In the 20 June Chronicle of Higher Education, Jerome Neu, a scholar of insults, was asked how academics insult each other. The (vague) answer had to do with subtle insults about intelligence and "other things that may not be such points of pride elsewhere."
Does the fact that I don't know what those other points of pride might be mean that I am stupid? Go ahead and insult me, just be subtle about it, please.
In fact, I can make some educated guesses about the academic PoP's. Perhaps those points of pride involve the number and funding level of your grants; the value of your h-index; the impact factor of the journals in which you publish; and the ranking of your department/institution. I can think of others -- e.g. the quantity and quality of your honors and awards; the presence or absence of a personal administrative assistant; and/or the make and model of the espresso machine in your office -- but these might not be quite so specific to academia.
For those in the humanities, there are probably all sorts of subtle insults one can attempt based on the prestige of one's book publisher or the number of digits in one's Amazon.com sales rank.
Sometimes the gender, seniority, and other characteristics of the insulter dramatically influence whether a particular insult is effective.
Last year I had the evil pleasure of watching my most obnoxious colleague be verbally eviscerated by a not-subtle insult at a faculty meeting. If I had made the exact same statement, my colleagues would have labeled me as hysterical and mean, but it was devastating and effective coming from a distinguished senior colleague (who has several offices, an administrative assistant or two, lots of grants, and who recently won a major award).
The obnoxious colleague, previously described in this blog in the context of his offensive behavior towards women faculty and students, had been given a position of responsibility, and was poised to wreak havoc on some important aspects of the educational mission of the department. He presented his ghastly plan, and a few of us started to object to certain features of it, but our objections were swatted down. Then the Distinguished One proclaimed to the Obnoxious One:
You have a 19th century view of science.
And that was enough to kill the plan.
8 years ago