When insults had class

These glorious insults are from an era when cleverness with words was still valued, before a great portion of the English language got boiled down to 4-letter words—not to mention waving middle fingers.

  • The famous exchange between Churchill & Lady Astor:
    She said, "If you were my husband I'd give you poison!"
    He replied, "If you were my wife, I'd drink it."

  • A member of Parliament to Prime Minister Benjamin 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

  • "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 (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

  • "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

  • "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 (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