The HyperTexts

Famous Insults, Comebacks, Rejoinders, Ripostes and Repartee

compiled by Michael R. Burch

The following insults and rejoinders (most of them in the form of short, hard-hitting epigramsthe literary equivalent of a stiff left jab followed by a right uppercut) are among the best in the English language, many by famous wits and artists like Winston Churchill, Johnny Carson, George Carlin, Jay Leno, David Letterman, Bill Maher, Groucho Marx, Marilyn Monroe, Dorothy Parker, Richard Pryor, Don Rickles, Will Rogers, Mark Twain, Mae West, Oscar Wilde, Robin Williams and Jonathan Winters.

The Top Ten Insults of All Time ... Make It a Baker's Dozen

If you can't be a good example, then you'll just have to be a horrible warning.—Catherine the Great
A fool and his money are soon elected.—Will Rogers
Reader, suppose you were an idiot. Now suppose you were a member of Congress. But I repeat myself.Mark Twain
Politicians and diapers must be changed often, and for the same reason.Mark Twain
I believe God in creating Man somewhat overestimated his ability.Oscar Wilde (photo below)

I never forget a face, but in your case I'll make an exception.Groucho Marx
She's descended from a long line her mother listened to.Gypsy Rose Lee (photo below)

There are many humorous things in the world; among them, the white man's notion that he is less savage than the other savages.Mark Twain
Some cause happiness wherever they go; others whenever they go.Oscar Wilde
Women who seek to be equal with men lack ambition.—Marilyn Monroe
I don't approve of political jokes; I have seen too many of them get elected.—Jon Stewart
The problem with most women is that they get all excited about nothing, then marry him.—Cher (photo below)

And here's one I especially like, to be used when men's eyes wander inappropriately:

Young man, if God had wanted you to see me that way, he would have put your eyes in your bellybutton.—Lillian Gish (photo below)

Here's one that insults male-ego-dominated Hollywood, in general:

The actresses were just scenery. The stories all revolved around the male actors; they really had the choice roles. All the actresses had to do was to look lovely, since the dialogue was ridiculous.—Anne Savage (photo below)

One of my favorite epigrammists is a famous actress who was much smarter and wiser than many of her fans realized. She seemed to agree with Anne Savage:

I've often stood silent at a party for hours listening to my movie idols turn into dull and little people.—Marilyn Monroe (photo below)

Marilyn Monroe in super cute undies.

John Lennon once managed to insult ten thousand years of artists and their individual and collective art:

Before Elvis, there was nothing.—John Lennon (photo of Elvis Presley below)

Elvis Presley

She loves nature in spite of what it did to her.—Bette Midler, regarding Princess Anne

She [Elizabeth Taylor] has more chins than a Chinese phonebook.—Joan Rivers
Boy George is all England needs: another queen who can't dress.—Joan Rivers
Mick Jagger could French kiss a moose. He has child-bearing lips.—Joan Rivers
The whole Michael Jackson thing was my fault. I told him to date only twenty-eight-year-olds. Who knew he would find twenty of them?—Joan Rivers

Self-deprecation is another form of insult:

I knew I was an unwanted baby when I saw that my bath toys were a toaster and a radio.—Joan Rivers
I've had so much plastic surgery that when I die they'll donate my body to Tupperware.—Joan Rivers

Now, in order to prove that the insult is not a dying art form, here are some of my favorite zingers about recent events and personalities, ending with the 2016 presidential candidates:

Bob Dole once called the reunion of ex-presidents Carter, Ford, and Nixon "See No Evil, Hear No Evil, and Evil."
Being called a traitor by Dick Cheney is the highest honor you can give an American.—Edward Snowden
Sarah Palin can't put thoughts together; she just spews talking points in random order.—Cenk Uygur
Halloween is a day when we all get to fool people into thinking we're someone else. Or, as Mitt Romney calls it, campaigning.—Bill Maher
Hookers in Times Square, god bless 'em, are offering a Mitt Romney Special. For an extra $20 they'll change positions.—David Letterman
Mitt Romney and Sarah Palin would be the perfect ticket: she can't answer basic questions, but he has two answers for every question.—Jay Leno
Sarah Palin couldn't name a single newspaper she reads, which wouldn't be so bad, except that her major was journalism.—Jay Leno
If ignorance ever goes to $40 a barrel, I want drilling rights on George Bush's head.—Jim Hightower
George Bush is proof that you can be totally impervious to the effects of a Harvard and Yale education.—Barney Frank
Poor George, he can't help it. He was born with a silver foot in his mouth.—Ann Richards
George W. Bush is a gift to comedy, a comedy piñata. I'm going to miss him.—Robin Williams
Sarah Palin met with world leaders to showcase her foreign policy expertise; the meeting lasted 90 seconds.—Conan O'Brien
Mitt Romney is about to face his fiercest ideological opponent: himself four years ago.—Conan O'Brien
Joni Ernst is an “onion of crazy.”Debbie Wasserman-Schultz
Sarah Palin is truly unique: she alone can make us appreciate Bush Junior's vastly superior intellect.—Michael R. Burch
I believe God is using Michelle Bachmann to conclusively prove that man did not evolve.—Michael R. Burch
Mitt Romney could suck the joy out of a lucky Irish rainbow, and the pot of gold at the end.—Michael R. Burch

