February 6, 2009

The Dying Art of Witty Insult

I wondered how people used to insult one another publicly when words like fuck, cunt, fucktard, poofter, fag weren't options. The Times of London was illuminating.

" Winston Churchill...seems to have spent every spare waking moment being rude to somebody. (“Winston,” said the Conservative statesman F.E. Smith, “had devoted the best years of his life to preparing his impromptu speeches”.) Clement Attlee, the man who interrupted his reign as Prime Minister, probably got it worse than most. “A sheep in sheep's clothing,” Churchill said of him. And also, “A modest man with much to be modest about.”

Not that the great man was fussy. He'd be rude to pretty much anyone. “There but for the grace of God goes God,” was his memorable verdict on Sir Stafford Cripps, but his best ever may have been when an aide knocked on his toilet door and told him that the Lord Privy Seal wanted to see him. “Tell the Lord Privy Seal I am sealed in my privy, and can only deal with one shit at a time,” said Churchill. He'd probably been waiting to trot that one out for years."

"The golden age was probably the Victorian era, when, as any casual student of history will tell you, William Gladstone and Benjamin Disraeli faced each other across the dispatch box for about 100 years.. .He has not a single redeeming defect,” said Disraeli, of his rival. And, better still, when asked to distinguish between a misfortune and a calamity: “If Gladstone fell into the Thames, that would be a misfortune. If anybody pulled him out, that, I suppose, would be a calamity.”

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