Thursday, August 24, 2017

When insults had class

When I was in college, I met a young nun who had a wicked sense of humor. One day she handed me a business card she liked to keep on hand. The card was plain white with elegant black script stating: "You are cordially invited to the theological place of eternal punishment."

Tact, we are told, is the ability to tell someone to go to the "theological place of eternal punishment" in such a way that they look forward to the trip.

In a society where four-letter words are routinely used to describe everything from groceries to clothing -- in others, used so often they no longer shock -- it takes class to insult someone without reducing their vocabulary to the gutter.

Don is fond of a clip from a 1973 film called "Brothers O'Toole" in which the indomitable John Astin accidentally wins a "spittin', belchin' and cussin' contest" by embarking on an epic tirade -- all without resorting to gutter language:

The king of no-swear insults is, of course, Shakespeare. Consider some of these beauties:
  • "Away, you starvelling, you elf-skin, you dried neat’s-tongue, bull’s-pizzle, you stock-fish!"
  • "His wit’s as thick as a Tewkesbury mustard."
  • "I’ll beat thee, but I would infect my hands."
  • "The rankest compound of villainous smell that ever offended nostril."

Anyway, this is all a lead-up to a humorous email I received from a reader on "really great insults" in which he noted: "I think we do not hear any of this quality anymore because those that deserve to be thus insulted do not have the intellect and class to comprehend the meaning, after all of those years of government schooling."

So without further ado, here's a list called "When Insults Had Class":
  • A member of Parliament to Disraeli: "Sir, you will either die on the gallows or of some unspeakable disease.” "That depends, Sir, " said Disraeli, "whether I embrace your policies or your mistress."
  • "He had delusions of adequacy." - Walter Kerr
  • "He has all the virtues I dislike and none of the vices I admire." - Winston Churchill
  • "I have never killed a man, but I have read many obituaries with great pleasure." - Clarence Darrow
  • "He has never been known to use a word that might send a reader to the dictionary." - William Faulkner about Ernest Hemingway)
  • "Thank you for sending me a copy of your book; I'll waste no time reading it." - Moses Hadas
  • "I didn't attend the funeral, but I sent a nice letter saying I approved of it." - Mark Twain
  • "He has no enemies, but is intensely disliked by his friends." - Oscar Wilde
  • "I am enclosing two tickets to the first night of my new play; bring a friend, if you have one." - George Bernard Shaw to Winston Churchill
  • "Cannot possibly attend first night, will attend second... if there is one." - Winston Churchill, in response
  • "I feel so miserable without you; it's almost like having you here." - Stephen Bishop
  • "He is a self-made man and worships his creator." - John Bright
  • "I've just learned about his illness. Let's hope it's nothing trivial." - Irvin S. Cobb
  • "He is not only dull himself; he is the cause of dullness in others." - Samuel Johnson
  • "He is simply a shiver looking for a spine to run up." - Paul Keating
  • "In order to avoid being called a flirt, she always yielded easily." - Charles, Count Talleyrand
  • "He loves nature in spite of what it did to him." - Forrest Tucker
  • "Why do you sit there looking like an envelope without any address on it?" - Mark Twain
  • "His mother should have thrown him away and kept the stork." - Mae West
  • "Some cause happiness wherever they go; others, whenever they go." - Oscar Wilde
  • "He uses statistics as a drunken man uses lamp-posts ... for support rather than illumination." - Andrew Lang (1844-1912)
  • "He has Van Gogh's ear for music." - Billy Wilder
  • "I've had a perfectly wonderful evening. But I'm afraid this wasn't it." - Groucho Marx
Just something to make you all smile on this late summer day. Feel free to pitch in your favorite clean insults.


  1. He can breathe through his ears.

  2. Two that come to mind, both on the same theme are: "I'd like to help you out; which way did you come in." and "come back when you can't stay so long."

  3. Not an insult, but a few funny puns you might enjoy. Puns which can lead to insults. From the blog "Bluebird of Bitterness:

    hot cross puns

    Several of the attendees at a chess masters convention were loitering in the hotel lobby, bragging about their past victories. The hotel manager came over and asked them to disperse. When they wanted to know why, he informed them that the hotel rules strictly prohibited chess nuts boasting in an open foyer.

    ❧ ❧ ❧

    Everyone knows about William Tell’s accomplishments as an archer. However, historians have recently learned that in addition to archery, Tell also excelled at bowling, a sport he participated in regularly with his wife and children. But sadly, all the league records have been lost, so we’ll never know for whom the Tells bowled.

    ❧ ❧ ❧

    A musician on a cruise ship had trouble keeping time with the rest of the orchestra. Finally, the conductor said, “Look, either you learn to keep time or I’m going to throw you overboard. It’s up to you — sync or swim.”

    ❧ ❧ ❧

    Three young Indian braves got married, and each built a teepee for his new bride. The first made a teepee from antelope hide, the second made a teepee from buffalo hide, and the third made a teepee from hippopotamus hide. Nine months later, the squaw in the antelope teepee had a baby boy, the squaw in the buffalo teepee had a baby girl, and the squaw in the hippopotamus teepee had twins — which only goes to show that the squaw of the hippopotamus is equal to the sum of the squaws of the other two hides.

    ❧ ❧ ❧

    A single mother with three young children had to juggle several part-time jobs while attending college to get her degree. She managed to survive it all with the help of an espresso machine given to her by a sympathetic friend. After four years of heroic effort, she graduated, summa cum latte.

    ❧ ❧ ❧

    Larry was spending the summer working on a cattle ranch in Nebraska, while his girlfriend Katie was teaching horseback riding at a summer camp in Kentucky. At the beginning of the summer, Larry wrote to Katie every day, telling her how much he missed her and how eagerly he looked forward to seeing her again when the summer was over. But when Larry became friends with Edith, the rancher’s daughter, he suddenly became a lot less lonely, and his letters to Katie became less frequent. When the summer came to an end, Larry found himself torn between his desire to see his girlfriend again, and his sadness over having to leave the rancher’s daughter. But he was smart enough to know that you can’t have your Kate and Edith, too.

    1. Excellent! Chuckled out loud!

  4. In response to myself being told that i was not qualified supposedly for a training position at an old job I quipped back "I don't believe you're qualified to make that decision" to my boss. Haha. Didn't even get fired but you could hear his jaw hit the floor.

  5. When leaving an evening of hospitality I often say, "It was a lovely evening, I enjoyed being had."

  6. Those were great. Thank you for the laugh on a Friday morning!

  7. Rather than create insults, I've found it is more fun deflecting them.
    Montana Guy

  8. You can always tell a democrat, you just can't tell them much.

  9. Post Alley CrackpotAugust 25, 2017 at 8:27 PM

    Anonymous: I wish he'd stop breathing through his ears -- the dogs keep barking at the whistling sound he makes.

  10. Norman MacLean (of A River Runs Through It fame) for such a small catalog of books, is still one of my favorite writers, and a known bitter curmudgeon. The attached link contains his reply to a former rejection letter. Foul language warning, contains a 4 letter word!! however I have always enjoyed the pace and meatiness in which he states his point of view on the matter...

  11. Van Gogh ran out of things to say and shot himself, but you, you just keep going.

    Paul Simon intro of Les Brown, "He wrote a book that once you put it down, you can't pick it up again."

  12. You have created an ingenious solution to a nonexistent problem

  13. Lady Astor: "Winston, if I were your wife I'd put poison in your coffee."

    Winston Churchill: "Nancy, if I were your husband I'd drink it."

  14. A Supervisor asked a new employee, "When you applied for this job, were you looking for work?" The employee responded that he was, to which the Supervisor shot back, "Well you found it, how about doing it."