It occured to me this afternoon that there is a superlative Kiwi insult. I heard someone use it a few days ago and it’s rankled me ever since, because it’s ubiquitous but superbly subtle.

And the word is ‘pathetic’.

Describing someone as pah-thetic, but done in just the right tone, is a serious insult, and is not to be trifled with. It sums up everything that a good New Zealander is not. It makes a person seem like they’re not in control of their own destiny, it makes them fawning or weak, and it makes them seem beneath sympathy.

The word is also easy to use without impact. For instance I’ve heard political leaders using it and they can’t convey quite the same derision an ordinary person does. This appears to be because the more you know the subject of the insult, the deeper it cuts.

So I’ve spent the last few days wondering, how would a Kiwi increase the impact of a superlative adjective like this?

Maybe, “sheer pathetic”.