Insulting In Style

May 26th, 2016

As you read this, we’re on our way to visit our daughter and son-in-law in Pennsylvania and then friends in North Carolina. Nora and I will have our birth certificates for bathroom admittance, and I’ll be sure to report on any transgender attacks I observe while in there. I’ll let you know if I spot any unicorns, too. 

Meantime, I’ll share some insulting … and very funny … words.

As published in The Memphis Daily News, May 27, 2016, and in The Memphis News, May 28-June 3, 2016



As we brace for this summer’s political conventions and a general election that promises to raise the lowest levels of public discourse to new heights, I thought I’d share some of my favorite exchanges collected over the years to remind us that we can do this sort of thing with style.

I’m thinking you’ll be reminded of several of these in the coming months.

Abraham Lincoln after being called two-faced: “If I had two faces, do you think I’d be wearing this one?” And in replying to an incredulous foreign diplomat: “Mr. President! You black your own boots?” Lincoln: “Yes. Whose boots do you black?”

Winston Churchill responding to this note from playwright George Bernard Shaw: “Have reserved two tickets for opening night. Come and bring a friend, if you have one.” Churchill’s reply: “Impossible to come first night. Will come to second night, if you have one.” Or Churchill’s exchange with Lady Nancy Astor when she commented, “Winston, if you were my husband, I’d put poison in your coffee,” and he replied, “Nancy, if you were my wife, I’d drink it.” Or Churchill and a Member of Parliament: “Mr. Churchill, must you fall asleep while I’m speaking?” Churchill: “No, it’s purely voluntary.”

Montagu: “Sir, I do not know whether you will die on the gallows or of the pox.” Wilkes: “That will depend, my lord, on whether I embrace your principles or your mistress.”

New York Mayor Ed Koch to Andrew Kirtzman: “I can explain this to you; I can’t comprehend it for you.”

A House member, after rubbing Speaker Nicholas Longworth’s bald head: “Nice and smooth, feels just like my wife’s bottom.” Longworth, running his own hand over his head: “Indeed it does.”

Henry Clay: “I would rather be right than be president.” Thomas Reed: “The gentleman need not trouble himself. He’ll never be either.”

Reporter: “What do you think of western civilization?” Gandhi: “I think it would be a good idea.”

Reporter: “How many people work at the Vatican?” Pope John XXIII: “About half.”

Actress: “I enjoyed reading your book. Who wrote it for you?” Author Ilka Chase: “Darling, I’m so glad that you liked it. Who read it to you?”

Dorothy Parker: “Mr. Coolidge, I’ve made a bet against a fellow who said it was impossible to get more than two words out of you.” Calvin Coolidge: “You lose.”

Drunk: “I can’t bear fools.” Dorothy Parker: “Apparently your mother could.” 

Groucho Marx: “I never forget a face. In your case, I’ll be glad to make an exception.”

Mark Twain: “I’ve never killed a man, but I’ve read many an obituary with a great deal of satisfaction.”

When General Anthony McAuliffe was asked to surrender the surrounded town of Bastogne, Belgium, or be annihilated by the Germans in December 1944, he sent a one-word reply, “NUTS!”

Reverend Edward Everett Hale when asked if he prayed for the Senators: “No. I look at the Senators and pray for the country.”

I’m a Memphian, and I’m with the Reverend Hale.


Randal L Toma: Loved this, and your website, too. Funny stuff. The column reminds me of a quote (I'm sure you've heard) similar in theme, but not fit for The Memphis News: ______________________ There’s a great story about Jack … In the late 70’s there’s a party in the hills of Hollywood, the backyard of some rich, rich man. Famous band playing live, beautiful women everywhere you look. A beautiful woman comes up to Jack and says, “Hey Jack, do you wanna dance?” He just looked her up and down for about 20 seconds and finally said, “Wrong verb.” Kevin Pollack on Jack Nicholson.

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