One of the most effective ways to deal with an adversary or to make a point, is with a quick-witted response or come-back. Some people are exceptionally talented when it comes to such rejoinders or retorts. The best of these involve brevity and pointedness and it is this combination that makes for their effectiveness. Here are a few that I found on the net as I prepared this post. Some I was familiar with and others were new to me:

John Montagu, also known as the Earl of Sandwich, and the reformist politician, John Wilkes had a long-standing rivalry. During a heated argument, Montagu scowled at Wilkes and said derisively, “Upon my soul, Wilkes, I don’t know whether you’ll die upon the gallows, or of syphilis”. Unfazed, Wilkes came back with what many regard as the greatest retort of all time: “That will depend, my Lord, on whether I embrace your principles, or your mistress.”

Winston Churchill & Lady Astor were constantly feuding: One one occasion she said, “If you were my husband I’d give you poison.” He said, “If you were my wife, I’d drink it.”

Lewis Morris, a poet, complained to Oscar Wilde: “It is a conspiracy of silence against me – a conspiracy of silence. What should I do?” Oscar Wilde who was not overly impressed with Morris’ poetry said: “Join it.”

George Bernard Shaw sent a message to Winston Churchill: “Am reserving two tickets for you for my premiere. Come and bring a friend – if you have one.” Churchill responded “Impossible to be present for the first performance. Will attend second – if there is one.”

Playwright Marc Connelly was dining with friends when another member of the group snuck up from behind, placed his hands on top of Connelly’s bald head, and said to the amusement of the other guests, “Marc, your head feels as smooth as my wife’s ass.” Without missing a beat, Connelly raised his hands to his head, began rubbing his own scalp, and with a wry smile, said: “So it does, so it does.”

Truman Capote at the height of his popularity, was with friends in a crowded Key West bar. Nearby sat a couple, both inebriated. The woman recognized Capote, walked over to his table, and gushingly asked him to autograph a paper napkin. The woman’s husband, angry at his wife’s display of interest in another man, staggered over to Capote’s table and proceeded to unzip his trousers and “hauled out his equipment.” He bellowed in a drunken slur, “Since you’re autographing things, why don’t you autograph this?” A hush fell over the room and Capote’s soft, high-pitched voice delivered the perfect emasculating reply: “I don’t know if I can autograph it, but perhaps I can initial it.”

W. C. Fields died at age sixty-seven, his life cut short by his notorious alcohol consumption. As he lay in his hospital bed shortly before his death, Fields was visited by the actor Thomas Mitchell, a good friend. When Mitchell entered Fields’ room, he was shocked to find the irreligious, agnostic Fields paging through a Bible. “What are you doing reading a Bible?” asked the astonished Mitchell. Fields replied: “I’m looking for loopholes.”

n 1931, shortly after being named Time magazine’s “Man of the Year,” Gandhi traveled to London to meet with British authorities on a time table for independence. Gandhi was peppered with questions wherever he went. One day a reporter yelled out, “What do you think of Western civilization?” Gandhi’s reply instantly transformed him from an object of curiosity into a celebrity. He answered: “I think it would be a good idea.”

Pope John XXIII was once asked by a journalist, “How many people work in the Vatican?” The pontiff pondered the question, giving the impression that he was trying to come up with an accurate estimate. Then, with a straight face, he answered: “About half.”

Groucho Marx’s “You Bet Your Life” was one of the most popular shows on television. One night, a contestant revealed that he was the father of ten children. When Groucho asked “Why so many children?” the man answered, “Well, Groucho, I love my wife.” Marx hesitated for a moment and then delivered one of the most famous lines never to be actually broadcast on the show: “I love my cigar, but I take it out of my mouth once in a while.”

Mae West achieved national fame when she was jailed for eight days for “corrupting the morals of youth.” In 1928, she followed up with her next hit play, Diamond Lil, in which she more fully displayed the sultry, wisecracking style that would become her trademark. In one scene, a woman gazes at West’s jewelry and says with admiration, “Goodness! What beautiful diamonds.” West replied: “Goodness had nothing to do with it, dearie.”

Finally, here is one I wondered about including. It was by Brittany Murphy, a former flame of Ashton Kutcher. Kutcher married Demi Moore who is 16 years older than Kutcher. On the David Letterman show, Murphy said of the couple: “I suppose that their relationship is based on the fact that he did not care about age difference and she does not care about the size of the penis!”

Thanks to Dr Mardy.Com for several of the above quotes.

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4 Responses to “Repartees, rejoinders and retorts”

  1. Neil says:

    Hello. Stumbled upon this post through Google while searching for that Truman Capote post. A nice compilation, thanks, enjoyed reading it, but just a couple thoughts – I believe that the Groucho quote (which, like most of these, is pretty apocraphyl so it’s not as if there’s a “true story”) is usually told as being an exchange between Groucho and the wife/mother, and the Brittany Murphy quote is “I guess the crux of their relationship is that to him age doesn’t matter and to her size doesn’t matter.” (only insinuating the whole penis part).

  2. Neil says:

    *Truman Capote comment, that is.

  3. frauwyler says:

    Wonderful article and great compilation!

  4. comment etre enceinte facilement says:

    I sign into my Tumblr account, and switch the dashboard from my main blog to the secondary blog, then I go to Account > Preferences > Customize your blog, but then it just takes me to the customization page for my main blog. Any way to customize my secondary blog, or should I just create a second account altogether?.

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