I have long admired the art of the instant touché, the split-second comeback where the victim doesn’t know what just hit him/her. While Churchill, Twain, and Marx (Groucho more so than Karl) may be deserving of hall of fame status, there are others.
This post, excerpted from the website of an Anglican priest named Tony Harwood-Jones, serves up some great ones. Harwood-Jones writes:
This has been traveling around the Internet for a while, but it’s worth preserving here. These glorious insults are from an era that valued cleverness with words; an era when the leaders of society didn’t need to use profanity or the middle finger to make their point.
The exchange between Churchill and Lady Astor: She said, “If you were my husband, I’d put poison in your tea give.” Churchill replied, “If you were my wife, I’d drink it.”
“He had delusions of adequacy.” – Walter Kerr
“A modest little person, with much to be modest about.” – Winston Churchill
Faulkner vs. Hemingway:
“He has never been known to use a word that might send a reader to the dictionary.” – William Faulkner (about Ernest Hemingway).
“Poor Faulkner. Does he really think big emotions come from big words?” – Ernest Hemingway (about William Faulkner)
“Thank you for sending me a copy of your book; I’ll waste no time reading it.” – Moses Hadas
“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
Churchill vs. George Bernard Shaw:
“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.
He is a self-made man and worships his creator.” – John Bright
“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
“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 has Van Gogh’s ear for music.” – Billy Wilder
“I’ve had a perfectly wonderful evening. But this wasn’t it.” – Groucho Marx
Onward, Malcolm Gauld