Join 3,496 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


So's your mother!
March 3, 2008 10:44 AM   Subscribe

History's greatest replies. Any attempt to compile history's greatest replies—or history's greatest anything, for that matter—is fraught with difficulty, so it might be more accurate to refer to the replies that follow as simply my all-time favorites.
posted by psmealey (67 comments total) 65 users marked this as a favorite

 
Aw, man.

They left out my favorite..

General McAufliffe at Bastogne... "Nuts!"
posted by kbanas at 10:52 AM on March 3, 2008 [3 favorites]


Despite stilted usages such as "inebriated" and "wags" these are pretty good. But then I like a good reply.
posted by DU at 10:57 AM on March 3, 2008


Cool post, I love this kind of stuff. I imagine some are apocryphal, but that doesn't take the fun out them. One of my favorites, not included here, is when asked on his deathbed if he had made "Peace with God," Henry David Thoreau replied "I did not know we had ever quarreled."
posted by marxchivist at 10:57 AM on March 3, 2008 [5 favorites]


wilkes FTW!

I'd +1 that
posted by [son] QUAALUDE at 11:03 AM on March 3, 2008


I think the Groucho Marx snippet is inaccurate. Fun, though. Thanks!
posted by maxwelton at 11:07 AM on March 3, 2008


amazing how many of them are by notorious drunks.

also, there should have been a mention of guybrush threepwood's "How appropriate, you fight like a cow!"
posted by shmegegge at 11:09 AM on March 3, 2008


I once knew this guy, and we were at a party, and a woman he was hitting on said "You smell God awful." He replied "Oh yeah? Fuck you!" It was pretty funny.
posted by Pastabagel at 11:15 AM on March 3, 2008 [3 favorites]


Barack Obama's witty retort to Hillary in an Iowa debate.
posted by edverb at 11:16 AM on March 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


I wonder how some of these ever saw the light of day? Like "pearls before swine"--were there onlookers to these two trying to get through a doorway? Or is this a case of "oh yeah, well the JERK STORE called" thought of, and told to friends, well after the fact?
posted by DU at 11:18 AM on March 3, 2008 [2 favorites]


Buddy Cole on a desert island with Oscar Wilde.

Pastabagel's anecdote reminded me of the deathbed line.
posted by Dr-Baa at 11:20 AM on March 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


Prince George
Well, yes, you see, only the other day, Prime Minister Pitt called me an "idle scrounger," and it wasn't until ages later that I thought how clever it would've been to have said, "Oh, bugger off, you old fart!"
-- Blackadder the Third, "Ink and Incapability"
posted by George_Spiggott at 11:23 AM on March 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


I think it was Michael O'Donaghue who wrote a National Lampoon piece called "The Churchill Wit," which included delightful variations on the quotes here, plus a retort Winston Churchill made to George Bernard Shaw. Shaw had offered him two tickets to his latest play, and said, "Bring a friend, if you have one." To which Churchill quickly replied, "You and your play can go fuck yourselves."

(Historically, Churchill's reply was really, "I'll come on the second night, if there is one." All quotes approximate.)
posted by Man-Thing at 11:25 AM on March 3, 2008 [6 favorites]


This one's in print, at the New York Review of Books, no less, and so for that and a few other reasons (Woody Allen bashing not least among them), it remains my hands-down favorite riposte.
posted by minervous at 11:26 AM on March 3, 2008 [2 favorites]


That page would lead you to believe that a witty thing hasn't been uttered since 1960.
posted by Dave Faris at 11:29 AM on March 3, 2008


When I was in university, a friend of mine we'll call John Smith tried to pick up a girl at a bar within earshot of a few of us. This is how it went down:

J.S.: "Smith. John Smith." *smiles, extends hand*
Girl: "Off. Fuck off."
posted by The Card Cheat at 11:32 AM on March 3, 2008 [14 favorites]


"Nancy, if you were my wife, I'd drink it."

There's a regular at my local watering hole who relates this exchange constantly. No amount of correction will stop him from attributing it to Bertrand Russell.
posted by brundlefly at 11:37 AM on March 3, 2008


I do kind of imagine that a lot of the time these famous drunkards and wits just slurred something incomprehensible, staggered away to fall in a gutter, then made up a good story afterwards.
posted by Artw at 11:44 AM on March 3, 2008


That page would lead you to believe that a witty thing hasn't been uttered since 1960.

So would this page.
posted by yerfatma at 11:55 AM on March 3, 2008 [5 favorites]


The formatting on that page, that of boxing the punchline, is obnoxious.

One favorite of mine, which I think is probably not true, is usually attributed to Margot Asquith, but which Wikipedia, for whatever its worth, disputes, but not without suggesting it might have occurred to Margot Grahame instead:

"The T is silent, my dear. As in "Harlow".
Said by Margot _____, in response to Jean Harlow repeatedly pronouncing the T in her first name.
posted by George_Spiggott at 11:55 AM on March 3, 2008 [13 favorites]


So would this page.

