Wednesday, May 11, 2011

We've Lost the Art of Insult

Would you have ever imagined the crude insulting remarks we hear from some of our elected leaders?  That someone would yell, "Liar" at the President of the United States during a State of the Union Address?  Have you taken even a short drive recently without seeing some gesture aimed at insulting another driver?

Most of our insults have denigrated to four-letter words and a few gestures.  Time was when our elected leaders went at it tooth and nail all day, but retained respect for those with dissenting views.  And the same Senators who stood on opposite sides of an issue during the day managed to sit down for drinks, dinner, and gracious conversation that same evening.

There are many ways to insult someone and time was when the insults were so beautifully said.  Winston Churchill is no doubt more famous for his "blood, toil, tears, and sweat" comments than for his insulting remarks.  But he was a master of them.

Photograph taken from Wikidpedia

Here are a few of my favorite Churchill insults:
Lady Astor once told Winston Churchill that if he were her husband, she would give him poison.
Churchill replied, "If you were my wife, I'd drink it."

On another occasion, Churchill said, "He has all the virtues I dislike and none of the vices I admire."

George Bernard Shaw sent Churchill tickets to a new play, explaining that he was sending two tickets so that Churchill could take a friend, "...if you have one" he added.
Churchill resonded, "Cannot possibly attend first night, will attend second...if there is one."

Here are a few of my favorite insults:

A member of Parliament said that Disraeli would either die on the gallows or of some unspeakable disease.  Disraeli responded, "That depends, Sir, whether I embrace your policies or your mistress."

Irvin Cobb:  "I've just learned of his illness.  Let's hope it is nothing trivial."

Mae West:  "His mother should have thrown him away and kept the stork."

Oscar Wilde:  "Some cause happiness wherever they go; others, whenever they go."

Groucho Marx:  "I've had a perfectly wonderful evening.  But this wasn't it."

Clarence Darrow:  "I have never killed a man, but I have read many obituaries with great pleasure."

William Faulkner (speaking of Ernest Hemingway):  "He has never been known to use a word that might send a reader to the dictionary."

Billy Wilder:  "He has Van Gogh's ear for music."

Mark Twain:  "I didn't attend the funeral, but I sent a nice letter saying I approved of it."

I am not proposing that we insult others more often...just that we do it in a grander style.  The best insults are worded so that the receiver of the insult has to think about it for a moment.  I once felt obliged to respond in kind when insulted.  Now I have mellowed to the point that I let almost all of them pass without comment.  Life is easier that way.


The Bug said...

I love these! And I'm with Faulkner - I never liked Hemingway. I could never figure who was saying what in his books :)

Kathy ... aka Nana said...

I have to agree with you regarding today's insults. And while I'm not a fan of insults in general (to easy to hurt someone's feelings), I have to admit that the insults of yesteryear were so eloquently expressed that the humor of the insult surely softened the sting of the insult. ;-)

I did get a chuckle out of some of the ones you listed, especially the banter between Shaw and Churchill. ;-)

Have a wonderful Wednesday!

Karin said...

Very interesting and fun to read post! I'd never be able to deliver one of these and probably wouldn't 'get' it if the insult was sent my way.I'm one of those who thinks of a clever retort - a few days later, lol, and an insult would probably take longer!

George said...

Thanks for an enlightening post. Any of these would be a major improvement over what we hear in the news today.

Melissa Weisbard said...

Very funny! Yes, people are crude and rude these days.

abb said...

My mother was talking to her friend about some stupid thing Rush Limbaugh had said. Her friend's response: "You know, you just can't polish a turd."
(Apologies if you're a Limbaugh fan :)

Anonymous said...

Sophisticated insults are the best! You're absolutely right; insults should be smart enough to show you know what you're talking about. Um... about which you are speaking.

These days, the only place I hear them is on classic movies.