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Great Insults | How to Dis Someone For Laughs

Updated on April 21, 2015
Marcy Goodfleisch profile image

Marcy writes about family, home life, parenting, money-saving tips, and many other topics, as well as essays and occasional humor pieces.

Great Quotes by Dame Maggie Smith on Downton Abbey

Witty and Snarky Insults and Put-Downs

Clever insults do not have to be crude or vulgar. In fact, the most famous put-downs were elegantly worded, and were almost a form of verbal competition between the giver and victim, er, receiver.

An example: Playwrite George Bernard Shaw once gifted Sir Winston Churchill with two tickets to the opening night of his new play, with a message to bring a friend, "If you have one."

Known for his brilliant tongue, Churchill replied that he couldn't make the first performance, but would attend the second, "If there is one."

Churchill's sharp tongue is often quoted, such as in his response to Lady Astor, who told him if he was her husband she would poison him. Without missing a beat, Sir Winston assured her if she were his wife, he would drink it.

A twist of words can convert words normally used as compliments into memorable insults, such as when Churchill once pointed out that someone possessed "all of the virtues I dislike," but had "none of the vices I admire."

In addition to jabs at friends (and enemies), social events and parties can invite sarcasm, too.

Groucho Marx (whose name was almost a self-inflicted insult itself) remarked after a social event that he'd, "Had a pleasant evening," then continued: "This wasn't it."

A well-crafted insult makes the recipient blink twice. Oh no you didn't! Oh yes, they did.

Years ago, I somehow came across a business card (the usual size, and very professional looking), with the inscription: "You are cordially invited to the theological place of eternal punishment."

So much more elegant than telling someone where to go, don't you think? And yes, I indeed put it to use in a very appropriate setting.

Winston Churchill Was Known for Clever Insults

Sir Winston's wit and sharp tongue is legendary.
Sir Winston's wit and sharp tongue is legendary. | Source

Snarky Words and Insults by Violet on Downton Abbey

If you want to learn the gift of a truly literary and superior-sounding verbal slap, watch a few episodes of Downton Abbey, with particular attention to Dame Maggie Smith's character.

Smith plays "Violet," the ascorbic-tongued Dowager Countess of Grantham. As the reigning matriarch of the family, she can pretty well say and do whatever she wishes. Don't we all crave a life like that?

The writing on Downton Abbey is so excellently crafted, and the acting so well-executed that the only way to appreciate it is to savor it on the screen rather than reading it in an article.

Be sure to watch the clip included here, and learn from the choice of words as well as the brilliantly timed delivery and inflection.

Cutting Remarks | Backstabbing

Backstabbing comments? Verbal jabs? Insults hurt, even if they're funny.
Backstabbing comments? Verbal jabs? Insults hurt, even if they're funny. | Source

Ways to Dis Someone | Elegant Insults

Those who cause intense negative reactions in others are often the target of jabs. Oscar Wilde once pointed out that, while a certain individual did not have enemies, he was intensely disliked by his friends.

Do you know someone insufferably stupid? Rather than openly calling them dumb, take a cue from Samuel Johnson, who described someone as, "Not only dull himself, but the cause of dullness in others."

If Tucker's example doesn't inspire you, perhaps you can deliver an insult about intelligence by modeling the words of Thomas Brackett Reed, who pointed out that a certain targeted group did not even open their mouths without reducing "the sum human knowledge."

Is the person already dead? Don't give up - you can still get in a word or two that will let people know your opinion of the departed.

The celebrated columnist and wag, Dorothy Parker was noted for her wit (often demonstrated at the famed New York Algonquin Round Table, where rapier comments were traded with great regularity by writers of the day).

When informed of the death of President Calvin Coolidge (who was thought to be very dull, despite his elevated political office), she reportedly quipped, "How can they tell?"

Mark Twain, while discussing the death of an associate, remarked he had not made it to the funeral, but had sent word that he "approved of it."

Similarly, Clarence Darrow once said he'd never killed anyone, but had often read an obituary with "great pleasure."

What Do You Think About Snarky Insults?

Do you think it's okay to insult someone as a joke?

See results

Snarky or Rude? When and How to Insult Someone

If you've lived past, say, elementary school, you know there are times you wish you'd said something snarky to someone who likely deserves it.

