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