When insults had class 40



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These glorious insults are from an era before the English language got boiled down to 4-letter words.

A member of Parliament to 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

 “Thank you for sending me a copy of your book; I’ll waste no time reading it” – William Faulkner (about Ernest Hemingway)

“I didn’t attend the funeral, but I sent a nice letter saying I approved of it” – Moses Hadas

“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” – 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

“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 I’m afraid this wasn’t it” – Groucho Marx

Tell us, which was your favourite?

Starts at 60 Writers

The Starts at 60 writers team seek out interesting topics and write them especially for you.

  1. There are many. Two of my favourites are:
    G B SHAW – A hostess anxiously approached her distinguished guest. “Are you enjoying yourself, Mr. Shaw?” she inquired. “Certainly,” Shaw replied. “There is nothing more to enjoy.”
    CHURCHILL – Speaking of Stafford Cripps, Churchill exclaimed, “There, but for the grace of God, goes God.”

    1 REPLY
    • John – I think that my favourite quote from Churchill was about his Labour Party successor as PM, Attlee – “He is a modest little man with a lot to be modest about.”

  2. Fabulous quotes from smart, clever and mostly vitriolic wits. I enjoyed reading all of them.

  3. Enjoyed all of them but if had to choose Winston Churchill and Clarence Darrow. Agree pity it is all about the F word now

  4. Where’s Keating? He may not have been subtle but he was sharp! For example, about 1989, commenting on John Hewson’s debating skill: “It was the limpest performance I have ever seen … it was like being flogged with a warm lettuce.” Others included Gogh Whitlam and Jim Killen.

    4 REPLY
    • John – you mentioned my old mate Jim Killen who was an orator and wit of the old school. He loathed Prime Minister McMahon (who had sacked him as Navy Minister after the fall of PM John Gorton). McMahon, as usual, was making a complete hash of Question Time, frantically sorting through his notes trying to find the right Briefing Paper to answer a question. Very audibly, McMahon muttered “Sometimes, I my own worst enemy” and from the back of the Coalition Government’s benches came the recognisable voice of Killen, “Not while I’m alive you are.”

    • Keating was in the lineup but seeing you mention Jim Killen reminded me of his political sparring partner and best friend outside parliament Fred Daley who was also a great wit

    • Mr Daly congratulated Billy McMahon on his appointment as Minister for Agriculture by telling him his experience with window boxes in Elizabeth Bay made him imminently qualified.” Men like Mr Killen and Mr Daly had rapier wits and they didn’t resort to coarse language to offer an insult.

    • Fred was one of the best of all time. I especially enjoyed the debate between Whitlam and Killen. Cried laughing at the wit!


  6. I still think Robert Menzies was the quick wit with hecklers – my favourite was while he was speaking in Williamstown, Victoria in 1954, a heckler shouted, “I wouldn’t vote for you if you were the Archangel Gabriel” – to which Menzies coolly replied “If I were the Archangel Gabriel, I’m afraid you wouldn’t be in my constituency.” A bit before my time to listen to political speeches but often read about!

  7. Even “turn of phrase” has such a rich ring to it. For wonderful prose read Alexander McCall Smith. He is today’s P.G. Wodehouse.

  8. Love the wit, the best put downs, all people can do today is to tell people to get f…, good wit goes down in history, get f….. Goes as soon as it is said.

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