Saturday Child – Battle of the bile
I was speaking to a colleague about what I considered the virtually paranoid behaviour and delusions of grandeur of an individual with whom I once had frequent contact.
I recounted a story I had heard from one of his former colleagues who claimed that the man was so obsessed with status that he used to rush to sit in the front seat of the LIAT aircraft to give the impression that he was travelling first class.
The response was typically West Indian. “And he ugly too,” my friend added. “You have to realise that the man used to be a wicketkeeper and instead of using his gloves he used his face and head to stop the ball.”
Now, the question is, does this observation by my colleague qualify as an insult, or is an insult something you say to another person’s face, regardless of the pulchritude of that person’s physiognomy?
Was it an insult when pianist/comedian Victor Borge, commenting on Mozart, quipped: “He was happily married but his wife wasn’t.”?
Does an insult have to be in your face as well as sometimes on your face?
Did Groucho Marx insult one of his children when he said: “I married your mother because I wanted children. Imagine my disappointment when you came along.”?
The dictionaries are no help in clarifying this issue. The Oxford Dictionary is consistent with the others in defining the verb “insult” as “speak to or treat with disrespect or scornful abuse” and an insult as a remark that is disrespectful or abusive.
What comes over is that you need not say to someone who is horizontally challenged: “When God was giving out height you went outside for a smoke”, to be insulting – all you have to do is say it about the person.
Mark Twain would have strongly applauded Brazilians who recently voted for a clown for Congress. A Brazilian news report stated: “Tiririca, or Grumpy, the Clown, also known as Francisco Oliveira Silva, may be headed to join Brazil’s congress. The Brazilian people have gone and elected the illiterate Tiririca, who not only won the seat to represent the city of Sao Paolo, but he was the highest vote-getter of any congressional candidate in Brazil’s elections on Sunday.
“The second highest vote-count in Brazilian history! Tiririca earned over 1.3 million votes, more than twice as many as anybody else. Not bad for clowning around! His campaign slogan was a winner: ‘Vote Tiririca! It can’t get any worse!’ ”
However, if anyone dared to describe any Congress or Parliament as “a bunch of clowns”, I am sure the clowns have grounds for a lawsuit.
Especially when they read the opinion that Thomas Paine, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, had said of George Washington: “. . . and as to you, Sir, treacherous in private friendship . . . and a hypocrite in public life, the world will be puzzled to decide whether you are an apostate or impostor, whether you have abandoned good principles, or whether you ever had any?”
Another founding father, Alexander Hamilton, had this to say of Thomas Jefferson, the author of the Declaration: “The moral character of Jefferson was repulsive. Continually puling about liberty, equality and the degrading curse of slavery, he brought his own children to the hammer, and made money of his debaucheries.”
While the Americans were good at insults, they lacked the refinement or verbal facility of the English politicians. Richard Brinsley Sheridan, the famous playwright (School For Scandal and The Rivals) was a member of the House of Commons when he commented on the Earl of Dundee, “The Right Honourable Gentleman is indebted to his memory for his jests and to his imagination for his facts.”
Benjamin Disraeli, also an author, was a lot more direct. Referring to one of his opponents, Sir Robert Peel, he said, “The Right Honourable Gentleman is reminiscent of a poker. The only difference is that a poker gives off occasional signs of warmth.”
It was Disraeli who came up with the classic put-down of the pompous entrepreneur:“He is a self-made man, and worships his creator.”
However, Winston Churchill remains my favourite exponent of the art of the political insult. It was almost as if he owned the intellectual property rights and only leased them to others. He described his opponent Clement Atlee as “a sheep in sheep’s clothing” and “a modest little man with much to be modest about”.
Churchill was as mentally and verbally agile outside of Parliament as he was in it. When Lady Astor was opposed by Churchill on the issue of women’s rights, she was so angry that she snapped, “Winston, if I were married to you I would put poison in your coffee.” He responded immediately, “And if you were my wife, I’d drink it.”
My favourite insult by Churchill resulted from a female MP scornfully remarking after a party, “Mr Churchill, you are drunk.” He replied,
“And you, Madam, are ugly. But I shall be sober tomorrow.”
Tony Deyal was last seen reading a George Bush (Sr) quote from his newest acquisition The Nasty Quote Book: “Being attacked on character by Governor Clinton is like being called ugly by a frog.”