Despite the old saying -- "sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never harm me" -- words can be very dangerous. As Elgin says:
Hostile language -- often called verbal abuse -- is one of the worst problems people face today. Hostile language is as dangerous to health and well-being as toxic waste, not only because of its own destructive nature but because it so often escalates into physical violence.
She also emphasizes, as I do, that most of us rarely need physical self defense. But, she observes:
that doesn't mean that you never are involved in conflict. On the contrary! Unless you're very unusual, not a day goes by that you don't find yourself fighting with other people.
Here's an overview of the Gentle Art of Verbal Self Defense system. You can find information about Elgin's newsletters and links to Elgin's books in print (including her science fiction and poetry as well as her verbal self defense books) here. She blogs at Ozarque's Journal and frequently discusses verbal self defense on her blog. She also presents seminars.
I can't emphasize enough how important it is to learn to respond effectively to verbal abuse without escalating conflict. It's basic self defense. And like all the other skills of self defense, it's something you can learn.