Put-downs

Heard a good one on TV the other day. It was in one of those true-crime things with a retired detective talking about some of the murder cases he had solved, and he amuses me because in his pieces-to-camera he occasionally goes into a sort of tough-guy lingo like a private eye in a 1940s movie:

Whenever someone would ask me if I felt any sympathy for the people I was arresting I used to say “The only place you’ll find sympathy round here is in the dictionary between shit and syphilis.”

Rather surprising to hear this on afternoon telly and probably the invention of a scriptwriter, but it’s one I’m storing up for possible future use myself, so if someone should come running to me saying “Wah, I’ve lost my wallet and I don’t know what to do!” I’ll have my response right there ready.

I once thought of compiling a book of put-downs, those crushing remarks also known as squelchers that put the other person firmly in their place, and started collecting examples — like this early one attributed to King George V who apparently said it to a guest who had arrived at a grand function wearing the newly-fashionable turned-up trousers:

We were unaware, sir, that the corridors of our palace were damp.

Rather unfair as the poor guest couldn’t answer back (“Oh, go fuck yourself, your majesty” would have been nice).

More modern instances can be more directly abusive, like this one from Kurt Vonnegut Jr:

If your brains were dynamite there wouldn’t be enough to blow your hat off.


and these unattributed ones:

Here’s a nickel. Go call up all your friends.
People clap when they see you. They clap their hands over their eyes.
If I throw a stick, will you leave?

and my little anthology would have included a few classics: certainly a few by the wonderful Dorothy Parker, e.g.

Dorothy Parker
Dorothy Parker

This wasn’t just plain terrible, this was fancy terrible. This was terrible with raisins in it.

Tell him I was too fucking busy — or vice versa.

and some from Groucho Marx (or his scriptwriters):

Don’t look now, but there’s one man too many in this room and I think it’s you.

A child of five would understand this. Send someone to fetch a child of five.

I’ve had a perfectly wonderful evening, but this wasn’t it.

But my collection foundered because to make it a decent length I would have had to pad it out with more over-familiar quotations from the likes of Mark Twain, Oscar Wilde, Winston Churchill, Thomas Beecham and other historical wits so I reluctantly put it aside. That was a few years ago, though, and the put-downs go on.

Hecklers sometimes come up with good ones as when U2 were playing a gig in Glasgow and Bono decided to give the audience a little lecture.

A pause between songs, the lights go down. Bono begins clapping his hands together slowly . . . once . . . twice . . . three times . . . four times . . .
Bono says: “Every time I clap my hands, a child dies in Africa.”
Voice from crowd: “Stop fucking clapping then!”

But It can be dangerous to mix it with a sharp comedian like Paul Merton who once responded to a heckler with

Excuse me, I’m trying to work here. How would you like it if I stood yelling down the alley while you’re giving blowjobs to transsexuals?

But pride of place here goes to what Gershon Legman described as “the worst insult a woman can offer a man”:

Is it in?

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