Oh, you just need to talk to yourself more while reading Metafilter.
posted by Dave Faris at 11:58 AM on March 3, 2008


Oh!

I get it!

FRENCH class!
posted by Greg Nog at 12:03 PM on March 3, 2008 [4 favorites]


These are great. My personal favorite master of the witty retort is F. E. Smith, 1st Earl of Birkenhead. He was a legendary barrister who fired off amazing retorts in open court.

Examples:

Judge: What do you suppose that I am on the bench for, Mr. Smith?
Smith: It is not for me to fathom the inscrutable workings of Providence.
__________

Judge: Are you trying to show contempt for this court, Mr Smith?
Smith: No, My Lord. I am attempting to conceal it.
__________

Judge: Really, Mr Smith, do give this Court credit for some little intelligence.
Smith: That is the mistake I made in the Court below, My Lord.
__________

Judge: I have listend very carefully, Mr. Smith, to what you have said, but I am none the wiser.
Smith: None the wiser perhaps, my Lord, but far better informed.
__________

(In a case against a tram company after a young boy was hit by a tram and rendered blind)

Judge: Poor boy--poor boy--blind. Put him on a chair so that the jury can see him.
Smith: Perhaps your Honour would like to have the boy passed round the jury box.
Judge: That is a most improper remark.
Smith: It was provoked by a most improper suggestion.
Judge: Mr. Smith, have you ever heard of a saying by Bacon--the great Bacon--that youth and discretion are ill-wedded companions.
Smith: Yes, I have. And have you ever heard of a saying by Bacon--the great Bacon--that a much talking Judge is like a ill-tuned cymbal?
Judge: You are extremely offensive, young man.
Smith: As a matter of fact, we both are, and the only difference between us is that I am trying to be, and you cannot help it.

*HERO*
posted by dios at 12:10 PM on March 3, 2008 [133 favorites]


dios FTW

(in another life he would have ended up as a scriptwriter on HOUSE)
posted by unSane at 12:14 PM on March 3, 2008


One of my favorites can be found here on this MeFite's profile page.
posted by not_on_display at 12:18 PM on March 3, 2008


"'Kiss my asphalt!' Eh? Eh?"
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 12:31 PM on March 3, 2008


I think the Groucho Marx snippet is inaccurate.

Huh? Your own link verifies its accuracy: "Groucho Marx, who regularly did for airwaves what Cecil humbly endeavors to do for the newspapers, really did pull off the amazing exchange quoted above."

it remains my hands-down favorite riposte.

Really? It just sounds like Joan Didion being a supercilious twit because she can't find any actual answer to the fairly devastating attack by John Romano: "Evidently where Joan Didion lives problems of love and psyche evaporate in a haze of margaritas by age twenty-one and folks can get down to the real business of living—which is what, by the way, if it isn't the self or others?" I'm sorry, but I think he had the better of that exchange.
posted by languagehat at 12:48 PM on March 3, 2008 [3 favorites]


^That page would lead you to believe that a witty thing hasn't been uttered since 1960.
So would this page.


Mel, Kiss my grits!
posted by not_on_display at 12:48 PM on March 3, 2008


"Fuck you, clown"
posted by From Bklyn at 12:51 PM on March 3, 2008 [13 favorites]


What a great page. I was planning on adding Whistler's retort to Wilde to this thread, but then found out it was already included on the linked site.

I kinda liked the way the punchlines were boxed in.
posted by painquale at 1:04 PM on March 3, 2008


When Dorothy Parker was on her honeymoon her editor telegrammed her asking for her column. She answered: "Too fucking busy and vice versa."

When a book called "100 Authors Against Einstein" came out including the views of prominent physicists, Einstein replied: “If I was wrong, one author would have been enough."
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 1:06 PM on March 3, 2008 [12 favorites]


"Molo¯n labe!"
posted by Smedleyman at 1:21 PM on March 3, 2008


Casse toi pauvre con
posted by Skorgu at 1:21 PM on March 3, 2008


I love that the only sober leaders of WWII were the fascists and the commies.
posted by absalom at 1:33 PM on March 3, 2008 [5 favorites]


They were high on life.
posted by Artw at 1:36 PM on March 3, 2008


I am such a fan of a good Laconic reply:

During a visit to France, Benjamin Franklin was approached by a Frenchwoman who noted that he had put on weight, pinching his belly and saying, "Benjamin, what would you say if that was on a woman?" Notorious for his amatory endeavors, Franklin quickly replied, "Madam, twenty minutes ago that was on a woman."
posted by quin at 1:42 PM on March 3, 2008 [9 favorites]


Yeah, well, you know, that's just, like, your opinion, man.
posted by rocket88 at 1:43 PM on March 3, 2008 [3 favorites]



I don't know if this is quite the same kind of riposte, but I've always liked this one from composer Max Reger to critic Rudolph Louis:

"Ich sitze in dem kleinsten Zimmer in meinem Hause. Ich habe ihre Kritik vor mir. Im nachsten ugenblick wird sie hinter mir sein."

