Written by Rick Archer

A retort is defined as a sharp or incisive reply to a remark.  Sometimes the retort is angry, sometimes it is sarcastic, but to be any good, it definitely needs to be clever and it also needs to be QUICK.

Therein lies the problem.  All of us have choice words to use in case of a put-down, but rarely are the comebacks clever enough to draw blood. 

I think my favorite retort in political history came when a buffoon known as Dan Quayle was asked in a debate why he deserved to become vice president.

Dan Quayle responded, "I have far more experience than many others that sought the office of vice president of this country. I have as much experience in the Congress as Jack Kennedy did when he sought the presidency..."

Lloyd Bentsen responded, "Senator, I served with Jack Kennedy. I knew Jack Kennedy. Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy!"

What a put-down!  I remember the bolt of electricity that went through me when Bentsen made that statement. 

Before we leave the subject Dan Quayle, maybe we should take one last trip down Memory Lane.  Quayle, as some of you may remember, had a way with words that was quite unique.

"If we don't succeed, we run the risk of failure."

"Republicans understand the importance of bondage between a mother and child."

"What a waste it is to lose one's mind. Or not to have a mind is being very wasteful. How true that is."

"One word sums up probably the responsibility of any vice president, and that one word is 'to be prepared.'"

"Welcome to President Bush, Mrs. Bush, and my fellow astronauts."

"For NASA, space is still a high priority."

I think we all miss Dan Quayle.  He's still with us, but no one bothers to listen to him. 

Bill Clinton Vs. Dan Quayle

After Quayle revealed that he planned to be "a pit bull"
in the 1992 campaign against Clinton and Gore.


Rick's Note: As you study all the various quotes, comebacks, one-liners, insults, and retorts, try to pick out your three favorites.

Then compare your 3 favorites to my 3.  I have listed them plus three "Honorable Mentions" down at the bottom of the page.

Let me know which ones you liked the best.  And if have some more, send them to me!



A good retort and a good one-liner aren't necessarily the same thing.   Yogi Berra was famous for some of the best one-liners in history, but they weren't exactly aimed at anybody.

"It ain't over 'til it's over "

"Never answer an anonymous letter"

"I usually take a two hour nap from one to four"

"It's deja vu all over again"

"When you come to a fork in the road....Take it "

"I didn't really say everything I said "

Yogi on the 1969 NY Mets....." overwhelming underdogs "

When asked what time is was......"you mean now?"

On why NY lost the 1960 series to Pittsburgh, "We made too many wrong mistakes"

"You can observe a lot by watching "

"The future ain't what it used to be "

"It gets late early out here"

"If the world were perfect, it wouldn't be "

"If the people don't want to come out to the ballpark, nobody's going to stop them "

Niels Bohr Vs. A Reporter



The biggest problem with a good retort is that most of us can't think of a good one until about two hours or two days or two years too late.

There will be a situation that absolutely screams for a good comeback, but the words don't come to us until long after the opportunity is gone.

On the other hand, our difficulty coming up with the exact phrase to do damage with helps us appreciate more fully some of the quips presented in this article.  Here are some of history's famous comebacks:

Gladstone versus Disraeli

Once at a social gathering, Gladstone said to Disraeli,
"I predict, Sir, that you will die either by hanging or of some vile disease".

Disraeli replied, "That all depends, sir, upon whether I embrace your principles or your mistress."

Alfred Hitchcock

Hitchcock's 1944 film "Lifeboat," a drama about eight survivors of a freighter sunk by a German U-Boat, was one of the most popular films of the year.

While posing for publicity photographs for the film, actress Mary Anderson approached the director and asked, "What is my best side, Mr. Hitchcock?"

"My dear, you're sitting on it."

Pope John XXIII

Once asked by a journalist, "How many people work in the Vatican?" the pontiff pondered the question, giving the impression that he was trying to come up with an accurate estimate. Then, with a straight face, he answered:

"About half."

Babe Ruth

Despite a monster year in 1931 (.373 batting average, 46 home runs, 163 RBIs), Yankee officials cited economic hard times when they asked Ruth to reduce his salary to $75,000 for the 1932 season

Ruth made headlines when he held out. At a press conference, a reporter pointed out that $80,000 was $5,000 more than President Hoover's salary. The reporter then asked Ruth if it was fair that he made more money than the President.  Ruth considered the question and said:

"Yeah, maybe so, I had a better year."

Calvin Coolidge Vs. Some Random Lady
At A White House Dinner



Mae West was a notorious sex symbol who first came to prominence during the Roaring Twenties.  Always willing to challenge public attitudes towards sex, Mae West had some of the most outrageous quotes in history.  As you study the list below, you will realize that many of her best quips are still in common usage today.  This cursory glance of her classics reveals a very clever tongue indeed.  

