Ever found yourself replaying a past argument in your mind and thinking 'That's what I should have said!' The French have a phrase for it - l'Esprit d'escalier - 'the spirit that passes on the staircase'. But what can we do to make sure that we have the right words to say at exactly the right time?
We asked you to sharpen those claws and thrill us with your razor-sharp wit. From subtle or intelligent to downright bitchy, we wanted to hear your best put-downs, those one-liner retorts guaranteed to win any debate or silence even the sharpest opponents, and here's what you told us. These are just a sample of some of the pearls that can be found in the Conversations at the bottom of this entry.
Television and Film
The silver screen and television have provided several generations with classic barbed witticisms and in the caring sharing spirit of h2g2, here are a few of your favourites:
It's [Los Angeles] so clean out here.
That's because they don't throw their garbage away. They turn it into television shows.
Kate and Leopold
Two former lovers having a row over the phone....
Ex-girlfriend - I wasted the best years of my life on you!
Ex-boyfriend - Your best years?
Drop the Dead Donkey
With its winning combination of strong characterisations, alongside sharply observed topical humour - topical humour so integral that many of the older repeats have a brief introduction to the news of the day at the time of broadcast - Drop the Dead Donkey was a truly contemporary comedy and undoubtedly one of the great comedy series of the 1990s, set in a bustling TV news office. Here are some classic moments:
When Damien has just tried to psych the company softball team up:
Damien - Look, I don't know the meaning of the word lose.
Dave - There are lots of words you don't know the meaning of - taste, decency, ...
When Sally says she was the official pin-up of an army group during the gulf war.
Henry - Sad isn't it, what the desert can do to men's minds.
Blackadder is the general name for any one of the four BBC TV sitcoms based around the life of Edmund Blackadder - aristocrat or upper class friend of Royalty. Each series is set around a particular historical period, and follows the lives of four different Edmund Blackadders, each one a direct descendent of the previous incarnation.
From Blackadder to his sidekick/servant Baldrick.
Ah - it's time for us to meet our maker - in my case God, in your case, God knows.
God is supposed to have made man in his own image. It would be a great shock to Christians everywhere if God looked anything like you, Baldrick.
Blackadder - Baldrick, you're fired.
Baldrick - (aghast) Oh, but I've been in your family since 1532!
Blackadder - So has syphilis. Now get out.
To other, unsuspecting cast members...
Prince Ludwig - Ah - you think you're clever, huh? Do you?
Blackadder - Well, I try not to fly in the face of public opinion.
Mrs Miggins, if we were the last three humans on earth, I'd be trying to start a family with Baldrick.
The workplace is a breeding ground for the down right bitchy. After all, it is the place where you are forced to spend a third of your day in the company of people you would normally cross the street to avoid. Add to this tension, deadlines and gossip and you may find yourself using one of the following:
Well, I've had a Wonderful Time...
A friend of mine with a tangibly dry and direct manner, begun his leaving speech with 'Some of you I consider friends, others, people I met'.
But if you're feeling particularly minty, try this one:
To my intense delight I managed to remember this wonderful Groucho Marx line as I was leaving an awful company: 'Well, I've had a wonderful time; only this wasn't it.'
Unfunny Old Men
Part of the office junior's work is to learn to cope with the office senior - that sad old man with a penchant for cosy cardigans. Here's one way to deal with him:
My manager Sally, is from England and has pale, pale, pale white skin; not unlike a porcelain doll. She told me this story. Upon meeting a work colleague's husband (Lou) for the first time, Lou said to Sally, 'So Sal, when are you going to get a tan?'.
Appalled, Sally cut him down with 'When you grow hair'. The fat, bald and unfunny Lou didn't say a word for the rest of the encounter.
These are for all the women who want a good put-down in response to some of the lame lines they're likely to hear in a bar, at work, on the bus, or anywhere really:
He - Can I buy you a drink?
She - Actually I'd rather have the money.
He - Hi. Didn't we go on a date once? Or was it twice?
She - Must've been once. I never make the same mistake twice.
He - How did you get to be so beautiful?
She - I must've been given your share.
He - Your face must turn a few heads.
She - And your face must turn a few stomachs.
He - Go on, don't be shy. Ask me out.
She - Okay, get out.
He - What would you say if I asked you to marry me?
She - Nothing. I can't talk and laugh at the same time.
He - Can I have your name?
She - Why? Don't you already have one?
He - Hey baby, what's your sign?
She - Do not enter.
He - If I could see you naked, I'd die happy.
She - If I saw you naked, I'd probably die laughing.