But those gems should be rationed out carefully.

Just as the list of people you'd love to insult grows exponentially (so it seems), the list of reasons to hold back or temper your tongue grows with experience, too.

Nobody likes outright snark. Those times when something hateful is said just for the audience attention are not appreciated by anyone.

But once in a while, someone deserves to be brought up short.

If you're in a work situation, you should evaluate the potential fallout to your career or advancement.

If the snark attack is to be aimed at a friend, is it meant in jest? If so, will they take it that way?

Is the recipient of your tart tongue someone with whom you want to remain on good terms? The odds of losing that person's friendship or respect increase with every dart leaving your mouth. So, unless the person understands jest (and can deal with it), and unless jest is your intent, think carefully before you stick in the knife.

The next back the blade enters could be your own!

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  • Marcy Goodfleisch profile image
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    Marcy Goodfleisch 2 years ago from Planet Earth

    Good point, FatBoyThin - sometimes I think the only places people get by with sharp insults and cutting remarks are in movies and on television. Thanks for reading and commenting!

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    Colin Garrow 2 years ago from Kinneff, Scotland

    I think these days you have to be really careful what you say, and who you say it to. Never know when you might might step over that joke/insult line and end looking like the bad guy. Great Hub.

  • joedolphin88 profile image

    Joe 3 years ago from north miami FL

    Eloquent insults seem to be a thing of the past, they are excellent though.

  • Marcy Goodfleisch profile image
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    Marcy Goodfleisch 3 years ago from Planet Earth

    I agree, poetryman - he could insult someone very eloquently!

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    poetryman6969 3 years ago

    Winston Churchill had the best put downs.

  • Marcy Goodfleisch profile image
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    Marcy Goodfleisch 4 years ago from Planet Earth

    Thanks, Findwholeness! So glad the hub gave you a smile today!

  • findwholeness profile image

    Kristine McAdams 4 years ago from Midwest

    Love this! Very creative. :)

  • Marcy Goodfleisch profile image
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    Marcy Goodfleisch 4 years ago from Planet Earth

    Hi, Tony - I agree with you; so many comedians rely on crudeness to get laughs. I don't care for it at all. Thanks for reading and commenting!

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    Tony Mead 4 years ago from Yorkshire

    Marcy

    I do like a clever put down, or play on words. These days it seems that people can onlyresort to foul and abusive language or name calling. Some of the really great one liners have come from comediens over the years.

    nice hub I enjoyed reading it.

    regards

    Tony

  • Marcy Goodfleisch profile image
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    Marcy Goodfleisch 4 years ago from Planet Earth

    Hi, Ann! So glad you enjoyed the hub! I agree - I could read these witty quotes regularly and still get a good laugh.

    Thanks for stopping by and commenting!

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    anndango 4 years ago

    A fun read, Marcy. I never tire of reading those witty insults from Churchill, Oscar Wilde, Dorothy Parker, etc. I would add a witty insult here, but alas, I'm not as talented as the aforementioned. (Plus, your hub is so good, how could I provide an insult in any case!)

  • Marcy Goodfleisch profile image
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    Marcy Goodfleisch 4 years ago from Planet Earth

    Hi, Coffeeatdawn - I agree with you on everything here. I enjoy wit, but not at a severe expense to another person. However, as you mention, there are classic 'put-downs' that go down in history. And Maggie Smith ROCKS!

    Thanks for dropping by and commenting!

  • Coffeeatdawn profile image

    MB 4 years ago from Philippines

    This is a great read Marcy. I like witty people but not so keen about insulting ones. I believe though that those who give out insults for insults' sake deserve even greater ones...and those who delivers them wittily deserves respect. I love Downtown Abbey and I think no actor perfectly fitted the role of the Countess than Maggie Smith.

  • christianbenoit profile image

    Christian Beniot 4 years ago

    I have heard of Downtown Abbey, but I have never watched. It is definitely something I will be checking out in the near future. And you are very welcome!

  • Marcy Goodfleisch profile image
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    Marcy Goodfleisch 4 years ago from Planet Earth

    Hi, Christian! I could read Mark Twain and Sir Winston's witticisms over and over - both are so brilliantly cutting. And I'm completely hooked in Downton Abbey - Dame Maggie is just one reason for that (the scripts for her character are priceless). Thanks for your fun comment here!