Between two evils, I always pick the one I never tried before.
Mae West

I used to be Snow White, but I drifted.
Mae West

Save a boyfriend for a rainy day - and another, in case it doesn't rain.
Mae West

An ounce of performance is worth pounds of promises.
Mae West

You only live once, but if you do it right, once is enough.
Mae West

When I'm good, I'm very good. But when I'm bad I'm better.
Mae West

All discarded lovers should be given a second chance, but with somebody else.
Mae West

Cultivate your curves - they may be dangerous but they won't be avoided.
Mae West


These Mae West quotes are pretty amazing.  Apparently they are taken from her movie scripts back in the Thirties.  This stuff is deadly!  

Here are some more classics.

I never worry about diets. The only carrots that interest me are the number you get in a diamond.
Mae West

A dame that knows the ropes isn't likely to get tied up.
Mae West

It is better to be looked over than overlooked.
Mae West

I'll try anything once, twice if I like it, three times just to make sure.
Mae West

Marriage is a great institution, but I'm not ready for an institution.
Mae West

It isn't what I do, but how I do it. It isn't what I say, but how I say it, and how I look when I do it and say it.
Mae West

A woman in love can't be reasonable - or she probably wouldn't be in love.
Mae West

Don't keep a man guessing too long - he's sure to find the answer somewhere else.
Mae West

I generally avoid temptation unless I can't resist it.
Mae West


Mae West was attractive, but she wasn't stunning.  Mae West had a good figure, but her figure wasn't amazing.  Her sex appeal was more closely linked to her teasing style and the sly things she had a way of saying.

One of her best quotes was: Personality is the most important thing to an actress's success.  I don't think a screenwriter coined that one; Mae West surely thought that one up herself.

It seems obvious that her personality was indeed her greatest asset. Her clever words and sexy double entrendres kept her in the public eye for over 60 years.  Mae West lived to be 87.  She definitely did something right.

Too much of a good thing can be wonderful.
Mae West

When women go wrong, men go right after them.
Mae West

Sex is emotion in motion.
Mae West

The score never interested me, only the game.
Mae West

When I'm good I'm very, very good, but when I'm bad, I'm better.
Mae West


Ten men waiting for me at the door?  Send one of them home, I'm tired.
Mae West

A hard man is good to find.
Mae West

I like a man who's good, but not too good - for the good die young, and I hate a dead one.
Mae West

I'm no model lady. A model's just an imitation of the real thing.
Mae West

Love conquers all things except poverty and toothache.
Mae West

Anything worth doing is worth doing slowly.
Mae West

A man can be short and dumpy and getting bald but if he has fire, women will like him.
Mae West

To err is human, but it feels divine.
Mae West

Any time you got nothing to do - and lots of time to do it - come on up and see me sometime.
Mae West

Those who are easily shocked should be shocked more often.
Mae West

He who hesitates is a damned fool.
Mae West

I speak two languages, Body and English.
Mae West

I only have 'yes' men around me. Who needs 'no' men?
Mae West

Don't marry a man to reform him - that's what reform schools are for.
Mae West

Give a man a free hand and he'll run it all over you.
Mae West

The best way to hold a man is in your arms.
Mae West

I've been things and seen places.
Mae West

Every man I meet wants to protect me. I can't figure out what from.
Mae West

I like a little restraint, if it doesn't go too far.
Mae West

It's not the men in my life that count, it's the life in my men.
Mae West

I'm a woman of very few words, but lots of action.
Mae West

James McNeill Whistler Vs. Oscar Wilde
After Whistler had made a particularly witty observation.

She's the kind of girl who climbed the ladder of success wrong by wrong.
Mae West

I didn't discover curves; I only uncovered them.
Mae West

I've been in more laps than a napkin.
Mae West

It's not what I do, but the way I do it. It's not what I say, but the way I say it.
Mae West

If I asked for a cup of coffee, someone would search for the double meaning.
Mae West

I always say, keep a diary and someday it'll keep you.
Mae West

I only like two kinds of men, domestic and imported.
Mae West

Always look your best - who said love is blind?
Mae West

I believe in censorship. I made a fortune out of it.
Mae West

Virtue has its own reward, but no sale at the box office.
Mae West

He's the kind of man a woman would have to marry to get rid of.
Mae West

Edna Ferber Vs. Noel Coward
Coward was remarking upon the fact that Ferber
was wearing a tailored suit.



Winston Churchill was a great political orator. He left a huge legacy of interesting quotes.  In addition, he was considered to possess the sharpest tongue in the history of politics.

An appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile—hoping it will eat him last.

The inherent vice of capitalism is the unequal sharing of blessings; the inherent virtue of socialism is the equal sharing of miseries.

We contend that for a nation to tax itself into prosperity is like a man standing in a bucket and trying to lift himself up by the handle.

A fanatic is one who can’t change his mind and won’t change the subject.

A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on.

Once in a while you will stumble upon the truth but most of us manage to pick ourselves up and hurry along as if nothing had happened.

If you are going to go through hell, keep going.

It is a good thing for an uneducated man to read books of quotations.

You have enemies? Good. That means you’ve stood up for something, sometime in your life.

If you have ten thousand regulations, you destroy all respect for the law.

You can always count on Americans to do the right thing—after they’ve tried everything else.

History will be kind to me for I intend to write it.

The farther backward you can look, the farther forward you are likely to see.

I am ready to meet my Maker. Whether my Maker is prepared for the ordeal of meeting me is another matter.

The truth is incontrovertible, malice may attack it, ignorance may deride it, but in the end; there it is.

A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.

To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often.

Politics is the ability to foretell what is going to happen tomorrow, next week, next month and next year. And to have the ability afterwards to explain why it didn’t happen.

Socialism is a philosophy of failure, the creed of ignorance, and the gospel of envy.


Wife of prominent politician to Churchill (with distain):
Mr. Churchill, you are drunk again!

Yes, madam, and you are ugly.  But in the morning, I will be sober, and you will still be ugly.

George Bernard Shaw (to Winston Churchill):
Am reserving two tickets for you for my premiere. Come and bring a friend - if you have one.

Churchill:  Impossible to be present for the first performance. Will attend the second - if there is one.

On Labour leader and Winston's sucessor as Prime Minister, Clement Attlee, Churchill had much to say.

"A sheep in sheep's clothing"

"He is a modest man who has a good deal to be modest about."

"An empty taxi arrived at 10 Downing Street and when the door was opened Attlee got out."

Winston Churchill Vs. a Member Of Parliament

 Winston Churchill Vs. Lady Astor

On the deeply religious, teetotal, austere and clean living socialist Chancellor Stafford Cripps, after being told of Cripps's decision to give up smoking:


Henry Clay Vs. Massachusetts Senator Daniel Webster
After seeing a pack of mules walk by.


Dorothy Parker, when asked why she had
not delivered her copy on time...




Dorothy Parker was a well-known screenwriter and essayist back in the first half of the Twentieth Century.  She was known for her acerbic wit and was considered to have the sharpest tongue of them all.

Parker's caustic wit as a critic initially proved popular, but she was eventually terminated by Vanity Fair in 1920 after her criticisms began to offend powerful producers too often.  Her comments could definitely be biting.

For example, after her unwanted pregnancy, Parker bitterly remarked, "Just my luck to put all my eggs into one bastard."   Here are some other classics.

"This is not a novel to be tossed aside lightly. It should be thrown with great force!" 

"Katharine Hepburn delivered a striking performance that ran the gamut of emotions, from A to B."

Once it was said that Dorothy Parker and Clare Booth Luce arrived at a door simultaneously. Clare motioned Parker ahead and said: "Age before beauty"

Parker swept through the door without a pause and says over her shoulder: "And pearls before swine."

“The cure for boredom is curiosity. There is no cure for curiosity.”

“Beauty is only skin deep, but ugly goes clean to the bone.”

“If you want to know what God thinks of money, just look at the people he gave it to.”

“The first thing I do in the morning is brush my teeth and sharpen my tongue.”

“I like to have a martini,
Two at the very most.
After three I'm under the table,
after four I'm under my host.”

“Brevity is the soul of lingerie.”

“If I didn't care for fun and such,
I'd probably amount to much.
But I shall stay the way I am,
Because I do not give a damn.”

“That woman speaks 18 languages, and can't say 'No' in any of them.”

“She was pleased to have him come and never sorry to see him go.”

“I had been fed, in my youth, a lot of old wives' tales about the way men would instantly forsake a beautiful woman to flock around a brilliant one. It is but fair to say that, after getting out in the world, I had never seen this happen.”

“I'd like to have money. And I'd like to be a good writer. These two can come together, and I hope they will, but if that's too adorable, I'd rather have money.”

“So, you're the man who can't spell 'fuck.'"
Dorothy Parker to Norman Mailer after publishers had convinced Mailer to replace the word with a euphemism, 'fug,' in his 1948 book, "The Naked and the Dead.”


