There was a time dear friends, when you could tell someone to ‘fuck off” in the most eloquent and elegant way without ever uttering that specific two word phrase.
Yes, there was a time when there was dignity in speech and even the insults bore weight and temerity; to the point where they’d leave the intended victim reeling and non-plussed, providing of course, he or she was mentally adroit and capable of comprehending the insult in the first place.
There’s a book called “The Portable Curmudgeon” which is a delightful compendium of so many of these wondrous insults, come-backs and put-downs. It was published in 1993 and is well worth the price of admission, which in the world of Amazon.com means $10.40 plus shipping.
Seriously, if you possess a single pretentious bone in your corpus, buy this book. Learn these phrases; study them, incorporate them into your lexicon and use them in everyday conversation. That way, you’ll confound the ignorant and impress the literate.
Here are a few examples.
This is a wonderful exchange between Winston Churchill & Lady Astor: She said, “If you were my husband I’d give you poison.”
He said, “If you were my wife, I’d drink it.”
A member of Parliament to British 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
“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).
“Thank you for sending me a copy of your book; I’ll waste no time reading it.” – Moses Hadas
“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.” –
“He is simply a shiver looking for a spine to run up.” – Paul Keating
“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
“He is a self-made man who thinks quite highly of his creator”-Laurie Kendrick about her boyfriend, PM
But seriously folks…
My last offering isn’t in the book, but it’s one of my favorites, so I wanted to include it in this post.
Lately, I’ve been reading quite a bit about G.K. Chesterton, certainly one of the most neglected writers of our time.
A wee bit of background, if I may: this legendary Brit is no longer taught in schools, nor has he been for quite some time and I will admit, it’s only been in recent years that I was introduced to his writings and philosophy.
I now know what I was missing.
Chesterton is tough…damn tough to pigeonhole. He was a writer yes, and also quite the humanist, but those two things only begin to cover all of the monikers that would apply. However, if I were to compose a list, political and social realist would be in the top five.
Chesterton argued eloquently against all the trends which eventually took over the 20th century mindset: materialism, scientific determinism, moral relativism, and agnosticism, to name a few. He also argued against both socialism and capitalism. He deemed them to be enemies of the freedom and justice that permeates modern society. On capitalism, many would agree he missed the mark; but few would deign to argue that he was wrong about socialism being an encompassing evil.
So, then one could ask, was there anything he actually liked? Anything he supported?
Yes, there were many things.
Chesterton liked the common man, especially when common sense was applied in an uncommon fashion. He defended the poor; the family; beauty, nature and Christianity along with Catholicism. Today, with the exception of beauty, nature and to a lesser degree the family, these are considered extremely divergent topics and to even bring any of them up in a classroom setting, much less in the media or in a public arena would result in at least one eight-minute, vitriolic filled rant from the Angry Dark Lord of Haldol, Keith the Heretic of Olbermann.
And in prime time, no less.
While I am by no means an exacting Christian, I do believe in an Almighty, which I’m still trying to define. I no longer practice the Catholicism in which I was raised, but I still possess an inexplicably mother-hennish attitude about the Mother Church.
So, I can’t say that I agree with everything Chesterton ever wrote, thought or felt strongly about, but I do like his approach. With him, it was about the collective that is humanity. That’s fine with me. I’ll back anyone who extols that dignity be granted to the poor, while holding firm the belief that freedom…real freedom…is only acquired through responsibility.
Anyway, Chesterton was a large man, standing 6 feet 4 inches tall and weighing around 21 stone if you’re British (that’s 134 kg if you’re not an American; 294 pounds if you are and NOT into any of the applied sciences). His girth gave rise to a famous anecdote. He once remarked to his friend, influential playwright George Bernard Shaw who was tall, thin and quite lanky, ‘To look at you, Shaw anyone would think there was a famine in England.’
Shaw retorted, ‘To look at you, Chesterton, anyone would think you caused it”.