was quite extraordinary”

Translation: he was so drunk lolol.

She was also a skilled handler of phrases such as “good heavens” and “goodness me.” Sometimes just “goodness.” When someone was being nasty or rude around her, she’d just whip out a single “Good heavens,” and they would be shamed immediately into silence. She has passed this ability onto my father, whose occasional use of the words “Gee whiz” have been known to stop me in my tracks. Gee whiz. What is more benign and nerdish than that? NOTHING. It is powerfully effective nonetheless. I was once in a high, high temper, just livid, and was giving vent to my feelings by criticizing someone who had done literally nothing wrong except be in my line of vision. I was going on and ON about it, and I could feel myself getting carried away, getting all vicious and bad, but I didn’t know how to stop. My dad watched me as I dug myself deeper and deeper, and then said just “Gee whiz, Rosie.” I stopped IMMEDIATELY, and lay awake for many nights afterwards thinking about what a terrible person I was. Such is the power of the slow burn.

The qualities of a truly good slow burn are as follows:

Plausible deniability

People think you need to come out guns blazing. This is not what a slow burn is about, at all. A proper slow burn only roosts in the mind of the recipient like two hours after it has been delivered. Even then, it’s doubtful. Were you being mean, or are they just being paranoid? Were you sassing them, or are they just oversensitive? A good slow burn will not hurt the recipient so much as unsettle them. (It is similar in this respect to the Zizek maneuver.)

Take it easy

You’re not a monster. This is just for when someone has irritated you a bit, has wronged you in some minor way. If you are sincerely pissed with someone, then a slow burn is not the answer.

If you are a 100% saintly angel who never gets cross with anyone and who wishes only to put out good vibes at all times, then these tips are not for you. For the rest of us, though, here are some good slow burns for when you need them:

  • All apparently neutral expressions of astonishment are useful. The dorkier the better. These include: Good heavens, goodness me, gee whiz, gee whiskers, wow, wow weird, jeepers, jeez etc.
  • Similarly: Right, OK, OK then (careful with this one), Ya, Yeah, peace emoji (again, very careful), Sure, It’s ok, Chill.
  • My brother taught me this one: “He/she has a very powerful energy.” Is it a compliment? Is it a devastating insult? It’s a slow burn, is what it is. Also good is “She/he was giving off a very strong vibration.” What does it mean? Is it bad? Is it good?
  • An old school friend taught me this one, to be delivered when you bump into someone you h8 at a party: “Wow, you look so fancy!” Try it! It’s very savage.
  • Everyone knows this one, to be delivered the morning after a party, via text: “How are you feeling?” AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAOWH.
  • Everyone knows this one too: “That’s so interesting” and then NOTHING ELSE AFTER THAT.

We need to be kept on our toes, as a species. We need from time to time to feel our eyes narrowing, to wonder if someone is having a go at us. Slow burns are the answer. They will keep us all vital and alive.