  • christianbenoit profile image

    Christian Beniot 4 years ago

    This is hilarious! I am a fairly sarcastic person, so reading an entire article about quick-witted comments just makes me happy. I already knew Mark Twain had a dry sense of humor, but I never knew Winston Churchill was known for his sharp comebacks. Now I like him even more!

  • Marcy Goodfleisch profile image
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    Marcy Goodfleisch 4 years ago from Planet Earth

    Yes, I did see that special! Secrets of Downton Abbey, or something like that. What an amazing legacy that place has. I admire the current owner(s) for realizing they had to commercialize it in order to preserve it. I was sad to hear that so many similar estates were lost over the years due to the high upkeep.

  • justmesuzanne profile image

    justmesuzanne 4 years ago from Texas

    Yes, and the abbey is so beautiful. I love looking at detail in these sorts of locations and in well done sets. Did you watch the special features when you watched? Apparently, this is a real location and people live there. They had to just work around the actual lives of the household on a regular, ongoing basis to shoot. The attics and the downstairs are sets because these servants' areas are rarely preserved these days.

  • Marcy Goodfleisch profile image
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    Marcy Goodfleisch 4 years ago from Planet Earth

    So glad you joined our Downton Abbey Fan Club (of sorts) - it is so well done, and while most of it iis drama-based, there are some classic comedy moments. Dame Maggie is at her best!

  • justmesuzanne profile image

    justmesuzanne 4 years ago from Texas

    I started watching Downton Abbey and loved it! Didn't take me any time to get into the first DVD, and I turned right around and watched it again. Lovely to look at, delightful to contemplate! Many thanks! :)

  • Marcy Goodfleisch profile image
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    Marcy Goodfleisch 4 years ago from Planet Earth

    I love that quote - I may borrow it, Quicksand! Well-crafted insults are indeed an art. They take on a history of their own, and live for years. Thanks for reading and commenting!

  • quicksand profile image

    quicksand 4 years ago

    Insulting is an art or a special skill that gets sharpened every time the demand for one generates a supply! :)

  • Marcy Goodfleisch profile image
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    Marcy Goodfleisch 4 years ago from Planet Earth

    Yes! Wouldn't it be fun to have a Downton Abbey party, in full dress? Glad you got some laughs from the hub, Beth - thanks for commenting!

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    Beth37 4 years ago

    I love Churchhill.... I am snarky myself. I have to watch it, sometimes ppl don't get my humor. Ive been watching Downton Abbey too... we'd have fun together. lol

  • Marcy Goodfleisch profile image
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    Marcy Goodfleisch 4 years ago from Planet Earth

    Can't wait to hear what you think of it!

  • justmesuzanne profile image

    justmesuzanne 4 years ago from Texas

    I love Maggie Smith! I'm sure I'll like this series! :)

  • Marcy Goodfleisch profile image
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    Marcy Goodfleisch 4 years ago from Planet Earth

    Oh, I'm so glad you'll be enjoying it with the rest of us who are devoted (addicted?) fans! Dame Maggie Smith is priceless in it - and the other characters become like your family, too.

  • justmesuzanne profile image

    justmesuzanne 4 years ago from Texas

    I have added Downton Abbey to my Netflix Queue! Many thanks for the introduction to this "understated, cerebral" series! ;)

  • Marcy Goodfleisch profile image
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    Marcy Goodfleisch 4 years ago from Planet Earth

    Hi, Kris! Thanks for letting me know you got a laugh out of the hub, and thanks for sharing! These 'insults' are indeed classic.

  • KrisL profile image

    KrisL 4 years ago from S. Florida

    I really enjoyed this one. My husband said I had to read it, and he was right!. Voted "funny" and shared.

  • Marcy Goodfleisch profile image
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    Marcy Goodfleisch 4 years ago from Planet Earth

    Hi, Sid - thanks for that take on it - I feel as you do, probably (but then, Churchill and others weren't directing their barbs at me! I do love the turn of words and choice of phrases; they're priceless.

