The HyperTexts

The Best Insults Ever

These famous insults are some of the sharpest, most scathing, wittiest and funniest things ever said by one human being about another. This page also contains some of the greatest comebacks, rejoinders and verbal repartee of all time. Here are some stellar examples, for starters:

The Top Ten Insults of All Time (Make It a Baker's Dozen)

I never forget a face, but in your case I'll make an exception.Groucho Marx
She was so ugly she could make a mule back away from an oat bin.—Will Rogers
If you can't be a good example, then you'll just have to be a horrible warning.—Catherine the Great
Some cause happiness wherever they go; others whenever they go.Oscar Wilde
A fool and his money are soon elected.—Will Rogers
Reader, suppose you were an idiot. Now suppose you were a member of Congress. But I repeat myself.Mark Twain
Politicians and diapers must be changed often, and for the same reason.Mark Twain
I don't approve of political jokes; I have seen too many of them get elected.—Jon Stewart
I believe God in creating Man somewhat overestimated his ability.Oscar Wilde
There are many humorous things in the world; among them, the white man's notion that he is less savage than the other savages.—Mark Twain
There is no glory in outstripping donkeys.—Marcus Valerius Martial
Women who seek to be equal with men lack ambition.—Marilyn Monroe
She's descended from a long line her mother listened to.Gypsy Rose Lee

Gypsy Rose Lee

This page was compiled by Michael R. Burch

Good insults are invariably short and hard-hitting, like a boxer's best stiff jabs. And as Gypsy Rose Lee just proved, the gals can certainly dish it out as good as the guys! I will take as my watchwords these words of wisdom by one of the world's greatest writers:

Brevity is the soul of wit.—William Shakespeare

Examples of Verbal Repartee

Lady Astor: "Winston, you're drunk!"
Winston Churchill: "But I shall be sober in the morning and you, madam, will still be ugly."
Lady Astor: "Mr. Churchill, if you were my husband, I'd put poison in your tea."
Winston Churchill: "Madam, if I were your husband, I'd drink it."

The British are past experts at the art of witty repartee. Here's an exchange between George Bernard Shaw and Winston Churchill:

Shaw: "I am enclosing two tickets to the first night of my new play; bring a friend ... if you have one."
Churchill, in response: "Cannot possibly attend first night, will attend second ... if there is one."

Dr. Samuel Johnson, the great eighteenth-century lexicographer, was a brilliant man but somewhat slovenly in his dress. Once he was invited to a social event given by an aristocratic lady. He showed up with his clothes in some disarray. Here's what allegedly followed:

Aristocratic lady: "Dr. Johnson, your penis is sticking out!"
Dr. Johnson: "Madame, you flatter yourself. It's HANGING out."

A British MP to Benjamin Disraeli: "Sir, you will either die on the gallows or of some unspeakable disease."
"That depends, sir," said Disraeli, "on whether I embrace your policies or your mistress."

Americans have obviously learned the art of repartee from their English cousins:

He has never been known to use a word that might send a reader to the dictionary.William Faulkner (about Ernest Hemingway).
Poor Faulkner. Does he really think big emotions come from big words?Ernest Hemingway (in response)

Examples of Personal Insults, sometimes bordering on Character Assassination

Richard Nixon inherited some good instincts from his Quaker forebears, but by diligent hard work, he overcame them.James Reston
Bob Dole called the reunion of ex-presidents Carter, Ford, and Nixon "See No Evil, Hear No Evil, and Evil."
George W. Bush is a gift to comedy, a comedy piņata. I'm going to miss him.—Robin Williams
Sarah Palin met with world leaders to showcase her foreign policy expertise; the meeting lasted 90 seconds.—Conan O'Brien
Mitt Romney is about to face his fiercest ideological opponent: himself four years ago.—Conan O'Brien
Sarah Palin is truly unique: she alone can make us appreciate Bush Junior's vastly superior intellect.—Michael R. Burch
I believe God is using Michelle Bachmann to conclusively prove that man did not evolve into a higher life form.—Michael R. Burch
Halloween is a day when we all get to fool people into thinking we're someone else. Or as Mitt Romney calls it, campaigning.—Bill Maher
Hookers in Times Square, god bless 'em, are offering a Mitt Romney Special. For an extra $20 they'll change positions.—David Letterman
His ears made him look like a taxicab with both doors open.Howard Hughes (about Clark Gable)
He is mad, bad and dangerous to know.Lady Caroline Lamb (speaking of Lord Byron, the famous poet and rake; I believe this is more of a compliment than an insult, as I have the distinct impression that Miss Lamb would have hopped into bed with Lord Byron without much protest).