("I am seated in the smallest room of my house. I have your review before me. In a moment it will be behind me.")

They say success has a thousand fathers. This one has more volutary paternity than the "dancing about architecture" quote. I've heard it informally attributed to:

Winston Churchill
Voltaire
Johannes Brahms
Geo. B Shaw
James Joyce
Evelyn Waugh
posted by Herodios at 2:03 PM on March 3, 2008


"If."
posted by Krrrlson at 2:19 PM on March 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


Also, the ones in the link seem to be mostly focused on dongs.
posted by Krrrlson at 2:20 PM on March 3, 2008


Just once, I'd like to see a clever quote described with "Despite missing a beat.."
posted by katillathehun at 2:31 PM on March 3, 2008 [6 favorites]


There have been a variety of druken/off-color/vaguely misogynistic quotes that have been widely attributed to Winston Churchill over the years ("we've already established what you are madam, we're now just settling on the price..." and the like). I have often wondered if any of them were actually uttered by Sir Winston, or if these were mere urban legends.
posted by psmealey at 2:43 PM on March 3, 2008


quotes that have been widely attributed to Winston Churchill

Lazy writers don't bother to find out, they simply round up the usual suspects. Churchill is always high on the list.
posted by Herodios at 3:03 PM on March 3, 2008


Yeah? Says you.

Actually, I'm am a huge admirer of quick wit and snark well done. These all certainly qualify.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 3:22 PM on March 3, 2008


Fun post, psmealey, thanks!

As they say on the dancefloor: "ray-par-tay!"
posted by flapjax at midnite at 3:38 PM on March 3, 2008


All of these have to do with weiners.
posted by dminor at 3:40 PM on March 3, 2008


Lazy writers don't bother to find out, they simply round up the usual suspects.

Which brings us to Dorothy Parker again:
If with the literate I am
Impelled to try an epigram
I do not seek to take the credit
We all assume that Oscar said it.
posted by George_Spiggott at 4:46 PM on March 3, 2008 [2 favorites]


I'm very fond of America (The Book)'s take on one of these:

Coolidge still ranks as the quietest president of all time. Famously, a woman once approached him, saying, "I bet my friend I could get you to say more than two words," to which Coolidge wittily replied, "Fuck you."
posted by darksasami at 4:51 PM on March 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


"Dilute! Dilute! OK!"
Words to live by.
posted by Dizzy at 5:20 PM on March 3, 2008


Languagehat - you seem to be reading Didion's response in a totally different way than I did. I took it as a candid admission of having been taken effectively to task. I don't know her work - would that be out of character?
posted by Abiezer at 5:42 PM on March 3, 2008


What makes dry humour "dry"?
posted by lalochezia at 7:06 PM on March 3, 2008


"If."

Krrlson is quoting the retort I wanted to post, I believe, which is in the "Laconic wit" Wikipedia article quin posted:


One famous example comes from the time of the invasion of Philip II of Macedon. With key Greek city-states in submission, he turned his attention to Sparta and sent a message: "If I win this war, you will be slaves forever." In another version, Philip proclaims: "You are advised to submit without further delay, for if I bring my army into your land, I will destroy your farms, slay your people, and raze your city."

The Spartan ephors sent back a one word reply: "If."

posted by spiderwire at 7:25 PM on March 3, 2008 [6 favorites]


I don't know if it's true or not but I really like this reply from Cary Grant:

A reporter in search of information wired Grant's agent: "HOW OLD CARY GRANT?" Grant happened to read the message himself, and wired back "OLD CARY GRANT FINE. HOW YOU?"

posted by aldurtregi at 7:32 PM on March 3, 2008 [8 favorites]


Languagehat, I meant the details of the story are different, not that Groucho pulled something like that off. It was a female guest, not a male guest, the names were different, etc. We strive for accuracy in these matters. (At least I do when I vaguely recall seeing it somewhere else.)
posted by maxwelton at 8:22 PM on March 3, 2008


Abeizer - I took it that Didion was making fun of the way Woody Allen might have replied. "Oh, wow, I just, you've got a lot so say there but let's, well, wow, let's think it over..." Maybe not?
posted by LobsterMitten at 9:08 PM on March 3, 2008


That makes sense, LobsterMitten. Obviously a while since I've watched a Woody Allen film!
posted by Abiezer at 9:26 PM on March 3, 2008


Funny, occasionally hilarious, but I'm betting most of them are apocryphal. Plus, they forgot my favorite:

Dr. Dre: We have your motherfuckin' record company surrounded. Put down the candy and let the little boy go!
Eazy E: All of a sudden Dr. Dre is a G thang, but on his old album covers he was a she thang, so nigga please, nigga please don't step to these mothafuckin' real G's!
posted by DecemberBoy at 11:31 PM on March 3, 2008


Timing is all.