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    Sid Kemp 4 years ago from Boca Raton, Florida (near Miami and Palm Beach)

    On Gina's point - I think the key is self-awareness. When we truly know why we are doing this, and when we are sure we do it in a way harmless to the other, I wouldn't make a rule about not insulting people. For example, I think that BonneBarton's insult, above, worked when nothing else seemed to.

    But if an individual chooses to leave all insults behind as his or her own spiritual practice - and I've done this - then that is also good, as long as it comes from within. My own practice is to ask of myself, before I speak, is what I am going to say true? Is it kind? Is it necessary?

    Speaking is a lot less fun than it used to be, but it is a lot more joyful and peaceful. And there's a lot more peaceful silence around me, too!

    And I can still enjoy a good insult when I hear or read one! Thanks!

  • Marcy Goodfleisch profile image
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    Marcy Goodfleisch 4 years ago from Planet Earth

    Hi, Gina - you make a good point here - there are studies (and books) about the psychology of humor, and often it comes at the expense of others - at the expense of self, when someone puts themselves down as the brunt of the humor.

  • Gina145 profile image

    Gina145 4 years ago from South Africa

    This is a difficult one. While I've always felt that there is a place for insults if you know people won't take them seriously, some self-help writers believe that making jokes like this is harmful.

  • Marcy Goodfleisch profile image
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    Marcy Goodfleisch 4 years ago from Planet Earth

    Thanks for your kind comments, Bonne! ;)

  • Marcy Goodfleisch profile image
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    Marcy Goodfleisch 4 years ago from Planet Earth

    Thanks, Lane! Glad it gave you a laugh!

  • bonnebartron profile image

    bonnebartron 4 years ago from never one place for too long

    :) Thought you'd get a kick out of that Marcy! :) As always, fantastic writing! :)

  • Lane Reno profile image

    Lane Reno 4 years ago

    A funny-good read!

  • Marcy Goodfleisch profile image
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    Marcy Goodfleisch 4 years ago from Planet Earth

    Thanks, Mitch! Wouldn't it be wonderful to have a dinner with all these guys present? Maybe there's an Intellect Heaven up there, along with the Rock & Roll Heaven.

  • Marcy Goodfleisch profile image
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    Marcy Goodfleisch 4 years ago from Planet Earth

    Oh, that is priceless, Bonnebarton! You did her a favor, too - thanks for sharing!

  • Mitch Alan profile image

    Mitch Alan 4 years ago from South Jersey

    Loved the Hub...anyone quoting Churchill, Twain and Marx (Groucho, that is) is indeed worth reading. Thumbs up, Interesting and Funny.

  • bonnebartron profile image

    bonnebartron 4 years ago from never one place for too long

    I pulled a pretty good one a few months ago. This jerk of a guy kept hitting on me, then decided to switch being insulting and annoying when he realized he had no chance. A new girl showed up onset and he started pulling the moves on her, but wouldn't stop being obnoxious toward me. So, finally one day while he was being extraordinarily toxic. I turned and looked at him and his new girlfriend. I said "Wow, I am so flattered." He was totally confused by my retort so I decided to elaborate, looking at his newly acquired girlfriend I said "You know, If my boyfriend spent so much time with another woman occupying his mind, I would be pissed, but under the circumstances, I'm just totally flattered." I looked at him deeply in the eyes and said "It's really sweet that you think of me so much!" He never said another word toward me! :) VICTORY!

  • Marcy Goodfleisch profile image
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    Marcy Goodfleisch 4 years ago from Planet Earth

    Lol! I'd heard the Shaw story before, but I'm not sure I've heard the Coolidge story! These gems are so classic - wish we had more of these witty and brilliant people in our current era. Thanks for sharing those, Sid!

  • SidKemp profile image

    Sid Kemp 4 years ago from Boca Raton, Florida (near Miami and Palm Beach)

    An enjoyable and well-balanced hub - thank you, Marcy! Voted up and funny. Since you mentioned Shaw, I thought I would share one of his most famous insults. He was speaking to a society woman he did not like at a party. He asked if she would sleep with him for a million pounds. She said yes. Then he asked if she would sleep with him for ten pounds. She got insulted and said, "What kind of a woman do you think I am?" He replied, "We've already determined what kind of woman you are. Now, we are just haggling over price."