Jabs at Male Chauvinism

Men seldom make passes
At girls who wear glasses.
Dorothy Parker

Ripostes, Comebacks and Rejoinders

However, some of the "targets" may be witty and sly enough to mount suitable rejoinders, as in this poem entitled "A Riposte to Dorothy Parker":

You're wrong—we'll make passes
At girls who wear glasses
As long as they're lasses
With cute, curvy asses.
Joseph S. Salemi


Dorothy Parker's epigram is a stellar example of raillery, which has been defined as "light, teasing banter," "gentle mockery" and "good-humored satire or ridicule." It is also a good example of drollery: something whimsically comical. Raillery can be both wonderfully funny, and wonderfully effective:

If you can't be a good example, then you'll just have to be a horrible warning.—Catherine the Great
There is no glory in outstripping donkeys.—Marcus Valerius Martial

Gags, Quips, One-Liners, etc.

Other insults are much balder and might earn sobriquets like: tomfoolery, buffoonery, mummery, a chestnut, a gag, a ha-ha, a jape, a jest, a lark, a rib, a sally, a quirk, a whim, a vagary. A common form today is the comic's one-liner, or quip:

Take my wife ... please!—Rodney Dangerfield


An epithet is a term used to define or characterize someone or something. In Homer's day epithets were often complimentary, sometimes sublimely so. Now epithets are generally non-complimentary, if not downright offensive. Modern epithets often descend into derogatory slang and racial invective. But in the hands of a master epigrammatist like Will Rogers, they can still be sublime, in effect:

An economist's guess is liable to be as good as anybody else's.—Will Rogers
Make crime pay. Become a lawyer.—Will Rogers
A fool and his money are soon elected.—Will Rogers
I am not a member of any organized political party. I am a Democrat.—Will Rogers


A sub-genre of the epithet consists of racial, ethnic or cultural ribbing. Where I live in the South we poke fun at ourselves and our neighbors with "hillbilly humor":

You know you're a redneck if your family tree don't fork.—Unknown
You know you're a redneck if your cars sit on blocks and your "house" has wheels.—Unknown

Parody and Lampooning

Another genre of the insult engages in parody and lampooning. Here's one I hope to someday include it in a book of poems to be titled Why I Left the Religious Right:

I've got Jesus's name on a wallet insert
and "Hell is for Queers" on the back of my shirt
and I uphold the Law,
for grace has a flaw:
the Church must have someone to drag through the dirt.
Michael R. Burch


Insults and derision can also be aimed at inanimate objects, such as religion, religious institutions and religious texts:

If God
is good
half the Bible
is libel.
Michael R. Burch


Some epigrams contain both vital wisdom and sparkling humor. Such an epigram can be the salvo a brilliant, battle-savvy epigrammatist launches against human ignorance, intolerance, cruelty and insanity:

There are many humorous things in the world; among them, the white man's notion that he is less savage than the other savages.—Mark Twain

When we consider the expensive, bloody follies of the U.S. government in the Middle East, we can only wish our politicians had heeded Will Rogers:

If there is one thing that we do worse than any other nation, it is try and manage somebody else's affairs.Will Rogers

Jabs at Male Chauvinism, Part II

The great epigrammatists often arise from the ranks of the disaffected and oppressed. Oscar Wilde, the greatest epigrammatist of them all, served time in Reading Gaol for "indecency" (he had the temerity to be flamboyantly gay). Mark Twain wrote volumes exposing and expounding on the massive illogic of orthodox Christianity (he had the temerity to be a heretic, but had to hold up the publication of his anti-Christian opus Letters from the Earth for fifty years after his death, in order to protect his family from hellfire-spouting Christian fundamentalists). Einstein produced many of his epigrams against the backdrop of Nazi Germany (he had the temerity to be a brilliant Jew). Today many of our best epigrammatists are women who combine sharp minds with even sharper tongues:

Behind every successful man is a surprised woman.—Maryon Pearson
A male gynecologist is like an auto mechanic who never owned a car.—Carrie Snow
If you want anything said, ask a man. If you want anything done, ask a woman.—Margaret Thatcher

Here's a similar epigram that I absolutely love, although it creates something of a dichotomy:

When women are depressed they either eat or go shopping. Men invade another country.—Elayne Boosler

Female politicians like Margaret Thatcher may be somewhat at odds (or loose ends) with female comedians like Elayne Boosler, since Thatcher wasn't above an invasion herself (of the Falkland Islands). But Boosler hammers the human funnybone nonetheless. She doesn't have to be perfect, just witty and succinct enough to make us blink, then think.

