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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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