    Calvin Coolidge had a moment of his own, as well. While president and very unpopular in Congress because he wanted international engagement and they were isolationist, he got very ill. A representative from Congress came to his bedside and said, "President Coolidge, we re praying for you."

    He replied, "Which way?"

  • Marcy Goodfleisch profile image
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    Marcy Goodfleisch 4 years ago from Planet Earth

    Thanks, SpartacusJones - I'm glad you got a laugh here! It's a sign of a good person and kind heart when you are aware of those who could be hurt by wit!

  • spartucusjones profile image

    CJ Baker 4 years ago from Parts Unknown

    This was great read! Great collection of insults, but also practical suggestions on using discernment. I know with myself I do tend to be a bit on the sarcastic side. But because I am also a good nature person, who doesn't like the idea of my actions causing hurt to others, I have also had to learn when to release the sarcastic wit. For example I have friends where it is no issue, because we give and take to each other, and it is all in good fun. But others may not get that you are joking and it could cause hurt.

  • Marcy Goodfleisch profile image
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    Marcy Goodfleisch 4 years ago from Planet Earth

    Wow - looks like Churchill is on our minds this week! Thanks, CurrentScience - I'll have to check it out!

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    Jason 4 years ago from HighPoint, N.C.

    I've just added a hub-page, using Verified Scientific-Fact & the "Jonah Falcon" effect, to use a few "Churchill-isms" for bringing down 'racism' from the 'new black panthers" regime! - Check it out! ;0)

  • Marcy Goodfleisch profile image
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    Marcy Goodfleisch 4 years ago from Planet Earth

    Hi. PaisleeGal - I'm glad you enjoyed the classic insults here. It would almost be worth it to get an eloquent put-down like Churchill could launch!

  • PaisleeGal profile image

    Pat Materna 4 years ago from Memphis, Tennessee, USA

    Marcy, an interesting hub! I've heard about Churchill's tongue before and have always liked his "tasteful" insults and play on words.

  • Marcy Goodfleisch profile image
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    Marcy Goodfleisch 4 years ago from Planet Earth

    Hi, CurrentScience303 - I had not heard that about Churchill, but his personality certainly could have been a reflection of some sort of disorder or condition. He was an amazing man, that's for sure!

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    Jason 4 years ago from HighPoint, N.C.

    I have heard from var. sources that Churchill was Bipolar & the manic/OCD drive (from bipolar) was the driving-force that made him "legendary" {in particular in making sure the rest of the 1st world was clear on how much of a True Threat the Nazi-Political Movement was}. - There is info. on the net about Churchill & his Bipolar condition! - Thanx for posting, & the insight is useful.

  • Marcy Goodfleisch profile image
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    Marcy Goodfleisch 4 years ago from Planet Earth

    Thanks, Janetwrites - I have to agree - the best quotes here are from our British friends! Can you imagine how it would have been to read of Churchill's many stunning insults in the newspaper on the heels of when they happened? People would have been following him the way folks do now on Twitter.

  • janetwrites profile image

    Janet Giessl 4 years ago from Georgia country

    A great hub! I love the British humour. It is such a great skill to be able to play on words.

  • Marcy Goodfleisch profile image
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    Marcy Goodfleisch 4 years ago from Planet Earth

    Oh, that one is CLASSIC, Maralexa! Another of his gems. We are so fortunate these quips were recorded for us to savor for generations to come. Thanks for posting it here!

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    Marilyn Alexander 4 years ago from Vancouver, Canada and San Jose del Cabo, Mexico

    Hi Marcy - this is just great! My favorite Churchill witty comment is, when a not-terribly-good-looking woman said to him, "Sir, you and drunk!. His reply, "Madam, you are ugly. But in the morning I'll be sober."

    Thanks so much. Up, funny and interesting.

  • Marcy Goodfleisch profile image
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    Marcy Goodfleisch 4 years ago from Planet Earth

    I agree! I had trouble getting into Downton Abbey at first, then I heard a bunch of friends raving about it (even their husbands were hooked. So I tried again - and I'm hooked. I absolutely love Dame Maggie Smith - I want to be like her when I grow up. Thanks for your fun comment, Austinstar!

