Whatever happened to witty insults? The past week we’ve been remembering that wittiest of wits, Winston Churchill, whose death and funeral were half a century ago. He didn’t have to resort to foul language, name-calling and obscene gestures, his two-finger salute was all about victory.
So when it came to delivering a good put-down, he was a master. Take this fabulous exchange with Bessie Braddock, who a lesser mortal would have queried whether she’s been beaten with the ugly stick:
“Winston, you’re drunk!”
“Bessie, you’re ugly, and tomorrow morning I shall be sober”
Or his absolute disdain for his Labour opposite Clement Atlee:
“A modest man, who has much to be modest about”
I’m not going to get into how today’s parliamentarians, with notable exceptions such as Dennis ‘The Beast of Bolsover’ Skinner, are devoid of wit. Here’s a corker from the days when Labour MPs were crossing the floor to join Roy Jenkins and the new Social Democratic Party. Roy famously can’t pronounce ‘r’, saying ‘w’ instead’.
“I leave this party without rancour, Dennis”
“I thought you were taking Marquand (another Labour defector) with you,” was his retort. What a wag, eh? Will we see such quick wit in the forthcoming general election? I hope so, or it’s going to be a long, tedious campaign trail. At least Dennis (first elected in 1970) is standing again so there’s some hope.
Personally, I don’t mind being insulted if it’s witty, or clever, or both. So I have to confess to being a little disappointed with what was, quite frankly, a feeble attempt at an insult at the weekend. I had my parkrun Run Director hat and high-viz jacket on and was doing the usual bossing people around and shouting, it is what I’m best at, I have it on my CV, with many endorsements for bossiness on LinkedIn.
One parkrunner took great exception to me implementing a non-negotiable rule about children under 11 being accompanied by an adult. He was loud and rude, which I can cope with, hey, I’ve worked in journalism and NHS management as well as a Saturday night job at a chippie. As his anger and, I feared, blood pressure, reached peak flow, something must have popped and he turned to give what he must have thought was the ultimate put-down.
“You’re…you’re……so…..MIDDLE CLASS,” he exclaimed as he turned and stormed off with a flourish.
Well, that cut me to the quick I can tell you. I had to head for the coffee shop to drown my sorrows in a double tall skinny soy latte. Middle class indeed.