John Boehner?
What a complainer!
(Never trust a man
with an orange tan.)
Michael R. Burch

Then there are the kings of unintentional comedy, who become the butts of their own absurd utterances:

Bring 'em on!―George "Dubya" Bush
Oh, no, we're not going to have any casualties.―George "Dubya" Bush
We will, in fact, be greeted as liberators.―Dick "the Penguin" Cheney
With every advance by our coalition forces, the wisdom of [our] plan becomes more apparent.―Dick "the Penguin" Cheney
Deficits don't matter.―Dick "the Penguin" Cheney
I don't do quagmires.―Donald "Rummy" Rumsfeld
I can't tell you if the use of force in Iraq today will last five days, five weeks or five months, but it won't last any longer than that.―Donald "Rummy" Rumsfeld
You teach a child to read, and he or her will be able to pass a literacy test.―George "Dubya" Bush
Rarely is the questioned asked: Is our children learning?―George "Dubya" Bush
Our enemies are innovative and resourceful, and so are we. They never stop thinking about new ways to harm our country and our people, and neither do we.―George "Dubya" Bush

Bill Maher suggests that we toss the entire Republican party on the political trash heap, like reeking refuse: “Everything Republicans say can't or won't work—gun control, immigration reform, high-speed rail—California is making work. And everything conservatives claim will unravel the fabric of our society—universal healthcare, higher taxes on the rich, gay marriage, medical marijuana—has only made California stronger. And all we had to do to accomplish that was vote out every single Republican!”

Did I grab your attention? If so, you may find this page worth exploring, because it contains some of the greatest insults, comebacks, rejoinders and verbal repartee of all time, along with information about the various genres of epigrams and the endlessly fascinating people who came up with them. I have worked with the interests of students young and old in mind, so if you want to learn more about epigrams and would like to do so by reading the exemplars, hopefully you have found the right "launching pad." Let me begin with a question:

Question: What do Woody Allen, Aristotle, Yogi Berra, Catherine the Great, Winston Churchill, e. e. cummings, Albert Einstein, Ben Franklin, Martial, Groucho Marx, Dorothy Parker, Dolly Parton, Will Rogers, Jonathan Swift, Mark Twain, Voltaire and Oscar Wilde have in common?

Answer: They all tossed out blistering insults the way Waffle House cooks sling hot hash!

Good insults are short and hard-hitting, like a boxer's best stiff jabs. And the best insults and rejoinders are funny as hell. I will take as my watchwords:

Brevity is the soul of wit.—William Shakespeare

And while one takes one's literary life into his hands when he attempts to go beyond the Masters, in the spirit of "nothing ventured, nothing gained" please allow me to suggest that:

If brevity is the soul of wit
then brevity and levity
are the whole of it.
Michael R. Burch

So let's get started. Here are some sterling examples of witty verbal repartee, or banter:

Lady Astor: "Winston, you're drunk!"
Winston Churchill: "But I shall be sober in the morning and you, madam, will still be ugly."
Lady Astor: "Mr. Churchill, if you were my husband, I'd put poison in your tea."
Winston Churchill: "Madam, if I were your husband, I'd drink it."

A British MP to Benjamin Disraeli: "Sir, you will either die on the gallows or of some unspeakable disease."
"That depends, sir," shot back Disraeli, "on whether I embrace your policies or your mistress."

Dorothy Parker and Clare Boothe Luce were trying to maneuver through a doorway of a ritzy New York restaurant at the same time. Clare drew back and cracked, "Age before beauty, Miss Parker." As Dorothy swept out, she turned to bystanders and countered, "Pearls before swine."

He has never been known to use a word that might send a reader to the dictionary.William Faulkner (about Ernest Hemingway).
Poor Faulkner. Does he really think big emotions come from big words?Ernest Hemingway (in response)

Dr. Samuel Johnson, the great eighteenth-century lexicographer, once showed up at a social event hosted by an aristocratic lady with his clothes in disarray. Here's what allegedly followed:

Aristocratic lady: "Dr. Johnson, your penis is sticking out!"
Dr. Johnson: Madame, you flatter yourself. "It's HANGING out."