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    Austinstar 4 years ago from Somewhere in the universe

    I want my Downton Abbey! It seems such a dull show at first, but the snarky comments really make the show, don't they? British humor is so sophisticated :-)

  • Marcy Goodfleisch profile image
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    Marcy Goodfleisch 4 years ago from Planet Earth

    Hi, Pamela! I absolutely love Downton Abbey, too - I'm in withdrawal right now. Glad you enjoyed the hub!

  • Marcy Goodfleisch profile image
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    Marcy Goodfleisch 4 years ago from Planet Earth

    Randy, you crack me up! Or should I say, your comments often have words up with which I am cracked? Thanks for reading and commenting!

  • Marcy Goodfleisch profile image
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    Marcy Goodfleisch 4 years ago from Planet Earth

    Lol! Thanks, Rayne - I think most wit (especially put-downs) have elements of truth in them.

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    Pamela Oglesby 4 years ago from United States

    This is a very entertaining hub and I liked the Downtown Abbey video. That is such a good show. Winston Churhill was certainly a great example to write about. I thoroughly enjoyed this hub. Voted up!!

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    Randy Godwin 4 years ago from Southern Georgia

    You mentioned Twain-- perhaps one of my favorite authors-- who responded to a false report of his demise with "the rumors of my death have been highly exaggerated!"

    I could learn something from this hub, Marcy! lol!

    --RG

  • Marcy Goodfleisch profile image
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    Marcy Goodfleisch 4 years ago from Planet Earth

    Oh, gee - I could probably write a whole hub on mothers-in-law. I know the feeling on that one! So glad you enjoyed the read! Thanks, Christin.

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    Rayne123 4 years ago

    Great hub,

    It brings up a lot of good points. I can be very sarcastic but I know who and who not to joke around with.

    Some people are offended and its their right. We should not disrespect their privacy.

    It seemed that these icons of the past were able to get away with it as they were famous for that very thing. For some reason it made it ok.

    I love the quote by Oscar Wilde that made me laugh. It is not only funny but when you look at it, very true.

    So thanks for the hub

    Have a good one.

  • ChristinS profile image

    Christin Sander 4 years ago from Midwest

    Ah the special art of the backhanded compliment - my former mother-in-law was the creator of masterpieces. I laughed it off, but it was amazing how many times that woman could insult you while being so polite and smiling to your face lol. I love the Dowager Countess on Downton - she's amazing with her lines so dryly delivered. Great hub - Shared!

  • Marcy Goodfleisch profile image
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    Marcy Goodfleisch 4 years ago from Planet Earth

    Hi, drbj - oh, yes! I have heard that one by Dorothy Parker, too - great example of her talent with words! I am also a huge fan of the quote about Calvin Coolidge - it's priceless. Thanks for reading and commenting - glad you enjoyed the hub!

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    drbj and sherry 4 years ago from south Florida

    Dorothy Parker may have been one of the wittiest women ever when it came to clever rejoinders. This one, although not snarky, is one of my all-time favorites:

    When asked at a party if she would like another drink, she responded: "I can only drink two or three at the most. More than four and I am under the host!"

    Thanks for this very funny hub, Marcy.

  • Marcy Goodfleisch profile image
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    Marcy Goodfleisch 4 years ago from Planet Earth

    Thanks, Jaye - for reading, and for your comments! Oh, those times when, as an afterthought, we thought of the perfect comeback too late to use it! I love Churchill's brilliant wit - and Dorothy Parker, too.

  • Marcy Goodfleisch profile image
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    Marcy Goodfleisch 4 years ago from Planet Earth

    Hi, Billy - thanks so much for reading and commenting! I have had to pay attention to the fine line between being witty and being snarky, too!

  • JayeWisdom profile image

    Jaye Denman 4 years ago from Deep South, USA

    Tasty and testy examples of the elegant put-down, Marcy...I especially appreciate those rejoinders such as Churchill's instant response to Lady Astor. The "perfect" reply would not have occurred to me until hours later! Both speed and cleverness are of the essence in these situations.

    Voted Up++

    Jaye

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    Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

    I grew up in an atmosphere of snarky insults. Having said that, I have found over the years that not everyone is receptive, so I have had to dial back a great deal. :)