The stupendous epigrams above prove women's brains are every bit as good as men's, as they extract Eve's revenge at the expense of men's prehistoric prejudices. Here's my favorite epigram in this genre:

Whatever women must do they must do twice as well as men to be thought half as good. Luckily, this is not difficult.—Charlotte Whitton

A great female epigrammatist can use her razor-sharp wit to deflate bigotry:

I'm not offended by dumb blonde jokes because I'm not dumb, and also I'm not blonde.—Dolly Parton

Has anyone ever made a better case for the combinatory advantages of brains, wigs and peroxide? (I will refrain from mentioning Dolly's other, even more glamorous advantages.)

Refutations of Hypocrisy

Yogi Berra made a scathing point about people who think they know more than they actually do:

There are some people who, if they don't already know, you can't tell 'em.—Yogi Berra

There can be wisdom to be found in a wise man's insults; this one is aimed at hypocrites:

Nothing so needs reforming as other people’s habits.—Mark Twain

The Oscar Goes to Wilde: Epigrams by the Divine Oscar Wilde

He has no enemies, but is intensely disliked by his friends.
He would stab his best friend for the sake of writing an epigram on his tombstone.
She is a peacock in everything but beauty.
Some cause happiness wherever they go; others whenever they go.
Democracy means simply the bludgeoning of the people by the people for the people.
I believe God in creating Man somewhat overestimated his ability.
Self-denial is the shining sore on the leprous body of Christianity.
Whenever a man does a thoroughly stupid thing, it is always from the noblest motives.
The public is wonderfully tolerant. It forgives everything except genius.
Fashion is a form of ugliness so intolerable we are compelled to alter it every six months.
America is the only country that went from barbarism to decencies without civilization in between.
To disagree with three-fourths of the British public is one of the first requisites of sanity.
Do not speak ill of society ... only people who can't get in do that.
Arguments are extremely vulgar, for everyone in good society holds exactly the same opinion.
Woman begins by resisting a man's advances and ends by blocking his retreat.
A man's face is his autobiography. A woman's face is her work of fiction.
All women become like their mothers. That is their tragedy. No man does. That's his.
How marriage ruins a man! It is as demoralizing as cigarettes, and far more expensive.
Men always want to be a woman's first love; women like to be a man's last romance.
Bigamy is having one wife too many. Monogamy is the same.
Deceiving others: that is what the world calls a romance.
Only the dull are brilliant at breakfast.
Consistency is the last refuge of the unimaginative.
Only the shallow know themselves.
Seriousness is the only refuge of the shallow.
The old believe everything, the middle-aged suspect everything, the young know everything.
A cynic is a man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.
Whenever people agree with me I always feel I must be wrong.
Why was I born with such contemporaries?

If, with the literate, I am
Impelled to try an epigram,
I never seek to take the credit;
We all assume that Oscar said it.
Dorothy Parker

If every witty thing that’s said was true,
Oscar Wilde, the world would worship You!
Michael R. Burch

The Twain Well Met: Epigrams by Mark Twain

It's not the parts of the Bible that I don't understand that bother me, it's the parts I do understand.
Reader, suppose you were an idiot. Now suppose you were a member of Congress. But I repeat myself.
There is probably no distinctly American criminal class, except Congress.
His ignorance covers the world like a blanket, and there's scarcely a hole in it anywhere.
He is useless on top of the ground; he aught to be under it, inspiring the cabbages.
I could never learn to like her, except on a raft at sea with no other provisions in sight.
Take the lies out of him and he'll shrink to the size of your hat; take the malice out of him, and he'll disappear.
I didn't attend the funeral, but I sent a nice letter saying I approved of it.
The Christian's Bible is a drug store. Its contents remain the same, but the medical practice changes.
A banker lends you his umbrella when the sun is shining, but wants it back the minute it begins to rain.
What is the difference between a taxidermist and a tax collector? The taxidermist takes only your skin.
There are many humorous things in the world; among them, the white man's notion that he is less savage than the other savages.

