David Bruce: Insults Anecdotes

• A caddy at the Royal and Ancient Golf Club at St. Andrews in Scotland once received a three-penny tip. Even though this happened a long time ago, three pennies was nota good tip. The caddy looked at the three pennies and then told the golfer he had caddied for that he could tell his fortune from the three pennies. Then he explained that he learned from the first penny, “Yer no’ a Scotsman.” The second penny told him, “Yer no’ married.” Finally, the caddy said, “The third one tells me that yer father wasn’t married either.”

• Sir Rudolf Bing, the general manager of the Metropolitan Opera, disliked union negotiations, especially when the union negotiators were loud in making their demands. He once said to one such union negotiator, “I’m awfully sorry. I didn’t get that. Would you mind screaming it again?” On another occasion, a negotiator asked Sir Rudolf, “Are you trying to show your contempt for the way I conduct a bargaining session?” He replied, “On the contrary, I am trying very hard to conceal it.”

• Marie Dressler starred in the movie Dinner at Eight, where her dumpy character made fun of the character played by the beautiful Jean Harlow. First, Ms. Harlow’s character says, “I was reading a book the other day,” and Ms. Dressler does a double take. Then Ms. Harlow’s character says, “Do you know, machinery is going to take the place of every profession?” Ms. Dressler replies, “My dear, that is something you need never worry about.”

• Abraham Lincoln was frequently critical of George McClellan, a notoriously unaggressive Union general. When General McClellan complained to him of tired horses, President Lincoln wrote back, “Major-General McClellan: I’m afraid I have just read your dispatch about sore-tongued and fatigued horses. Will you pardon me for asking what your horses have done since the Battle of Antietam that can fatigue anything.”

• According to rumor, Elizabeth Chudleigh, Countess of Bristol, had given birth to illegitimate twins. She told the fourth Lord Chesterfield, “My Lord, I hope that you do not believe these abominable rumors about me which are circulating everywhere.” Lord Chesterfield replied, “You have no need to be distressed, madame. I very rarely believe more than half of what I hear.”

• Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s father was an actor, something that didn’t sit well with his classmates at Harrow. In fact, the son of a physician insulted Mr. Sheridan because his father was an actor. Mr. Sheridan defended himself by saying, “It is true my father lives by pleasing people, but yours lives by killing them.”

• When Cinemascope — which widened the movie screen in an attempt to compete with television — first appeared, some Hollywood talents opposed it. According to George Stevens (director of Shaneand I Remember Mama), “It’s fine if you want a system that shows a boa constrictor to better advantage than a man.”

• Ambiguous statements can be insulting. Classical scholar Richard Porson was once told that poet Robert Southey had complained about one of his poems, “My ‘Madoc’ has brought me in a mere trifle; but that poem will be a valuable possession in my family.” Dr. Porson commented, “‘Madoc’ will be read when Homer and Virgil are forgotten.”

• General Ulysses S. Grant could speak harshly. Once he was told that a certain officer whom he greatly disliked had been the veteran of 10 campaigns. General Grant replied, “So has that mule, yonder, but he’s still a jackass.”

• Fresco Thompson once was assigned to share a locker with super hitter but inept fielder Babe Herman, who was unhappy and said, “I don’t like dressing with a .250 hitter.” Mr. Fresco replied, “And I don’t like dressing with a .250 fielder.”

• An angry woman once stopped J. B. Keane and told him that she was going to give him a piece of her mind. He replied, “My dear woman, your mind is so small that if you gave me a bit of it you wouldn’t have any left for yourself.”

• The ancient Greek orator Demosthenes once got into an argument with General Phocian, telling him, “The Athenians will kill you someday when they are in a rage.” General Phocian replied, “And you someday when they are in their senses.”

• The Ukrainian playwright O.E. Korneychuk wrote plays praising the Communists of the USSR. In one underground joke, Comrade Korneychuk said that he had put a lot of fire into his new play. A theater-goer replied, “It would have been better if it had been the other way around.”

• Noël Coward wrote Private Lives, a comedy. Lady Diana Cooper starred in The Miracle, a drama. Lady Diana once told Mr. Coward, “Didn’t you write Private Lives? Not very funny.” Mr. Coward replied, “Aren’t you in The Miracle? Very funny indeed.”

• Critic George Jean Nathan was often cursed by theatrical producers, but he gave as good as he got, Once, he was asked whether he had been called a “pinhead” by a particular Broadway producer. He replied, “Impossible. ‘Pinhead’ is a word of two syllables.”

• Not everyone liked Oscar Wilde. At the first night of one of Mr. Wilde’s plays, an enemy presented him with a rotten cabbage. Mr. Wilde replied, “A million thank-yous, my dear fellow. Every time I smell it, I shall be reminded of you.”

• Fouché was the chief of Napoleon’s secret police. Once Charles-Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord was told that Fouché was profoundly contemptuous of human nature. Talleyrand replied, “Of course, he is much given to introspection.”

• A man once insulted Benjamin Disraeli by saying that his wife had picked him out of the gutter. Mr. Disraeli responded, “My good fellow, if you were in the gutter no one would pick you out.”

• Tommy Douglas, the former premier of Saskatchewan, Canada, was a small man. A voter once told him, “You little pipsqueak, I could swallow you in one bite.” Mr. Douglas replied, “And if you did, my friend, you’d have more brains in your belly than you have in your head.”

• Bob Dole once saw Jimmy Carter, Gerald Ford, and Richard Nixon standing together. “There they are,” he said. “See no evil, hear no evil, and evil.”


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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