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Illustration by nuglybird.

If ‘bitchy’ were a fruit, it’d be a lemon.

Sour, acidic and sharp.

And if ‘sassy’ were a fruit, it’d be a peach.

Sweet and tangy. Still sour, but only just barely – and usually in a good way.

Image credit: Some ecards.
Although often assumed to be two sides of the same coin, given that they share similar qualities of being blunt, honest, and unapologetic, there are fundamental differences between someone who is sassy and someone who is just plain bitchy.

Lemons and peaches aside, being a bitch is easy.

At its root, bitchiness is driven by emotion. It’s a knee-jerk reaction to something or someone you dislike or disagree with. As such, the things that bitchy people say and do often come across as crass, unrefined, and unnecessary.

Being sassy, on the other hand, is hard. It also takes practice.

It’s a character trait that comes with age and experience. A sassy person knows just how to balance their opinions with the right amount of wit and intelligence. As Andrea Arrizza from the Elite Daily puts it, “Just like how you learn to think before you talk, you acquire the skills of speaking your mind, but in a less childish and overt manner.”

Bitchy, it seems, is the less mature and intelligent cousin of sassy.

A sassy person isn’t hard-hitting but rather, witty and humourous.

But this still doesn’t explain what exactly makes something sassy rather than bitchy.

Well, this depends very much on what is being said, how it’s being said, and who says it.

Let’s start with the what.

What you say, makes all the difference between being branded a bitch, or a sassy individual.

An emotional bitch would not hesitate to tear into someone else. Employing a mixture of personal attacks and a choice selection of expletives, a bitchy person does not hold back.

A bitch would say, “Your singing sucks balls. Just stop.”

Or “[the media] think it’s so easy, you know, like holding a pen and writing a few articles, and get the signalling done…we can ask the reporter to run the train system.”

Whether you’re just an innocent bystander or the one being bitched about, these caustic words can easily provoke. While it’s true that in this day and age, it’s practically impossible to not offend someone, bitchiness takes it to the next level because it’s often ignorant and dismissive.

This is where sassiness makes all the difference.

A sassy person isn’t hard-hitting but rather, witty and humourous.

This is used to their advantage, to help mask any offensive undertones in their remarks. And rather than state their opinions outright, sassy people tend to disguise it as a statement of fact or question.

They would say, “You literally just brought the roof down with your singing. Do you maybe want to take a short rest?”

If executed well, a sassy person’s words can incite laughter and thereby allow for their opinions to be more warmly accepted. More importantly, if you listen closely enough, sass almost sounds like it cares about you. You can almost hear it whispering: “You’d better to listen to me, because this is for your own good.”

Image credit: Some ecards.
But words alone aren’t enough to make something or someone sassy or bitchy. You’ve also got to consider the delivery, or more precisely, how it’s being said.

It’s all about tone, body language, and timing.

When someone is being sassy, their demeanour is cool, confident, and cheeky. They’re measured, yet playful. Sassiness, being a learned characteristic, requires the sassy individual to know exactly what he or she is doing and be in control of the situation at all times.

Body language too, is a clear differentiator between a sassy and bitchy act. The silent signals that people give off through bodily movements and facial expressions are a dead giveaway as to how they’re feeling.

When someone is sassy, they may not be snapping their fingers in a Z formation but chances are their eyebrows are raised, with a little side-eye action going on and a hint of a smirk on their lips. Think Nicki Minaj.

All this culminates in the delivery of your sassy remark at the perfect moment. Everyone loves a bit of sass but it’s also true that too much of a good thing can be a bad thing. Sass is thus best served in small amounts, and like the punchline of a joke, dealt only at the most opportune moment: when people are least expecting it.

Conversely, when someone is being bitchy, their tone is typically irate and bitter, reflective of the fact that their bitchiness is likely to be driven by feelings of entitled irritation.

Aggressiveness and intimidation are on the menu as well. Bitchy people don’t want you policing their behaviour, they want you to agree and join them in their bitch-fest.

And when someone is being bitchy, you can bet that their lips are pursed, their eyes are rolling, and their arms are crossed. A perfect picture of pissiness.

There is no perfect moment when it comes to being bitchy. Bitchiness doesn’t and shouldn’t have to wait. It’s evergreen, eternal and can happen 24/7, 365, rain or shine.

It’s all about tone, body language and timing. 

Finally, what distinguishes ‘sassy’ from ‘bitchy’ depends very much on who you are (or who others perceive you to be) as a person.  

If people perceive you as insecure, then your comment on some girl being ugly is going to seem more bitchy than sassy. If there’s bad blood between you and someone (think Goh Chok Tong and the Worker’s Party), then regardless of what you say about him/her, it’s probably going to sound bitchy to everyone else.

No amount of wit, body language or tone can save you then.

Conversely, if people see you and him/her as great friends, or if you’re just someone people largely respect, then you can probably pass off just about anything you say about them as sassy rather than bitchy (think Chan Chun Sing’s Mothership interview regarding fellow ministers).  

You’ll get away with it, because you’ve ‘earned’ the right to.

It’s unfair but that’s life. And until mind control is invented, there’s nothing much you can do other than to be mindful of who you choose to poke fun at.

As much as some people claim to be otherwise, no one is born inherently bitchy or sassy.  Rather, both are behaviours that we can choose to adopt or avoid.

Of course, this is easier said than done. Had a bad day? Train broke down? Can’t hold back the bitch inside you? Then so be it.

Just stop saying things like, “I’m not bitchy, I’m sassy.”

If you have to say that, you’re probably being a bitch.

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