He - Where have you been all my life?
She - Where I'll be the rest of your life - in your wildest dreams.
Love them or loathe them, they are here to stay. Celebrities running the gamut from A-list to Z-list have been around for centuries. They have, however, been kind enough to leave to posterity a few sparkling retorts that will still manage to cut the biggest ego down to size. Marvelous stuff.
The distinguished American scientist, Dr Carl Sagan (author of Contact), commenting on the theory that civilisation is the result of early humans interbreeding with alien life forms said 'They'd have more success interbreeding with petunias'
'I liked your opera. Perhaps I will set it to music.' - Mozart
'My position, sir, does not allow me to argue with you. But if it ever came to a choice of weapons, I should choose grammar.' - Anonymous
'I never forget a face, but in your case, I'll make an exception.' - Groucho Marx
Earl of Sandwich - Upon my honour, Wilkes, I don't know whether you'll die on the gallows or of the pox.
John Wilkes MP - That depends, my Lord, upon whether I embrace your Lordship's principles or your mistress.
Not James Bond himself, but M, played by the formidable Judi Dench (from Tomorrow Never Dies), delivered the following pièce de resistance:
Admiral Roebuck - With all due respect M, I don't think you have the balls for this.
M - Perhaps. The advantage is I don't have to think with them all the time.
An actress congratulated Ilka Chase on her latest book:
Actress - I enjoyed it immensely, who wrote it for you?
Ilka Chase - I'm glad you liked it, who read it to you?
Critic, screenwriter, formidable wit, worthy adversary and a shining light through the 1920s and until her death, Dorothy Parker was a legend in her own lifetime. Here are a few of her most famous put-downs.
A favourite Parker retort is to a publisher anxious for her to send in some written work, which was overdue - 'Tell him I'm f**king busy, or vice versa.'
'You can lead a horticulture, but you cannot make her think.'
(On being told that the infamously quiet President Calvin Coolidge had died) 'How could they tell?'
'This is not a novel to be tossed aside lightly. It should be thrown with great force.'
And this wondrous piece of truly sparkling repartee from that era of classic put-downs:
Clare Boothe Luce - (inviting Dorothy Parker to enter a room first) Age before beauty.
Dorothy Parker - (accepting the invitation) Pearls before swine.
A great statesman, a leader of a nation at war, hero to a generation and saviour of the British Isles, Winston Churchill was also a mean-tempered little man... but witty with it. Look at these:
Nancy Astor - You're drunk.
Churchill - And you're ugly. But in the morning, I shall be sober. (The female role in this repartee is also attributed to Bessie Braddock.)
Nancy Astor - If you were my husband, I would poison your tea.
Churchill - Madam, if you were my wife, I'd drink it.
Anonymous woman - There are two things I don't like about you, Mr Churchill - your politics and your moustache.
Churchill - My dear madam, pray do not disturb yourself. You are not likely to come into contact with either.
George Bernard Shaw invited Churchill to the first night of a new play, ending with 'Bring a friend, if you have one.' Churchill wrote back: 'Impossible to be present for the first performance. Will attend the second - if there is one.'
They say that there are two things you should never criticise a person on - their taste in music and their choice of clothes. However, there are some outfits that are just screaming to be derided, and kind souls that we are, we've provided you with a whole list to choose from:
Just because you think its your size. . .doesn't mean you have to wear it!
I didn't know they could find that much Lycra.
Her pants were so tight that you could take her blood pressure visually.
When she undresses you hear the spandex breathe a sigh of relief.
I remember when that suit was in style.
Tight skirt - nice way of saying 'fat a*s'.
Really superb bitchy comment from Twist to Daisy in Spaced - 'Nice outfit. I can really see what you were trying to do.'
Nice shirt. How long have you been colour-blind?
I just love your dress; could you lend me the pattern?
That shirt looked better on the hanger.
Nice dress - how are you going to turn it back into a sofa cover?
It's amazing what you can do with a sewing machine and a pair of curtains.
Dealing with the -isms
This one speaks for itself:
Being Asian by blood and dating a true-blue Aussie boy who loves his footie and beer often results in what I call implicit racism. Its the subtle unintentional and unconscious stereotyping of people due to race, colour, religion 'whatever'...
At his cousin's 21st birthday party I met the family for the first time. A great uncle of his, known for hitting on younger girls, came up to me, kissed my hand and asked me earnestly 'So how are you finding Australia?'... speechless I just smiled.
'I suppose it's better than the boat,' ... came to me later that night. Don't you hate it when that happens? At least next time I'll have a witty put-down ready.