Here are some more impressive examples of the fine art of the insult:

She was so ugly she could make a mule back away from an oat bin.—Will Rogers
If William Gladstone fell into the Thames, that would be a misfortune. If anybody pulled him out, that would be a calamity.Benjamin Disraeli
Richard Nixon inherited some good instincts from his Quaker forebears, but by diligent hard work, he overcame them.James Reston
Voltaire said that after reading Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who lauded the virtues of the noble savage, "one feels like crawling on all fours."
His ears made him look like a taxicab with both doors open.Howard Hughes (about Clark Gable)
Rudyard Kipling … stands for everything in this cankered world which I would wish were otherwise.Dylan Thomas
There are two ways of disliking poetry; one way is to dislike it, the other is to read Alexander Pope.Oscar Wilde
Every time I read Pride and Prejudice, I want to dig Jane Austen up and hit her over the skull with her own shin-bone.Mark Twain
Ulysses is the work of a queasy undergraduate scratching his pimples.—Virginia Woolf (about James Joyce)
He is mad, bad and dangerous to know.Lady Caroline Lamb (speaking of Lord Byron, the famous poet and rake; I believe this was probably more of a compliment than an insult, as I have the distinct impression that Miss Lamb would have hopped into bed with Byron without much protest)

Mike Ross, an Arkansas Democrat, dismissed Asa Hutchinson, his Republican opponent, quipping: "He may be the only lawyer in America who has conducted a trial with his brother on the jury and lost."

Some insults are so witty and sly that the objects, in this case male chauvinists, may still not know what hit them:

Men seldom make passes
At girls who wear glasses.
Dorothy Parker

However, some of the "targets" may be witty and sly enough to mount suitable rejoinders, as in this poem entitled "A Riposte to Dorothy Parker":

You're wrong—we'll make passes
At girls who wear glasses
As long as they're lasses
With cute, curvy asses.
Joseph S. Salemi

Dorothy Parker's epigram, called a spoonerism, is a stellar example of raillery, which has been defined as "light, teasing banter," "gentle mockery" and "good-humored satire or ridicule." It is also a good example of drollery: something whimsically comical. Raillery can be both wonderfully funny, and wonderfully effective:

If you can't be a good example, then you'll just have to be a horrible warning.—Catherine the Great
There is no glory in outstripping donkeys.—Marcus Valerius Martial
I regard you with an indifference bordering on aversion.Robert Louis Stevenson
Sometimes I need what only you can provide: your absence.Ashleigh Brilliant

Here's another spoonerism that I especially like, by one of my favorite poets:

Absinthe makes the tart grow fonder.Ernest Dowson

Other insults are much balder and might earn sobriquets like: tomfoolery, buffoonery, mummery, a chestnut, a gag, a ha-ha, a jape, a jest, a lark, a rib, a sally, a quirk, a whim, a vagary. A common form today is the comic's one-liner, or quip:

Take my wife ... please!—Henny Youngman, later adopted by Rodney Dangerfield as his signature line
His mother should have thrown him away and kept the stork.—Mae West
Some of my best leading men have been dogs and horses.—Elizabeth Taylor
"She's the sort of person who lives for others; you can tell the others by their haunted expression."—C. S. Lewis

An epithet is a term used to define or characterize someone or something. In Homer's day epithets were often complimentary, sometimes sublimely so. Now epithets are generally non-complimentary, if not downright offensive. Modern epithets often descend into derogatory slang and racial invective. But in the hands of a master epigrammatist like Will Rogers, they can still be sublime, in effect:

An economist's guess is liable to be as good as anybody else's.—Will Rogers
Make crime pay. Become a lawyer.—Will Rogers
A fool and his money are soon elected.—Will Rogers
I am not a member of any organized political party. I am a Democrat.—Will Rogers

A sub-genre of the epithet consists of racial, ethnic or cultural ribbing. Where I live in the South we poke fun at ourselves and our neighbors with "hillbilly humor":

You know you're a redneck if your family tree don't fork.—Unknown
You know you're a redneck if your cars sit on blocks and your "house" has wheels.—Unknown

Another genre engages in parody and lampooning. Here's one I hope to someday include it in a book of poems to be titled Why I Left the Religious Right:

I've got Jesus's name on a wallet insert
and "Hell is for Queers" on the back of my shirt
and I uphold the Law,
for grace has a flaw:
the Church must have someone to drag through the dirt.
Michael R. Burch

Some epigrams contain both vital wisdom and sparkling humor. Such an epigram can be the salvo a brilliant, battle-savvy epigrammatist launches against human ignorance, intolerance, cruelty and insanity:

There are many humorous things in the world; among them, the white man's notion that he is less savage than the other savages.—Mark Twain

When we consider the expensive, bloody follies of the U.S. government in the Middle East, we can only wish our politicians had heeded Will Rogers:

If there is one thing that we do worse than any other nation, it is try and manage somebody else's affairs.Will Rogers

Following in the same vein of questioning whether human beings are using their advanced brains to "think" when they do such things as wage war, here are two epigrams dripping with irony by one of my favorite contemporary writers:

Thinking is often claimed but seldom proven. T. Merrill
It must be hard being brilliant with no way to prove it. T. Merrill

The great epigrammatists often arise from the ranks of the disaffected and oppressed. Oscar Wilde, perhaps the greatest epigrammatist of them all, served time in Reading Gaol for "indecency" (he had the temerity to be flamboyantly gay). Mark Twain wrote volumes exposing and expounding on the massive illogic of orthodox Christianity (he had the temerity to be a heretic, but had to hold up the publication of his anti-Christian opus Letters from the Earth for fifty years after his death, in order to protect his family from hellfire-spouting Christian fundamentalists). Einstein produced many of his epigrams against the backdrop of Nazi Germany (he had the temerity to be a brilliant Jew). Today many of our best epigrammatists are women who combine sharp minds with even sharper tongues:

Behind every successful man is a surprised woman.—Maryon Pearson
A male gynecologist is like an auto mechanic who never owned a car.—Carrie Snow
If you want anything said, ask a man. If you want anything done, ask a woman.—Margaret Thatcher

Here's a similar epigram that I absolutely love, although it creates something of a dichotomy:

When women are depressed they either eat or go shopping. Men invade another country.—Elayne Boosler

Female politicians like Margaret Thatcher may be somewhat at odds (or loose ends) with female comedians like Elayne Boosler, since Thatcher wasn't above an invasion herself (of the Falkland Islands). But Boosler hammers the human funnybone nonetheless. She doesn't have to be perfect, just witty and succinct enough to make us blink, then think.

The stupendous epigrams above prove women's brains are every bit as good as men's, as they extract Eve's revenge at the expense of men's prehistoric prejudices. Here's my favorite epigram in this genre:

Whatever women must do they must do twice as well as men to be thought half as good. Luckily, this is not difficult.—Charlotte Whitton

A great female epigrammatist can use her razor-sharp wit to deflate bigotry:

I'm not offended by dumb blonde jokes because I'm not dumb, and also I'm not blonde.—Dolly Parton

Has anyone ever made a better case for the combinatory advantages of brains, wigs and peroxide? (I will refrain from mentioning Dolly's other, even more glamorous advantages.)

Yogi Berra made a scathing point about people who think they know more than they actually do:

There are some people who, if they don't already know, you can't tell 'em.—Yogi Berra

There can be wisdom to be found in a wise man's insults; this one is aimed at hypocrites:

Nothing so needs reforming as other people’s habits.—Mark Twain

The British are past experts at the art of witty verbal repartee. Here's an exchange between George Bernard Shaw and Winston Churchill:

Shaw: "I am enclosing two tickets to the first night of my new play; bring a friend ... if you have one."
Churchill, in response: "Cannot possibly attend first night, will attend second ... if there is one."

Insults and derision can also be aimed at inanimate objects, such as religion, religious institutions and texts:

If God
is good
half the Bible
is libel.
Michael R. Burch

The Oscar Goes to Wilde: Epigrams by the Divine Oscar Wilde

He has no enemies, but is intensely disliked by his friends.
He would stab his best friend for the sake of writing an epigram on his tombstone.
She is a peacock in everything but beauty.
A gentleman is one who never hurts anyone's feelings unintentionally.
Some cause happiness wherever they go; others whenever they go.
Democracy means simply the bludgeoning of the people by the people for the people.
I believe God in creating Man somewhat overestimated his ability.
Morality is simply the attitude we adopt towards people we personally dislike.
Self-denial is the shining sore on the leprous body of Christianity.
Whenever a man does a thoroughly stupid thing, it is always from the noblest motives.
The public is wonderfully tolerant. It forgives everything except genius.
Fashion is a form of ugliness so intolerable we are compelled to alter it every six months.
America is the only country that went from barbarism to decencies without civilization in between.
To disagree with three-fourths of the British public is one of the first requisites of sanity.
Do not speak ill of society ... only people who can't get in do that.
Arguments are extremely vulgar, for everyone in good society holds exactly the same opinion.
Woman begins by resisting a man's advances and ends by blocking his retreat.
A man's face is his autobiography. A woman's face is her work of fiction.
All women become like their mothers. That is their tragedy. No man does. That's his.
How marriage ruins a man! It is as demoralizing as cigarettes, and far more expensive.
Men always want to be a woman's first love; women like to be a man's last romance.
Bigamy is having one wife too many. Monogamy is the same.
Deceiving others: that is what the world calls a romance.
Only the dull are brilliant at breakfast.
Consistency is the last refuge of the unimaginative.
Only the shallow know themselves.
Seriousness is the only refuge of the shallow.
The old believe everything, the middle-aged suspect everything, the young know everything.
A cynic is a man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.
Whenever people agree with me I always feel I must be wrong.
Why was I born with such contemporaries?

If, with the literate, I am
Impelled to try an epigram,
I never seek to take the credit;
We all assume that Oscar said it.
Dorothy Parker

If every witty thing that’s said was true,
Oscar Wilde, the world would worship You!
Michael R. Burch

The Twain Well Met: Epigrams by Mark Twain

I didn't attend the funeral, but I sent a nice letter saying I approved of it.
Reader, suppose you were an idiot. Now suppose you were a member of Congress. But I repeat myself.
There is probably no distinctly American criminal class, except Congress.
His ignorance covers the world like a blanket, and there's scarcely a hole in it anywhere.
He is useless on top of the ground; he aught to be under it, inspiring the cabbages.
I could never learn to like her, except on a raft at sea with no other provisions in sight.
Take the lies out of him and he'll shrink to the size of your hat; take the malice out of him, and he'll disappear.
To be good is noble; but to show others how to be good is nobler and less trouble.
Always do right. That will gratify some of the people, and astonish the rest.
By trying we can easily learn to endure adversity. Another man's, I mean.
Providence protects children and idiots. I know because I have tested it.
Go to Heaven for the climate, Hell for the company.
The Christian's Bible is a drug store. Its contents remain the same, but the medical practice changes.
It's not the parts of the Bible that I don't understand that bother me, it's the parts I do understand.
A banker lends you his umbrella when the sun is shining, but wants it back the minute it begins to rain.
The very ink with which history is written is merely fluid prejudice.
It's no wonder that truth is stranger than fiction. Fiction has to make sense.
If you don't read the newspaper, you are uninformed; if you do, you are misinformed.
The man who does not read good books has no advantage over the man who cannot read them.
Soap and education are not as sudden as a massacre, but they are more deadly in the long run.
What is the difference between a taxidermist and a tax collector? The taxidermist takes only your skin.
There is no sadder sight than a young pessimist.
The man who is a pessimist before 48 knows too much; if he is an optimist after, he knows too little.
Man is the only animal that blushes. Or needs to.
The rule is perfect: in all matters of opinion our adversaries are insane.
The human race is a race of cowards; and I am not only marching in that procession but carrying a banner.
If you pick up a starving dog and make him prosperous, he will not bite you. This is the principal difference between a dog and a man.
There are many humorous things in the world; among them, the white man's notion that he is less savage than the other savages.

The Elegant Epigrams and Side-Splitting Spoonerisms of Dorothy Parker

Men seldom make passes
At girls who wear glasses.

That woman speaks eight languages and can't say "no" in any of them.
If all the girls who attended the Yale prom were laid end to end, I wouldn't be a bit surprised.
If you want to know what God thinks of money, just look at the people he gave it to.
This is not a novel to be tossed aside lightly. It should be thrown with great force.
She runs the gamut of emotions from A to B. [speaking of Katharine Hepburn]

Right on the Marx: the Epigrams of Groucho Marx

Why don't you bore a hole in yourself and let the sap run out?
I don't care to belong to a club that accepts people like me as members.
I've had a perfectly wonderful evening. But this wasn't it.
Remember men, we're fighting for this woman's honor; which is probably more than she ever did.
Don't look now, but there's one too many in this room and I think it's you.
Time wounds all heels.
You know I could rent you out as a decoy for duck hunters?
Who are you going to believe, me or your own eyes?
Do you think I could buy back my introduction to you?
Don't point that beard at me, it might go off.
I never forget a face, but in your case I'll make an exception.
She got her good looks from her father. He's a plastic surgeon.
You've got the brain of a four-year-old boy, and I bet he was glad to get rid of it.
He may look like an idiot and talk like an idiot but don't let that fool you. He really is an idiot.
I didn't like the play, but then I saw it under adverse conditions — the curtain was up.
I was married by a judge. I should have asked for a jury.
From the moment I picked your book up until I laid it down I was convulsed with laughter. Some day I intend ro read it.

Mayday: The Epigrams of Mae West

The finest woman that ever walked the streets.
His mother should have thrown him away and kept the stork.
She's the kind of woman who climbed the ladder of success — wrong by wrong.
He's the kind of man who picks his friends — to pieces.

Wincin' at Winston: the Epigrams and Repartee of Winston Churchill

He has all the virtues I dislike and none of the vices I admire.
There but for the grace of God, goes God.
A modest little person, with much to be modest about.

Lady Astor: "Winston, you're drunk!"
Winston Churchill: "But I shall be sober in the morning and you, madam, will still be ugly."
Lady Astor: "Mr Churchill, if you were my husband, I'd put poison in your tea."
Winston Churchill: "Madam, if I were your husband, I'd drink it."

George Bernard Shaw, to Winston Churchill: "I am enclosing two tickets to the first night of my new play; bring a friend ... if you have one."
Winston Churchill, in response: "Cannot possibly attend first night, will attend second ... if there is one."

Moore Succinct: the Epigrams of
Richard Moore

Nowadays we make quick work of our courtships; it's our divorces that we spend a lot of time on.
When I read Homer, I sometimes have the feeling that we have been starving to death for 3,000 years.
It's amazing what modern arts audiences nowadays will put up with. What a little pretentiousness won't do!

Humor Equals Wit Times Genius Squared: The Epigrams of Albert Einstein

Whoever set himself up as a judge of Truth is shipwrecked by the laughter of the gods.
Common sense is the collection of prejudices acquired by age eighteen.
Only two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I'm not sure about the former.
Great spirits have often encountered violent opposition from weak minds.

Epigrams Reign: Michel de Montaigne

Nothing is so firmly believed as that which least is known.
Man cannot make a worm, yet he will make gods by the dozen.
A good marriage would be between a blind wife and a deaf husband.
No man is a hero to his own valet.
The way of the world is to make laws, but follow custom.
Marriage: a market which has nothing free but the entrance.
Fashion is the science of appearances, and it inspires one with the desire to seem rather than to be.
Our religion is made to eradicate vices, instead it encourages them, covers them, and nurtures them.

Epigrammatic Poems about Poets and Poetry:

Poets aren't very useful
Because they aren't consumeful or produceful.
—Ogden Nash

Readers and listeners praise my books;
You swear they're worse than a beginner's.
Who cares? I always plan my dinners
To please the diners, not the cooks.
—Martial, translated by R. L. Barth

Though Edgar Poe writes a lucid prose
Just and rhetorical without exertion,
It loses all lucidity, God knows,
In the single, poorly rendered English version.
—Thom Gunn

Pierced by Bierce: Epigrams by Ambrose Bierce

Applause, n. The echo of a platitude.
Bigot, n. One who is obstinately and zealously attached to an opinion that you do not entertain.
Love, n. A temporary insanity curable by marriage.
Saint, n. A dead sinner revised and edited.

The Death of Class

I am his Highness' dog at Kew;
Pray tell me, sir, whose dog are you?
—Alexander Pope

Her whole life is an epigram: smack smooth, and neatly penned,
Platted quite neat to catch applause, with a sliding noose at the end.
—William Blake

Errors and Terrors

Treason doth never prosper; what's the reason?
For if it prosper, none dare call it treason.
—Sir John Harrington

Bigotry is the sacred disease.—Heraclitus

A Brief Take on Blake: Epigrams by William Blake

Those who restrain desire, do so because theirs is weak enough to be restrained.

The Errors of a Wise Man make your Rule
Rather than the Perfections of a Fool
—William Blake

Type Cast

a politician is an arse upon
which everyone has sat except a man
—e. e. cummings

This Humanist whom no beliefs constrained
Grew so broad-minded he was scatter-brained.
—J. V. Cunningham

A Word to the Wise, by the Wordwise

It is Homer who has chiefly taught other poets the art of telling lies skillfully.—Aristotle
Man does not live by words alone, despite the fact that sometimes he has to eat them.—Adlai Stevenson

Sagely Aging

Some people are alive only because it's illegal to kill them.—Unknown
Adults are just obsolete children.—Dr. Seuss
Inside every older lady is a younger lady . . . wondering what the hell happened.—Cora Armstrong

Sports Shorts

There are some people who, if they don't already know, you can't tell 'em.—Yogi Berra
So I'm ugly. So what? I never saw anyone hit with his face.—Yogi Berra

A Smidgen of Religion

Don’t give up. Moses was once a basket case.—Unknown
Forbidden fruit creates many jams.—Unknown
Some people attend church three times in their lives: when they're hatched, when they're matched, and when they're dispatched.—Unknown

Women and We Men (Wee Men?)

A man's got to do what a man's got to do. A woman must do what he can't.—Rhonda Hansome
Behind every successful man is a surprised woman.—Maryon Pearson
A male gynecologist is like an auto mechanic who never owned a car.—Carrie Snow
If you want anything said, ask a man. If you want anything done, ask a woman.—Margaret Thatcher
When women are depressed they either eat or go shopping. Men invade another country.—Elayne Boosler
I'm not offended by dumb blonde jokes because I'm not dumb, and I'm also not blonde.—Dolly Parton
Whatever women must do they must do twice as well as men to be thought half as good. Luckily, this is not difficult.Charlotte Whitton

Funny Money

It is easy when we are in prosperity to give advice to the afflicted.―Aeschylus
Money is the wise man's religion.—Euripides
When it is a question of money, everybody is of the same religion.Voltaire
I found out that I was a Christian for revenue only and I could not bear the thought of that, it was so ignoble.—Mark Twain
If an all-powerful God has the cattle on a thousand hills, why does he need my tithes?Mike Burch

Where there's a Will there's a Way: the Epigrams of Will Rogers

She was so ugly she could make a mule back away from an oat bin.
An economist's guess is liable to be as good as anybody else's.
Make crime pay. Become a lawyer.
A fool and his money are soon elected.
Be thankful we're not getting all the government we're paying for.
I am not a member of any organized political party. I am a Democrat.
I don't make jokes. I just watch the government and report the facts.
The U.S. Senate opens with a prayer and closes with an investigation.
Congress in session is like when the baby gets hold of a hammer.
America is becoming so educated that ignorance will soon be a novelty.
Everybody is ignorant, only on different subjects.
I bet after seeing us, George Washington would sue us for calling him "father."
It isn't what we don't know that gives us trouble, it's what we know that ain't so.
Liberty doesn't work as well in practice as it does in speeches.
Our constitution protects aliens, drunks and U.S. Senators.
People are getting smarter nowadays; they're letting lawyers, not their conscience, be their guide.
People who fly into a rage always make a bad landing.
The only way you can beat the lawyers is to die with nothing.
The United States never lost a war or won a conference.
There is no more independence in politics than there is in jail.
There is nothing so stupid as the educated man if you get him off his subject.
There ought to be one day, just one, when there is open season on senators.
Things in our country run in spite of government, not by aid of it.
We will never have true civilization until we have learned to recognize the rights of others.
What the country needs is dirtier fingernails and cleaner minds.
If there's one thing we do worse than any other nation, it's managing somebody else's affairs.
The only difference between death and taxes is that death doesn't get worse every time Congress meets.
Advertising is the art of convincing people to spend money they don't have for something they don't need.
Some men learn by reading. A few learn by observation. The rest have to pee on the electric fence for themselves.

Woody Allen

I'd call him a sadistic, hippophilic necrophile, but that would be beating a dead horse.
Her figure described a set of parabolas that could cause cardiac arrest in a yak.
Not only is there no God, but try getting a plumber on weekends.
To you I'm an atheist; to God, I'm the Loyal Opposition.
If it turns out that there is a God, I don't think he's evil. The worst you can say about him is that basically he's an underachiever.

Jonathan Swift

A tavern is a place where madness is sold by the bottle.
As blushing may make a whore seem virtuous, so modesty may make a fool seem sensible.
I never wonder to see men wicked, but I often wonder to see them not ashamed.
Men are happy to be laughed at for their humor, but not for their folly.
Politics, as the word is commonly understood, are nothing but corruptions.
We have enough religion to make us hate, but not enough to make us love one another.
When a true genius appears, you can know him by this sign: that all the dunces are in a confederacy against him.
I never saw, heard, nor read, that the clergy were beloved in any nation where Christianity was the religion of the country. Nothing can render them popular, but some degree of persecution.

Marcus Valerius Martial

There is no glory in outstripping donkeys.
Lawyers are men who hire out their words and anger.
You give me nothing during your life, but you promise to provide for me at your death. If you are not a fool, you know what I wish for!

Douglas Adams

Anyone capable of getting made President should on no account be allowed to do the job.
Human beings, who are almost unique in having the ability to learn from the experience of others, are also remarkable for their apparent disinclination to do so.

John Adams

In my many years I have come to a conclusion that one useless man is a shame, two is a law firm, and three or more is a congress.

Nota Bene: the Notable Epigrams of Ben Franklin

A man between two lawyers is like a fish between two cats.
Any fool can criticize, condemn and complain and most fools do.
Experience keeps a dear school, but fools will learn in no other.
Fish and visitors smell after three days.