The Elegant Epigrams of Dorothy Parker

That woman speaks eight languages and can't say "no" in any of them.
If all the girls who attended the Yale prom were laid end to end, I wouldn't be a bit surprised.
If you want to know what God thinks of money, just look at the people he gave it to.
This is not a novel to be tossed aside lightly. It should be thrown with great force.
She runs the gamut of emotions from A to B. [speaking of Katharine Hepburn]

Right on the Marx: the Epigrams of Groucho Marx

Why don't you bore a hole in yourself and let the sap run out?
Remember men, we're fighting for this woman's honor; which is probably more than she ever did.
Don't look now, but there's one too many in this room and I think it's you.
You know I could rent you out as a decoy for duck hunters?
Who are you going to believe, me or your own eyes?
Do you think I could buy back my introduction to you?
I never forget a face, but in your case I'll make an exception.
She got her good looks from her father. He's a plastic surgeon.
You've got the brain of a four-year-old boy, and I bet he was glad to get rid of it.
He may look like an idiot and talk like an idiot but don't let that fool you. He really is an idiot.
I was married by a judge. I should have asked for a jury.

Mayday: The Epigrams of Mae West

The finest woman that ever walked the streets.
His mother should have thrown him away and kept the stork.
She's the kind of woman who climbed the ladder of success — wrong by wrong.
He's the kind of man who picks his friends — to pieces.

Wincin' at Winston: the Epigrams of Winston Churchill

He has all the virtues I dislike and none of the vices I admire.
There but for the grace of God, goes God.
A modest little person, with much to be modest about.

Humor Equals Wit Times Genius Squared: The Epigrams of Albert Einstein

Whoever set himself up as a judge of Truth is shipwrecked by the laughter of the gods.
Only two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I'm not sure about the former.
Great spirits have often encountered violent opposition from weak minds.

Epigrams Reign: Michel de Montaigne

Man cannot make a worm, yet he will make gods by the dozen.
A good marriage would be between a blind wife and a deaf husband.
No man is a hero to his own valet.

Epigrammatic Poems about Poets and Poetry:

Poets aren't very useful
Because they aren't consumeful or produceful.
—Ogden Nash

Readers and listeners praise my books;
You swear they're worse than a beginner's.
Who cares? I always plan my dinners
To please the diners, not the cooks.
—Martial, translated by R. L. Barth

Though Edgar Poe writes a lucid prose
Just and rhetorical without exertion,
It loses all lucidity, God knows,
In the single, poorly rendered English version.
—Thom Gunn

Pierced by Bierce: Epigrams by Ambrose Bierce

Bigot, n. One who is obstinately and zealously attached to an opinion that you do not entertain.
Love, n. A temporary insanity curable by marriage.
Saint, n. A dead sinner revised and edited.

The Death of Class

I am his Highness' dog at Kew;
Pray tell me, sir, whose dog are you?
—Alexander Pope

Her whole life is an epigram: smack smooth, and neatly penned,
Platted quite neat to catch applause, with a sliding noose at the end.
—William Blake

Type Cast

a politician is an arse upon
which everyone has sat except a man
—e. e. cummings

This Humanist whom no beliefs constrained
Grew so broad-minded he was scatter-brained.
—J. V. Cunningham

Where there's a Will there's a Way: the Epigrams of Will Rogers

She was so ugly she could make a mule back away from an oat bin.
An economist's guess is liable to be as good as anybody else's.
Make crime pay. Become a lawyer.
A fool and his money are soon elected.
I bet after seeing us, George Washington would sue us for calling him "father."
The United States never lost a war or won a conference.
There is nothing so stupid as the educated man if you get him off his subject.
There ought to be one day, just one, when there is open season on senators.
The only difference between death and taxes is that death doesn't get worse every time Congress meets.
Some men learn by reading. A few learn by observation. The rest have to pee on the electric fence for themselves.

Woody Allen

I'd call him a sadistic, hippophilic necrophile, but that would be beating a dead horse.
Her figure described a set of parabolas that could cause cardiac arrest in a yak.
If it turns out that there is a God, I don't think he's evil. The worst you can say about him is that basically he's an underachiever.

Jonathan Swift

As blushing may make a whore seem virtuous, so modesty may make a fool seem sensible.
I never wonder to see men wicked, but I often wonder to see them not ashamed.
Men are happy to be laughed at for their humor, but not for their folly.
When a true genius appears, you can know him by this sign: that all the dunces are in a confederacy against him.

Marcus Valerius Martial

There is no glory in outstripping donkeys.
Lawyers are men who hire out their words and anger.
You give me nothing during your life, but you promise to provide for me at your death. If you are not a fool, you know what I wish for!

Douglas Adams

Anyone capable of getting made President should on no account be allowed to do the job.
Human beings, who are almost unique in having the ability to learn from the experience of others, are also remarkable for their apparent disinclination to do so.

Nota Bene: the Notable Epigrams of Ben Franklin

A man between two lawyers is like a fish between two cats.
Any fool can criticize, condemn and complain and most fools do.
Experience keeps a dear school, but fools will learn in no other.


It is Homer who has chiefly taught other poets the art of telling lies skillfully.—Aristotle
Some people are alive only because it's illegal to kill them.—Unknown
So I'm ugly. So what? I never saw anyone hit with his face.—Yogi Berra
The man who can't make mistakes, can't make anything.—Abraham Lincoln
He can compress the most words into the smallest idea of any man I know. — Abraham Lincoln
He knows nothing but thinks he knows everything. That points clearly to a political career. —George Bernard Shaw
The trouble with her is that she lacks the power of conversation but not the power of speech. — George Bernard Shaw
Little things affect little minds. — Benjamin Disraeli
A sophisticated rhetorician, inebriated with the exuberance of his own verbosity. — Benjamin Disraeli
There is none so blind as they that won't see.—Jonathan Swift
In order to avoid being called a flirt, she always yielded easily. — Charles, Count Talleyrand
She is such a good friend that she would throw all her acquaintances into the water for the pleasure of fishing them out again. — Charles, Count Talleyrand
I see her as one great stampede of lips directed at the nearest derriere. — Noël Coward
She had much in common with Hitler, only no mustache. — Noel Coward
He's completely unspoiled by failure. — Noel Coward
She resembles the Venus de Milo: very old, no teeth, with white spots on her yellow skin. — Heinrich Heine
Ordinarily he is insane. But he has lucid moments when he is only stupid. — Heinrich Heine
The tautness of his face sours ripe grapes. —William Shakespeare
Women are like elephants to me: nice to look at, but I wouldn't want to own one. — W. C. Fields
Some of my best leading men have been dogs and horses. — Elizabeth Taylor
He is brilliant — to the top of his boots. — David Lloyd George
A brain of feathers, and a heart of lead. — Alexander Pope
A wit with dunces, and a dunce with wits. — Alexander Pope
Sometimes I need what only you can provide: your absence. — Ashleigh Brilliant
I will always love the false image I had of you. — Ashleigh Brilliant
I want to reach your mind — where is it currently located? — Ashleigh Brilliant
She tells enough white lies to ice a wedding cake. — Margot Asquith
He's very clever, but sometimes his brains go to his head. — Margot Asquith
He could never see a belt without hitting below it. — Margot Asquith
She spends her day powdering her face till she looks like a bled pig. — Margot Asquith
Fine words! I wonder where you stole them. — Jonathan Swift
She wears her clothes as if they were thrown on with a pitchfork. — Jonathan Swift
He looked as inconspicuous as a tarantula on a slice of angel food. — Raymond Chandler
She was the kind of girl who'd eat all your cashews and leave you with nothing but peanuts and filberts. —Raymond Chandler
Gee, what a terrific party. Later on we'll get some fluid and embalm each other. — Neil Simon
He has Van Gogh's ear for music. — Billy Wilder
He has the attention span of a lightning bolt. — Robert Redford
I have never killed a man, but I have read many obituaries with great pleasure. — Clarence Darrow
There goes the famous good time that was had by all. — Bette Davis
He had delusions of adequacy. — Walter Kerr