Turn back, turn back, sweet time in your flight!
I've thought of the comeback I needed last night.


As to the courtroom, I forget players, but the exchange went something like this:

Defendant: I was drunk as a judge when I committed the offense.
Judge: The expression is "sober as a judge". Don't you mean "drunk as a lord"?
Defendant: Yes, my lord.
posted by IndigoJones at 5:22 AM on March 4, 2008 [3 favorites]


Languagehat - you seem to be reading Didion's response in a totally different way than I did. I took it as a candid admission of having been taken effectively to task. I don't know her work - would that be out of character?

I would say "a candid admission of having been taken effectively to task" was completely out of character and "oh wow" is not something she would ever have said except with heavy irony, but of course only she could say for sure.
posted by languagehat at 5:58 AM on March 4, 2008


Person #1: Hi, nice to meet you
Person #2: Let's just be friends
posted by jaimystery at 8:42 AM on March 4, 2008 [2 favorites]


dios FTW

(in another life he would have ended up as a scriptwriter on HOUSE)
posted by unSane at 3:14 PM on March 3 [+] [!]


That is what the hacks that write for shows like House would like to believe of themsleves, but I guarantee that if any show had a single writer with half the wit there would be only one channel and it would just show reruns of that show.
posted by Pollomacho at 8:57 AM on March 4, 2008


Site has been 'temporarily taken down' - but the google cache is intact: http://209.85.173.104/search?q=cache:OywKhaIOlGkJ:www.drmardy.com/repartee/historygreatreplies.shtml+/http://www.drmardy.com/repartee/historygreatreplies.shtml&hl=en&ct=clnk&cd=1&gl=us&client=firefox-a
posted by Lizc at 9:37 AM on March 4, 2008


I like Ulysses S. Grant's response to Simon Bolivar Buckner's request for terms for surrendering Fort Donelson during the Civil War:
No terms except unconditional and immediate surrender can be accepted. I propose to move immediately upon your works.
This earned Grant the nickname "Unconditional Surrender." Buckner's reply was less badass than it was whiny (plus, he buried the lede):
The distribution of the forces under my command incident to an unexpected change of commanders and the overwhelming force under your command compel me, notwithstanding the brilliant success of the Confederate arms yesterday, to accept the ungenerous and unchivalrous terms which you propose.
I am, sir, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
posted by kirkaracha at 12:37 PM on March 4, 2008 [1 favorite]


In the same vein as kbanas' favorite, mine has always been one that came during the British retreat from Kabul in 1842. About 60 officers and men from the 44th Foot -- the last survivors of the Army of Afghanistan -- were surrounded by hundreds of Afghan tribesmen on a small hill near Gandamack. The Afghanis suggested the British surrender and an unknown soldier yelled back, "Not bloody likely!". The Afghanis attacked and slaughtered all but one man, so that didn't work out so well for the 44th. But it was still a good reply.
posted by joaquim at 2:32 PM on March 4, 2008 [1 favorite]


Makes me wonder about the lousy retorts. Y'know - "Nonsense, they couldn't hit an elephant at this dist..."
posted by Smedleyman at 11:59 PM on March 4, 2008


Site is down. Metadotted?
posted by rokusan at 12:41 AM on March 5, 2008


Buckner's reply was less badass than it was whiny.

Well, it sounds long winded to us, but that was the style of the time. But to say whiny suggests Buckner had no cause for concern. Consider what unconditional surrender really means in a war. It means, among other things, we can burn the town down and do with the survivors whatever we like (and that could mean hanging the lot of them if you consider them traitors- as was done from time to time). Traditionally, and this goes back thousands of years, a besieged city was entitled to terms if it surrendered before the walls were breached. Grant was breaking a long tradition, thus, ungenerous and unchivalrous.

(That Grant did not burn or hang is on the plus side- but it could have been otherwise.)

"Nonsense, they couldn't hit an elephant at this dist..."

Gen. Sedgwick's comment was not a retort, it was an attempt to encourage his soldiers.
posted by IndigoJones at 8:11 AM on March 7, 2008


PS to the Buckner saga - the old boy had known and served with Grant out west before the war and had lent him money to get back east when Grant left the army. Buckner presumably expected a bit of a quid pro quo, it now being his turn to be down on his luck.
posted by IndigoJones at 7:26 PM on April 2, 2008


« Older Enjoy life while you can. Because we're doomed. Gl...  |  Vanity Fair has obtained confi... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments