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Looking for the perfect insult?
on January 6, 2003
There's a lot of material here that you won't find in, say, Bartlett's Familiar Quotations. And some of it is surprising, some of it is delightful, a lot is funny, and some of it useful for cribbing. (Take the structure of an insult aimed at x, rearrange a word or two, and aim it at y.) For example, Mark Twain is quoted on the cover as saying, "Suppose you were an idiot, and suppose you were a member of Congress, but I repeat myself." (Incidentally this gem is not in Bartlett's, at least not in the sixteenth edition, which I have.) Teachers, for example, can then say, "Suppose you were an idiot, and suppose you were an administrator, but I repeat myself." For those of you in the business world, just plug in "CEO," etc.
Also not found in Bartlett's (alas there's a lot unavoidably not found in Bartlett's, but that's another review), is this on critics from Marilyn Monroe: "I've always felt those articles somehow reveal more about the writers than they do about me." Dumb blonde?--troubled, but not dumb.
Compiler Colin Jarman organizes the verbal swordplay into chapters by category, beginning with "Critics and Criticism" in chapter one, followed by "The Creative Arts"...through literature, drama, film, music...religion, etc., ending with "Insults, Retorts, and Self-Criticism" in which the quoted get to insult themselves, e.g., "I'm as pure as the driven slush" -Tallulah Bankhead. There's an Index by name referencing both the speaker and the target.
The quality of the insults and ironic misspeakings is very high. I read this through in one setting some years ago, compulsively, and had many a chuckle and some outright belly laughs, and then I read it again a couple of years later and laughed anew. Looking through it once again, I have to say, there was a lot I underappreciated.
Bottom line: worth both the candle and the plastic.