Thank you for sending me a copy of your book; I'll waste no time reading it. — Moses Hadas
I feel so miserable without you; it's almost like having you here. — Stephen Bishop
He is a self-made man and worships his creator. — John Bright
What you said hurt me very much. I cried all the way to the bank. — Liberace
He is simply a shiver looking for a spine to run up. — Paul Keating
He loves nature in spite of what it did to him. — Forrest Tucker
There's nothing wrong with you that reincarnation won't cure. — Jack E. Leonard
Why are we honoring this man? Have we run out of human beings? — Milton Berle
You're a parasite for sore eyes. — Gregory Ratoff
The higher a monkey climbs, the more you see of its behind. — Joseph Stilwell
They don't make'm like him any more, but just to be on the safe side, he should be castrated anyway. — Hunter S. Thompson
If you ever become a mother, can I have one of the puppies? — Charles Pierce
I like long walks, especially when they are taken by people who annoy me. — Fred Allen
I regard you with an indifference bordering on aversion. — Robert Louis Stevenson
I thought men like that shot themselves. — King George V
You had to stand in line to hate him. — Hedda Hopper
You have a good and kind soul. It just doesn't match the rest of you. — Norm Papernick
You're a mouse studying to be a rat. — Wilson Mizner
You were born with your legs apart. They'll send you to the grave in a Y-shaped coffin. — Joe Orton
Your idea of fidelity is not having more than one man in bed at the same time. — Frederic Raphael
The perfection of rottenness. — William James
Where others have hearts, he carries a tumor of rotten principles. — Jack London
Some folks are wise and some are otherwise. — Tobias George Smolett
"Some men are born mediocre, some achieve mediocrity, and some have mediocrity thrust upon them. — Joseph Heller
She was like a sinking ship firing on the rescuers. — Alexander Woollcott
She's been on more laps than a napkin. — Walter Winchell
She has been kissed as often as a police-court Bible, and by the same class of people." — Robertson Davies
He was trying to save both his faces. — John Gunther
God was bored by him. — Victor Hugo
He is a man of splendid abilities but utterly corrupt. He shines and stinks like rotten mackerel by moonlight. — John Randolph
He is the same old sausage, fizzing and sputtering in his own grease. — Henry James
He made enemies as naturally as soap makes suds. — Percival Wilde
He was a bit like a corkscrew. Twisted, cold and sharp. — Kate Cruise O'Brien
He was happily married — but his wife wasn't. — Victor Borge
It's like cuddling with a Butterball turkey. — Jeff Foxworthy
She was a large woman who seemed not so much dressed as upholstered. — James Matthew Barrie
She was what we used to call a suicide blonde — dyed by her own hand. — Saul Bellow
The chief excitement in a woman's life is spotting women who are fatter than she is. — Helen Rowland
Women's intuition is the result of millions of years of not thinking. — Rupert Hughes
Outside every thin girl is a fat man, trying to get in. — Katharine Whitehorn
He knows so little and knows it so fluently. — Ellen Glasgow
He never chooses an opinion; he just wears whatever happens to be in style. — Leo Tolstoy
He never said a foolish thing nor never did a wise one. — Earl of Rochester
He thinks by infection, catching an opinion like a cold. — John Ruskin
His ignorance is encyclopedic. — Abba Eban
His mind is so open that the wind whistles through it. — Heywood Braun
She is a water bug on the surface of life. — Gloria Steinem
Abstract art? A product of the untalented, sold by the unprincipled to the utterly bewildered. — Al Capp
Modesty is the artifice of actors, similar to passion in call girls. — Jackie Gleason
Nature not content with denying him the ability to think, has endowed him with the ability to write. — A. E. Housman
You have all the characteristics of a popular politician: a horrible voice, bad breeding, and a vulgar manner. — Aristophanes

Moore Succinct: the Epigrams of Richard Moore

Nowadays we make quick work of our courtships; it's our divorces that we spend a lot of time on.
When I read Homer, I sometimes have the feeling that we have been starving to death for 3,000 years.
It's amazing what modern arts audiences nowadays will put up with. What a little pretentiousness won't do!
Years ago, when I taught a class in poetry writing in Brandeis University, the students had never heard of me, but they all knew about John Ashbery and knew how great he was, though none of them could explain why.

Government and the arts, alas, they just don't mix.
Your bed of roses, bureaucrat, is full of pricks.

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