The Best Insults Do It In Style
February 14, 2014

The Best Insults Do It In Style

In a world full of trolls, insulting people or being insulted is easier than ever before. You don’t have to wait for a face-to-face meeting, a phone call or even snail mail. The whole virtual world is up for grabs. Anyone with an online presence is going to get hit at some time. My worst experience came when a synthesised wind sound I had recorded was stolen by a young woman and used in a YouTube video. YouTube identified the sound as being copyrighted – it had been used legitimately with permission in another video – and blocked the girl’s video. She posted an amazingly vitriolic comment on my Freesound pages accusing me of theft! The language was just about as foul as you can get. The comment was removed. She was banned, but wrote a grovelling apology. I checked out her website, which portrayed her as a budding musician, all innocence and smiles. I could have posted back on her site pointing out her larceny, cussing, and low-grade behaviour but decided to just ignore the whole thing. Rise above, Eric, rise above. You see the insult had no class, whereas the ones that hit hardest, to my mind, are the ones that have it in spades. They are the ones you wish you had thought of.

One of the greatest put-down merchants of all time was Winston Churchill. When Lady Astor told him “Winston, if you were my husband I would flavor your coffee with poison,” Churchill responded “Madam, if I were your husband I would drink it.” Churchill was also responsible for the now much-used insult in a memorable exchange with the portly UK politician Bessie Braddock. When Braddock accused him of being drunk, he replied, “Bessie, you are ugly, and tomorrow morning I will be sober and you will still be ugly.” He was also capable of attacking what he saw as pretension among the upper classes as in “Cultured people are merely the glittering scum which floats upon the deep river of production.” Attacking the Labour leader Clement Attlee was a favourite sport for Winston. He called him “A sheep in sheep’s clothing” and “A modest man who has much to be modest about.”

British politicians are often vicious in their attacks on each other, but more often than not without humor, unlike Prime Minister Disraeli who, when told by an MP, “Sir, you will either die on the gallows or of some unspeakable disease,” replied, “That depends, Sir, whether I embrace your policies or your mistress.” Ouch. Of Charles de Gaulle, the French leader he said, “He looks like a female llama who has been surprised in the bath.”

Groucho Marx was one of the best at this game – “She got her good looks from her father. He was a plastic surgeon.” Some people you just would not want a word fight with, like Bette Midler. One of her top efforts (though I think she borrowed this one) was about Princess Anne: “She loves nature in spite of what it did to her.”

There are many more examples, of course. If you are like me and you’re not as quick-witted as some of the people quoted here, and always think of what you would have liked to say long after the moment has passed, you can always borrow from the greats. But what is really noticeable about all these insults is that no expletives had to be deleted – the real wordsmiths don’t need the foul language. They leave it in the gutter for the trolls.

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Eric Hopton is a writer, musician, artist, and photographer. He has a degree in Social Anthropology and has always been passionate about travel, having so far visited 73 countries. His music and sound work has been used in many projects around the world and can be heard on Bandcamp and Freesound, where he has contributed over 1,300 sounds under his sonic alter ego, ERH.

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