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I've always wondered about this exchange of dialogue in "Pulp Fiction":

Butch: You lookin' at something, friend?

Vincent: You ain't my friend, Palooka.

Butch: What's that?

Vincent: I think you heard me just fine, Punchy.

What is Vincent's problem with Butch?

Is this just foreshadowing -- in other words, a set-up for the scene later in which Butch kills Vincent? Is it demonstration of Vincent's lousy personality? Or is there some plot element I'm missing?

side note: While searching Google, I came across the intriguing idea that after the dialogue above, Butch keyed Vincent's car (something Vincent complains about in another part of the movie)

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5 Answers 5

The Urban Dictionary defines palooka as "A fighter who isn't any good, or takes a dive." Marsellus had summoned Butch to tell him to throw the upcoming fight. That's when he told him "The night of the fight, you may feel a slight sting. That's pride fucking with you. Fuck pride. Pride only hurts. It never helps."

Vincent was showing his disdain for a fighter who takes a dive.

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I think that Butch was just in the wrong place at the wrong time for Vince.

Vince had had a exchange with about what he was going to do with Marsellus's wife which had angered him, the barman realised this and quickly walked away.

Vince was angry and took it out on Butch, he would have had a go at anyone else who caught his eye.

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In short, Vincent knew that Butch was a boxer who would be throwing a fight. Vincent was having a bad day and was merely responding to Butch's staring at Vincent for too long while buying a pack of Red Apple cigarettes from English Dave. It's conceivable that Vincent would not like someone who would throw a fight, but there's no evidence in the screenplay or the movie to suggest that.

We know that Vincent knows that Butch is a boxer when he calls him Palooka. Joe Palooka was a boxer in a comic strip in the 1930s.

We know that Vincent knows that Butch is supposed to throw the fight when he calls him "Punchy". In the 1949 film noir The Set-Up, Stoker Thompson is a 35-year-old has-been boxer who is supposed to throw the fight in the fourth round. (In Pulp Fiction, the fight is supposed to be thrown in the fifth round.)

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How does Vincent know Butch is going to throw the fight? I don't think Vincent heard Butch talking to Marcellus. –  Shiz Z. Oct 23 '13 at 7:23
    
I believe your question is really "how did Vincent LEARN that Butch is going to throw the fight". There is no evidence in the screenplay or movie to suggest HOW he came about this information. –  Evik James Oct 23 '13 at 15:00
    
Your answer above says "Vincent knew that Butch was a boxer who would be throwing a fight." I'm asking what evidence are you basing that on? Clearly Vincent knew Butch was a boxer -- but what evidence is there that Vincent knew Butch was going to throw the fight? –  Shiz Z. Oct 23 '13 at 17:14
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Shane, Vincent calls Butch "Punchy". Stoker Thompson is a has-been boxer who is supposed to throw a fight who is called "Punchy" by his trainer in The Set-Up . I don't know of any evidence beyond that simple statement. –  Evik James Oct 23 '13 at 18:13

Ok, so the general feeling about this is that Vincent was in a bad mood and was just having a pop for no real reason. Some way or another he was aware of Butch's deal with MW and decided to mouth off about it to release some of his anger and frustration.

But I believe there is an important reason for QT adding this little exchange in, mightily important in fact.

Butch has taken his cash off MW and is prepared to throw the fight. Throughout the whole chat with MW he shows no emotion, just a cool, laid back attitude. He has nothing against MW and just wants to do his job and collect his cash.

However, after the slur from Vincent, look at his reaction again. His face drops, he is shaken, his pride hurt to the core. He then watches intently as Vincent is welcomed by MW with a big double hug. Vincent is obviously MW's main man. Butch continues to throw glances and is obviously still hurt and deep in thought. There is no doubt in my mind that in that moment he makes the decision not to throw the fight. He has now associated all his hurt and anger from Vincent's insult with MW. Maybe he's thinking about all that talk of pride that MW has just spouted, how it means nothing, how he should ignore it, yet all the while he has probably been laughing about him with Vincent.

Now he's angry, angry with both of them, hurt and his pride already dented before the fight has even begun. No, now he will not throw the fight. He'll prove Vincent wrong and make fools out of both him and MW.

This 10 second piece of the movie is possibly the most important of all, as it sets in motion a dramatic sequence of events that leads to life changing consequences for all three characters.

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This is the way I've always seen that scene. Q Tarantino NEVER does something for no reason, in any of his movies. The amount of thought he puts into even connecting his double universes is astounding. –  CGCampbell Jun 21 at 23:49
    
+1 I just re-watched the scene (youtube.com/watch?v=OYDF666wtrc) and your answer makes perfect sense. After the exchange, Butch definitely watches Vincent and Marcellus with a look on his face like he is making his mind up to stick it to them. But this background does not really answer in-universe question "Why does Vincent diss Butch?" –  Shiz Z. Jun 23 at 17:14
    
You're right, Shiz, it does not really answer the question. I've stayed real-world and only explained why QT has written this bit in. –  Chris Magill Jun 23 at 22:12
    
But, going in-universe, look at the morning that Vincent has just had to earn his pay. Stared down the barrel of a gun twice, narrowly avoiding death the first time. Had blood, brains and bone spattered all over his face. Furthermore, he has the looming, unenviable duty of taking care of Mia for an evening. Compare that to Butch, who to earn his money from Marsellus has simply to fall down. Check out the look he gives Butch. It's one of complete disdain. He is a loser, a cheat, a 'Palooka'. Vincent feels he is morally better, and being a straight talking guy, lets Butch know this. –  Chris Magill Jun 23 at 23:04

i always assumed that vincent dislikes butch because he knows he's taking a dive for money.

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Hi marc and welcome to the site. This answer is very subjective and doesn't really contain the detail we like to see in answers. Consider adding more information (with references) or posting this as a comment. For more information, take the Tour under the Help menu. –  Andrew Martin Mar 20 at 19:00

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