The man who can't make mistakes, can't make anything.—Abraham Lincoln
He can compress the most words into the smallest idea of any man I know. — Abraham Lincoln
He knows nothing but thinks he knows everything. That points clearly to a political career. — George Bernard Shaw
The trouble with her is that she lacks the power of conversation but not the power of speech. — George Bernard Shaw
Little things affect little minds. — Benjamin Disraeli
A sophisticated rhetorician, inebriated with the exuberance of his own verbosity. — Benjamin Disraeli
There is none so blind as they that won't see.—Jonathan Swift
In order to avoid being called a flirt, she always yielded easily. — Charles, Count Talleyrand
She is such a good friend that she would throw all her acquaintances into the water for the pleasure of fishing them out again. — Charles, Count Talleyrand
I see her as one great stampede of lips directed at the nearest derriere. — Noël Coward
She had much in common with Hitler, only no mustache. — Noel Coward
He's completely unspoiled by failure. — Noel Coward
She resembles the Venus de Milo: very old, no teeth, with white spots on her yellow skin. — Heinrich Heine
Ordinarily he is insane. But he has lucid moments when he is only stupid. — Heinrich Heine
The tautness of his face sours ripe grapes. —William Shakespeare
Women are like elephants to me: nice to look at, but I wouldn't want to own one. — W. C. Fields
He is brilliant — to the top of his boots. — David Lloyd George
A brain of feathers, and a heart of lead. — Alexander Pope
A wit with dunces, and a dunce with wits. — Alexander Pope
Sometimes I need what only you can provide: your absence. — Ashleigh Brilliant
I will always love the false image I had of you. — Ashleigh Brilliant
I want to reach your mind — where is it currently located? — Ashleigh Brilliant
She tells enough white lies to ice a wedding cake. — Margot Asquith
He's very clever, but sometimes his brains go to his head. — Margot Asquith
He could never see a belt without hitting below it. — Margot Asquith
She spends her day powdering her face till she looks like a bled pig. — Margot Asquith
Fine words! I wonder where you stole them. — Jonathan Swift
She wears her clothes as if they were thrown on with a pitchfork. — Jonathan Swift
He looked as inconspicuous as a tarantula on a slice of angel food. — Raymond Chandler
She was the kind of girl who'd eat all your cashews and leave you with nothing but peanuts and filberts. —Raymond Chandler
Gee, what a terrific party. Later on we'll get some fluid and embalm each other. — Neil Simon
He has Van Gogh's ear for music. — Billy Wilder
He has the attention span of a lightning bolt. — Robert Redford
I have never killed a man, but I have read many obituaries with great pleasure. — Clarence Darrow
There goes the famous good time that was had by all. — Bette Davis
He had delusions of adequacy. — Walter Kerr
Thank you for sending me a copy of your book; I'll waste no time reading it. — Moses Hadas
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
What you said hurt me very much. I cried all the way to the bank. — Liberace
He is simply a shiver looking for a spine to run up. — Paul Keating
He loves nature in spite of what it did to him. — Forrest Tucker
There's nothing wrong with you that reincarnation won't cure. — Jack E. Leonard
Why are we honoring this man? Have we run out of human beings? — Milton Berle
You're a parasite for sore eyes. — Gregory Ratoff
The higher a monkey climbs, the more you see of its behind. — Joseph Stilwell
They don't make'm like him any more, but just to be on the safe side, he should be castrated anyway. — Hunter S. Thompson
If you ever become a mother, can I have one of the puppies? — Charles Pierce
I like long walks, especially when they are taken by people who annoy me. — Fred Allen
I regard you with an indifference bordering on aversion. — Robert Louis Stevenson
I thought men like that shot themselves. — King George V
You had to stand in line to hate him. — Hedda Hopper
You have a good and kind soul. It just doesn't match the rest of you. — Norm Papernick
You're a mouse studying to be a rat. — Wilson Mizner
You were born with your legs apart. They'll send you to the grave in a Y-shaped coffin. — Joe Orton
Your idea of fidelity is not having more than one man in bed at the same time. — Frederic Raphael
The perfection of rottenness. — William James
Where others have hearts, he carries a tumor of rotten principles. — Jack London
Some folks are wise and some are otherwise. — Tobias George Smolett
"Some men are born mediocre, some achieve mediocrity, and some have mediocrity thrust upon them. — Joseph Heller
She was like a sinking ship firing on the rescuers. — Alexander Woollcott
She's been on more laps than a napkin. — Walter Winchell
She has been kissed as often as a police-court Bible, and by the same class of people." — Robertson Davies
He was trying to save both his faces. — John Gunther
God was bored by him. — Victor Hugo
He is a man of splendid abilities but utterly corrupt. He shines and stinks like rotten mackerel by moonlight. — John Randolph
He is the same old sausage, fizzing and sputtering in his own grease. — Henry James
He made enemies as naturally as soap makes suds. — Percival Wilde
He was a bit like a corkscrew. Twisted, cold and sharp. — Kate Cruise O'Brien
He was happily married — but his wife wasn't. — Victor Borge
It's like cuddling with a Butterball turkey. — Jeff Foxworthy
She was a large woman who seemed not so much dressed as upholstered. — James Matthew Barrie
She was what we used to call a suicide blonde — dyed by her own hand. — Saul Bellow
The chief excitement in a woman's life is spotting women who are fatter than she is. — Helen Rowland
Women's intuition is the result of millions of years of not thinking. — Rupert Hughes
Outside every thin girl is a fat man, trying to get in. — Katharine Whitehorn
He knows so little and knows it so fluently. — Ellen Glasgow
He never chooses an opinion; he just wears whatever happens to be in style. — Leo Tolstoy
He never said a foolish thing nor never did a wise one. — Earl of Rochester
He thinks by infection, catching an opinion like a cold. — John Ruskin
His ignorance is encyclopedic. — Abba Eban
His mind is so open that the wind whistles through it. — Heywood Braun
She is a water bug on the surface of life. — Gloria Steinem
Abstract art? A product of the untalented, sold by the unprincipled to the utterly bewildered. — Al Capp
Modesty is the artifice of actors, similar to passion in call girls. — Jackie Gleason
Nature not content with denying him the ability to think, has endowed him with the ability to write. — A. E. Housman
You have all the characteristics of a popular politician: a horrible voice, bad breeding, and a vulgar manner. — Aristophanes

Moore Succinct: the Epigrams of
Richard Moore

Nowadays we make quick work of our courtships; it's our divorces that we spend a lot of time on.

When I read Homer, I sometimes have the feeling that we have been starving to death for 3,000 years.

The social animal—at least, in the human case—is necessarily an imitative animal; for it would seem to be our capacity to imitate others and to let their thoughts and personalities invade ours that makes coherent society possible.

We descendants of Christianity, we creations of that book, The Bible, can't endure Lucretius' lush relish and appreciation of the sensuous life here on earth. Everything in our abstract, celluloid-charmed, computer-driven, and, above all, money-maddened lifestyle separates us from that life on earth.

Government and the arts, alas, they just don't mix.
Your bed of roses, bureaucrat, is full of pricks.

It's amazing what modern arts audiences nowadays will put up with. What a little pretentiousness won't do! The Parisians in its first audience threw rotten vegetables at Stravinsky's Rites of Spring. Now in Ann Arbor, Michigan, everybody politely sits, pretending to enjoy it." [This reminds us of one the very best, and most hilarious, books on modern art and literature: Tom Wolfe's The Painted Word.]

Years ago, when I taught a class in poetry writing in Brandeis University, the students had never heard of me, but they all knew about John Ashbery and knew how great he was, though none of them could explain why.

Related pages: Famous Beauties, Famous Courtesans, Famous Ingénues, Famous Hustlers, Famous Pool Sharks, Famous Rogues, Famous Heretics, Famous Hypocrites, Famous Forgers, Famous Frauds, Famous Flops, Famous Morons, The Dumbest Things Ever Said, The Best Conservative Jokes, The Best Religious Jokes, Famous Last Words, Famous Insults, Famous Falsettos

The HyperTexts