The Art of the Insult

As I read the comment section after almost any internet news story, I find that most exchanges reduce themselves to heated, foul-mouthed obscene curses.  It reminds me that there once existed an earlier time of glorious insults before the English language got boiled down to four letter words.  One of the most glorious exchange of insults occurred between Lady Astor and Winston Churchill.

Lady Astor:  “If you were my husband I’d poison your tea.”
Churchill:  “If you were my wife, I’d drink it.”

Churchill, in fact, should be placed on the all-star list of insulters.  He spared neither friend nor foe:

George Bernard Shaw in a telegram to Churchill:  “I am enclosing two tickets to the first night of my new play; bring a friend…. if you have one.”
Churchill, in response:  “Cannot possibly attend first night, will attend second… if there is one.”

“[He is] a modest little person, with much to be modest about.”

“He has all the virtues I dislike and none of the vices I admire.”

He called his opponent Clement Atlee “a tardy little marionette” and “a sheep in sheep’s clothing.”

In modern political circles, there is a dearth of clever biting phrases.  And this is despite the evidence that clever insults originated from unlikely sources; from Sam Houston – “He has all the characteristics of a dog except loyalty” – to Gerald Ford – “Ronald Reagan doesn’t dye his hair, he’s just prematurely orange.”

Somehow, the ability to provide a clever insult has gone by the wayside.  It is not for lack of availability.  The internet alone gains us easy access to numerous forms of insults.  For example, there is not only Glorious Insults but also The Art of Insulting, The Art of South African Insults, The Art of Australian Insults, The Elizabethan Insult and The Shakespearian Insulter which generates random insults from Shakespeare’s works.  “Thou mewling folly-fallen vassal!”  “Thou map of woe!”  “Thou gleeking sheep-biting hedge-pig!”  Of course, telling a six foot eight three hundred pound bouncer that he is gleeking sheep-biting hedge-pig may result in you becoming a mewling folly-fallen vassal.

The next time you need a clever quip, retort or comeback, throw away your phrasebook of obscenities and use one of these:

“He has no enemies, but is intensely disliked by his friends.” –  Oscar Wilde

“I feel so miserable without you; it’s almost like having you here.” – Stephen Bishop

“He is not only dull himself; he is the cause of dullness in others.” – Samuel Johnson

“He loves nature in spite of what it did to him.” – Forrest Tuckeruncl

“His mother should have thrown him away and kept the stork.” –  Mae West

 “The more I think of you, the less I think of you.” –  Henny Youngman

And finally,

“I’ve had a perfectly wonderful evening. But this wasn’t it.” –  Groucho Marx

10 thoughts on “The Art of the Insult

  1. This was wonderful! I agree that a surgically-sharp insult beats the mind-numbing jargon of today’s public discourse. May I suggest a great book — if you haven’t checked it out already — “The Guinness Book of Poisonous Quotes.” Full of juicy stuff.
    One of my favorite quotes (not in the book) is from Dorothy Parker, always good for a great slam: “If you want to know what God thinks of money, just look at who he gave it to.”

    • Thank you for the comments and suggestion, [The] Sandwich Lady. I’m all for poisonous quotes and will search out the book.
      One of my favorite Dorothy Parker quotes is “If you have nothing nice to say about someone, then come sit by me.”

  2. Loved this post. The Harry Youngman and Groucho Marx quotes are my favorite. Highbrow retorts are so much more effective (and original) than using a sting of expletives or the words “Your mom.”

  3. Bullocks and rubbish. Pfft. Or.

    “I’d call him a sadistic, hippophilic necrophile, but that would be beating a dead horse.” – Woody Allen.

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