Muhammed Ali (some say the daddy of the put-down) once claimed that one of his opponents was 'so ugly, when he sweats the sweat runs backwards over his head to avoid his face!' - Simple. Beautiful. Classic. The following are some more put downs in a similar vein:
You're so fat you've got your own area code.
You're so hairy even Big Foot took a picture of you.
You're so old your social security number is 1.
You're so poor you go to KFC to lick other people's fingers.
You're so stupid you cook with Old Spice.
You're so ugly you tried to take a bath and the water jumped out.
Your teeth are so yellow, traffic slows down when you smile.
Your house is so small you have to go outside to change your mind.
Your house is so dirty, you go outside to wipe your feet.
I believe your father was a boxer... and your mother a Dalmatian.
[In response to the sexist comment 'every woman has her price'] What was your mother's?
You're so spotty, blind people read you.
You're so skinny, that when you try to drink you fall down the straw.
Your family is so poor, that when somebody dropped a cigarette in your house, your momma sang: 'Clap your hands and stomp your feet! Praise the Lord that we got heat!'
You're so ugly, you make your momma look pretty.
The following two stories come from those future pillars of society - medical students. Just remember your future is in their hands... scary, huh?
We were working with a surgeon who criticized everything we did. Our penmanship, the professional quality of our shoes/ties/lab coats, our hair, the fact that we did not shave (the men, I suppose he was referring to) in the midst of a 36 hours shift. In one surgery with him the student's only job is to cut the sticks as he ties them. Stick... he yells ' Cut!' we cut. He criticizes. Finally he yells 'Cut!' and my classmate pauses looks up and says, 'Do you want me to make the knot too long, too short or too slow?'
Answering back? Whatever next?
On the only medical firm I've had in this year, our all-female firm was assigned to, well, how can I put this... well, some very observant gastro medicine guys. Let me put it this way - I'm sure I was marked on the pure fact that I had breasts. Anyhow - much 'office-flirting' was exchanged, and it was quite fun. But with the fun comes the whole 'ah, but you see, women shouldn't do surgery/go into full-time medicine/etc/etc/ad infinitum/nauseum/etc/etc...'
So it comes to our final week. I had put up with about six weeks of this, and although much of it had been fun, some of the more sexist overtones were starting to really get on my tits, so to speak. (For the record, the consultants were all on the verge of retirement, so when they entered medicine, the male:female ration was very much 70:30. Now, it is very much the other way round...)
So I'm in out-patients clinic, and one of the consultants (lovely man, although with the out-dated attitude as outlined above... by his own admission might I hasten to add), is having some issues with the computer, in an attempt to bring up some patient biochem results.
Consultant - Computers are just like women - irrational.
Me - Well, that's quite ironic, because I thought it was the converse.
Consultant - Really? That computers are like men - rational? How?
Me - Well, not rational as such... more in the sense that you get all excited about the new computer that you buy from the shop, but when you get it home, and get the packaging off, it's always a big disappointment.
Me - Then, to make matters worse, six months down the line, despite all the money that you spend on upgrades and software patches in a futile attempt to improve it, there's still something wrong with it, and you're left with the sinking feeling of 'Why, oh why didn't I just trade it in for the new, improved, far more stable, far more attractive model which came out after the original date of purchase?' It would have been far more value for money.
The Comedy Club Circuit
In stand-up comedy, dealing with hecklers is a required skill. There are many standard put downs available. Using these standard lines is generally frowned upon because they're so well known now.
Comedy is my job. You're interrupting; do you want me to come round your work tomorrow and hide your broom?
Sorry, I don't speak pissed.
Aaah, I remember my first drink.
Isn't it a school night?
Glad you could make it, although I'm sure I didn't see the Sunshine Coach outside when I came in.
Isn't it always the way? You come out for a quiet chat and some git builds a comedy club round you. Shut up!
Has your carer got the night off?
Bringing your own jokes to a comedy club? Nice style; do you take your guitar to rock concerts too?
And from the Experts...
Julian Clary does a few nasty ones:
- Don't clap on your own; someone will throw you a fish.
- Hello... what have you come as?
- Is that your face, or has your neck just vomited?
As does Bob Dehnhardt:
- There he is, folks, the poster child for Planned Parenthood.
- You're quite a wit.... well, I was half right.
