Wednesday, July 2, 2008

When insults were literate

We all have a few friends who constantly forward group emails. Some of these (the emails, that is) are more amusing than others. Depending upon the source, the subject line and my mood, I delete many such emails without even opening them.

Then there are the infrequent forwarders, whose discretion confers upon them a certain credibility. I do take a look at theirs.

The other day an occasional distributor sent me a group email that I actually liked. Since I look down my nose at so many of its brethren, it seems only fair to post it here, which I do today.

Does that make me a hypocrite, no better than the knee-jerk forwarders I often disdain? Mmm... I don't think so. I didn't email you anything; you came here. The fact that the content came by way of group email is incidental.

As for the thing itself, omitting all the "Fw: FWD:"s, it's called "When Insults Were Literate." The subject line says it all.

I love a good putdown, at least when it's deserved, but you hear one so rarely these days. A regrettable aspect of our inarticulate, coarse society is people's frequent use of profanity as an insult. Not only is this in poor taste, it's lazy, unoriginal and rarely descriptive.

A clever, pointed skewering is so much more satisfying. We would all do well to emulate the luminaries below the next time we need to put someone in their place.

Incidentally, I can't argue my way out of all hypocrisy. Thank you for overlooking (i) my prissy condemnation of the use of profanity despite the profane Jeremy Piven photo caption posted on this site for months now and (ii) my complaining about laziness and unoriginality while blog-posting a group email.

And now, without further ado...

When Insults Were Literate

Lady Astor: "If you were my husband, I'd put poison in your tea."
Winston Churchill: "If you were my wife, I'd drink it."

Member of Parliament to Benjamin Disraeli: "Sir, you will either die on the gallows or of some unspeakable disease."
Disraeli: "That depends, sir, on 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

"A modest little person, with much to be modest about."
—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 on Ernest Hemingway

"Poor Faulkner. Does he really think big emotions come from big words?"

"Thank you for sending me a copy of your book; I'll waste no time reading it."
—Moses Hadas
(This guy is less clever than he is rude, don't you think? Who insults someone for giving them a book they're not interested in? -bjb)

"He can compress the most words into the smallest idea of any man I know."
—Abraham Lincoln

"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."
—Churchill's 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

"There's nothing wrong with you that reincarnation won't cure."
—Jack E. Leonard

"He has the attention span of a lightning bolt."
—Robert Redford

"They never open their mouths without subtracting from the sum of human knowledge."
—Thomas Brackett Reed

"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

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

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


Unknown said...

I feel as if I should leave my favorite Oscar Wilde quotes here:

"Work is the curse of the drinking classes."

"A true friend stabs you in the front."

"Consistency is the last refuge of the unimaginative. "

"Fashion is a form of ugliness so intolerable that we have to alter it every six months."

"Either this wallpaper goes, or I do" (his possibly apocryphal dying words)

Ben said...

Those are good. Oscar Wilde was the master of the cutting one-liner.

Last fall, I posted a bunch of his gems here: