It isn’t too often that in this day and age – and particularly in this country – that repartee and putdowns have a certain quality and class. All too frequently we are subjected to the inane and profane – a notoriously ominous politician with a rambunctious son being a case in point. He would, for instance, fit a putdown credited to Winston Churchill, who expressed his sentiments about someone he disliked as “he has all the virtues I dislike and none of the vices I admire.” And then there’s the inimitable Oscar Wilde, whose “He has no enemies, but is intensely disliked by his friends”, is also a doozie.

Here’s a few that would describe the situation where the death of someone would not exactly have the persons saying these things wailing with grief: “I didn’t attend the funeral, but I sent a nice letter saying I approved of it” – Mark Twain, or “I have never killed a man, but I have read many obituaries with great pleasure” – Clarence Darrow, or “Some cause happiness wherever they go; others, whenever they go” – Oscar Wilde – again.

I can think of a few that will fit William Faulkner’s description of Ernest Hemmingway: “He has never been known to use a word that might send a reader to the dictionary”. And many times have I felt the way old Groucho Marx did, when he said: “I’ve had a perfectly wonderful evening. But this wasn’t it” And here’s one for missing someone you don’t particularly like: “I feel so miserable without you; it’s almost like having you here” – Stephen Bishop.

For folk you don’t like: “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” – Samuel Johnson. “He is simply a shiver looking for a spine to run up” Paul Keating. “He had delusions of adequacy” – Walter Kerr. “His mother should have thrown him away and kept the stork“- Mae West.

And for putting down egotists: “He is a self-made man and worships his creator” – John Bright.

Winston Churchill was a master of the instant put-down as these two examples will illustrate: “I am enclosing two tickets to the first night of my new play; bring a friend – if you have one.” said George Bernard Shaw to Winston Churchill, to which Churchill responded: “Cannot possibly attend first night, will attend second, if there is one.

And then again, classic Churchill: Lady Astor once remarked to Winston Churchill at a dinner party, “Winston, If you were my husband, I would poison your coffee!” and Churchill replied without so much as batting an eye, “Madam if I were your husband I would drink it!”

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