And some from a few stand-up favourites:
'Oh Shut up. Do I come to your work and tell you how to sweep up?' - Billy Connolly
'You may say that now, but I'm safe in the knowledge that when I go home, I have a warm chicken in the oven.' - Harry Hill
'The outpatients are out in force tonight, I see, good!' - Tom Lehrer
'Why don't you talk to the wall; that's plastered as well.' - Jasper Carrot
Apparently when a Captain is transferred to a new unit their Commanding Officer sends along an appraisal. The following is a lovely put-down; 'His men will follow him anywhere... but only out of curiosity.' If this has piqued your interest, have a look at what some of your fellow Researchers have been subjected to:
Many years ago when I was doing my bit for Queen and country, and at the time being a new shiny recruit the following took place:
Senior Warrant Officer (jabbing a recruit with his pace stick) - There is a piece of s**t at the end of this stick.
Recruit - Not at this end there isn't.
You want more services put-downs? Oh, if you insist...
I would not breed from this officer.
He has carried out each and every one of his duties to his entire satisfaction.
He would be out of his depth in a car park puddle.
This young lady has delusions of adequacy.
Since my last report he has reached rock bottom, and has started to dig.
She sets low personal standards and then consistently fails to achieve them.
He has the wisdom of youth, and the energy of old age.
Works well when under constant supervision and cornered like a rat in a trap.
This man is depriving a village somewhere of an idiot.
A room temperature IQ.
Got a full six-pack, but lacks the plastic thingy to hold it all together.
A prime candidate for natural deselection.
Bright as Alaska in December.
Gates are down, the lights are flashing, but the train isn't coming.
So dense, light bends around him.
If brains were taxed, he'd get a rebate.
If he were any more stupid, he'd have to be watered twice a week.
Wheel is turning, but the hamster is dead.
This man is holding back the career of a perfectly good dog!
Universal Put Downs or 'Earth is Full - Go Home'
Sometimes you end up in a vicious circle where the point has been missed and a resolution seems nigh on impossible. It is often best at these times to bow out with your dignity intact and walk serenely away. However, there's nothing quite so satisfying and throwing dignity to the wind and using one of the following:
Not the brightest crayon in the box now, are we?
Well, this day was a total waste of make-up.
And your cry-baby whiny-assed opinion would be...?
Whatever kind of look you were going for, you missed.
I'm trying to imagine you with a personality.
How many times do I have to flush before you go away?
Nice perfume. Must you marinate in it?
Is it time for your medication or mine?
Two words - Cat Scan.
At one point or another, we have all been subjected to attention from someone we don't know or dislike. Below are two Researcher experiences which deal with harassment in ways that deflate ego and pave the way for peace and quiet...
Hanging on the Telephone
One of my work colleagues gave one of the best put-downs ever ... she was being plagued by a heavy breather on the phone. This went on for a few weeks until one day the heavy breather built up the courage to speak. He said, 'I'm sitting here naked, talking to you, guess what I'm holding in my hand?' To which she replied 'If you're only holding it with one hand, I'm really not interested' and put the phone down - he never called back.
Beer, Bars and Brain Dead Men
We were at a pub when my lovely wife was approached while I was nearby playing billiards with a friend. His girlfriend was sitting with her.
Man - Hi, are you girls here alone.
My Wife (angrily) - We will be as soon as you get the hell out of here.
Now an expert at this the two of them were approached minutes later by another guy who obviously had not seen the early episode:Man - Hi...(he honestly didn't get further than that)
My Wife - If we had wanted to talk to you, we certainly would have. Now go away.
On Public Transport
Hell hath no fury like a Bold Italic scorned on public transport. Pay heed...
To the bloke on the 8.29 to Cannon Street this morning who called me a 'Fat Cow', I would just like to repeat here what I told you and the rest of the carriage this morning. Honey, if it prevents me being attractive to people like you then bring on the lard - I will have it intravenously!! (And having sneaked a look at your lap, I can see you have a problem with size.)
So what do you do if you have the opposite problem, where your fellow travellers just can't get their mucky paws off you? Well this next Researcher experience is a marvel:
I heard once of a lady on the tube who picked up the hand of the guy next to her and announced to the carriage, 'Is this somebody's? I found it on my seat.' Needless to say, the guy in question turned puce, caught on fire and fell to the floor in an electric cacophony of embarrassment.
Out of the Mouth of Babes
Reading all of the above, it seems that most of the witticisms above have come from those of us who are a little jaded with life. However, it is not only the cynics that have the last word. Some of the most cutting remarks come straight from the mouths of babes:
I overheard a little girl at the beach, obviously fighting with her brother, ask her mother bitchily: 'Why didn't you just leave him in the delivery room?'