Quite honestly, some civility has been lost in recent years. We’ve somehow lost the ability to insult our fellow human beings with class.
Instead, we think crass terms such as “idiot” and “moron” can describe those who we consider beneath our contempt.
And that works in some circles. It also tends create situations where those who are being insulted may decide to forego words and employ physical actions.
So we might want to study some of the famous people of the past and they ways that they managed slip the needle to others without being so blunt.
Conveniently enough, a recent e-mail cites some of these examples and so they should be shared.
For example, let’s go back to an exchange between Winston Churchill and 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.”
And to prove Churchill was a master of repartee, here’s another exchange:
“I am enclosing two tickets to the first night of my new play; bring a friend ... if you have one.” — George Bernard Shaw to Churchill. “Cannot possibly attend first night, will attend second .... if there is one.” — Churchill’s response.
So there you go.
More of the same in the form of quotes about people, some of whom aren’t specified:
Again from Churchill: “He has all the virtues I dislike and none of the vices I admire.”
“He had delusions of adequacy.” — Walter Kerr
“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).
“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
“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
“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 has Van Gogh’s ear for music.” — Billy Wilder
“I’ve had a perfectly wonderful evening. But this wasn’t it.” — Groucho Marx
“He uses statistics as a drunken man uses lamp posts ... for support rather than illumination.” — Andrew Lang
Anyway, you get the idea. Being clever with your words somehow takes insults to a higher level — even when you’re dealing with what might be considered a pretty touchy subject.
The best example is this: A member of Parliament once said to Benjamin Disraeli: “Sir, you will either die on the gallows or of some unspeakable disease.” The statesman replied, “That depends, sir, whether I embrace your policies or your mistress.”
See how high-flying rhetoric will allow you to stoop to low places. It’s an art for sure.