The Art of the Insult

When was the last time you heard a really good insult? I mean, one that wasn’t accompanied by certain select four letter words and other modern expletives?

I recently received an email from an artist friend of mine on classy insults from back in the days when they could craft some really good ones, and had absolutely no compunction about doing so.

This one has probably been making the email rounds, but there are so many good ones in the list, I can’t resist posting them here, especially since a few of them supposedly come from some of our greatest literary heroes. (I say supposedly because I haven’t verified that these quotes actually come from the sources indicated; even if they didn’t, they’re still pretty good examples of the lost art of the insult!)

So here you go: enjoy!


In an exchange between Churchill & Lady Astor:

She said, “If you were my husband, I’d give you poisoned tea.”

He answered, “If you were my wife, I’d drink it.”


A member of Parliament to Prime Minister 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.” – Comedian Kip Adota


“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 this wasn’t it.” – Groucho Marx


Aren’t these such fun? Not that I’m prone to giving insults, of course, but still, if you’re going to do it, you might as well do it with a bit of class, right? Have you heard of any other deliciously insulting quotes?

19 thoughts on “The Art of the Insult

  1. Memory

    Those are great! I know I’ve heard some similarly classy insults in the past, but right now all I can think of is one I learned from a friend: “You have the brain of a frog!” It’s not swank, but it always makes me giggle.
    .-= Memory´s last blog ..121. Libyrinth by Pearl North =-.

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  4. Tim Worstall

    The Disraeli one is a (common) misattribution. By the time
    he was Prime Minister (umm, 1860s?) no one, certainly not a
    politician in public, would refer to a mistress in such a manner.
    It’s actually from John Wilkes to the Earl of Sandwich a century or
    so eariler: when they were more likely to discuss such things in
    public. Another Churchill and Astor one for you: Astor: “Winston,
    you are drunk, very drunk.” “Madam, you are ugly, very ugly, and in
    the morning I shall be sober”. .-= Tim Worstall´s last
    blog ..A question for Tanya Gold =-.

  5. Colorado

    I always liked the one from a playwright to the reviewer:
    Sir, I am sitting in the smallest room of my house and I have your
    review in front of me. Soon it will be behind me.

  6. Dan

    “He has never been known to use a word that might send a
    reader to the dictionary.” – William Faulkner (about Ernest
    Hemingway). Faulkner’s was good but Hemingway’s response is the
    classic: “Poor Faulkner. Does he really think big emotions come
    from big words?” —Ernest Hemingway (about William

    1. Alison Loris

      Hemingway, well.. big emotions are not necessarily well expressed by the tiniest & flattest words either.
      Q. Why did Hemingway’s chicken cross the road?
      A. To die. Alone. In the rain.

  7. Mike Golch

    I remember a long time ago of reading about two coaches one who said “well Look what Just slimmed up out of a sewer” the other coach got mad and filed a lawsuit,The Judge in the case threw the suit out “Saying nice to see the Art of a Creative Insult is still alive”


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