History's Most Famous Insults

"Nothing has more retarded the advancement of learning than the disposition of vulgar minds to ridicule and vilify what they cannot comprehend." - Samuel Johnson

"A graceful taunt is worth a thousand insults."- Louis Nizer (1902 - 1994) English lawyer

"Fine words! I wonder where you stole them." - Jonathon Swift

"What's on your mind? If you'll forgive the overstatement." -Fred Allen

"You have all the characteristics of a popular politician: a horrible voice, bad breeding, and a vulgar manner." - Aristophanes

"The Gods too are fond of a joke." - Aristotle

"She was a large woman who seemed not so much dressed as upholstered." - James Matthew Barrie

"Why are we honoring this man? Have we run out of human beings?"- Milton Berle

"I feel so miserable without you, it's almost like having you here." - Stephen Bishop

"He is a self-made man & worships his creator." - John Bright

"He has all the virtues I dislike and none of the vices Iadmire." - Winston Churchill

"A modest little person, with much to be modest about." - Winston Churchill

"Atlee is a very modest man. And with reason." - WinstonChurchill

"I may be drunk madame, but in the morning I will be sober, and you will be just as ugly." - Winston Churchill (when asked if he was drunk)

"I've just learned about his illness. Let's hope it's nothing trivial." - Irvin S. Cobb

"I have never killed a man, but I have read many obituaries with great pleasure." - Clarence Darrow

"She has been kissed as often as a police-court Bible, and bymuch the same class of people." - Robertson Davies

"He was distinguished for ignorance; for he had only one idea and that was wrong." - Benjamin Disraeli

"He was one of the nicest old ladies I ever met." - William Faulkner

"He has sat on the fence so long that the iron has entered his soul." - David Lloyd George

"He has every attribute of a dog except loyalty." - Thomas P.Gore

"Thank you for sending me a copy of your book; I'll waste no time reading it." - Moses Hadas

"Poor Faulkner. Does he really think big emotions come from big words?" - Ernest Hemingway (about William Faulkner)

"Nature not content with denying him the ability to think, has endowed him with the ability to write." - A.E. Housman

"His ears made him look like a taxi cab with both doors open."- Howard Hughes (about Clark Gable)

"God was bored by him." - Victor Hugo

"He's a nice guy, but he played too much football with his helmet off." - Lyndon Baines Johnson (about Gerald Ford)

"He is not only dull himself, he is the cause of dullness in others." - Samuel Johnson

"He is simply a shiver looking for a spine to run up." - Paul Keating

"Her only flair is in her nostrils." - Pauline Kael

"He had delusions of adequacy." - Walter Kerr

"There's nothing wrong with you that reincarnation won't cure."- Jack E. Leonard

"I wish I'd known you when you were alive." - Leonard Louis Levinson

"He can compress the most words into the smallest idea of any man I know." - Abraham Lincoln

"His speeches left the impression of an army of pompous phrases moving over the landscape in search of an idea." - William McAdoo (about Warren Harding)

"You've got the brain of a four-year-old boy, and I bet he was glad to get rid of it." - Groucho Marx

"I never forget a face, but in your case I'll make an exception."- Groucho Marx

"From the moment I picked your book up until I laid it down I was convulsed with laughter. Some day I intend reading it." -Groucho Marx

"I've had a perfectly wonderful evening. But this wasn't it."- Groucho Marx

"Don't be're not that great." - Golda Meir

"He is one of those people who would be enormously improved by death." - H. H. Munro

"It has been the political career of this man to begin with hypocrisy, proceed with arrogance, and finish with contempt." - Thomas Paine (about John Adams)

"A brain of feathers, and a heart of lead." - Alexander Pope

"A cherub's face, a reptile all the rest." - Alexanger Pope

"He has the attention span of a lightning bolt." - Robert Redford

"They never open their mouths without subtracting from the sum of human knowledge." - Thomas Brackett Reed

"He inherited some good instincts from his Quaker forebears, but by diligent hard work, he overcame them." - James Reston (about Richard Nixon)

"He has no more backbone than a chocolate eclair."- Theodore Roosevelt

"A little emasculated mass of inanity." - Theodore Roosevelt (about Henry James)

"You're a good example of why some animals eat their young."- Jim Samuels

"The trouble with her is that she lacks the power of conversation, but not the power of speech." - George Bernard Shaw

"A woman whose face looked as if it had been made of sugar and someone had licked it." - George Bernard Shaw

"Gee, what a terrific party. Later on we'll get some fluid and embalm each other." - Neil Simon

"I regard you with an indifference bordering on aversion."- Robert Louis Stevenson

"In order to avoid being called a flirt, she always yielded easily." - Charles, Count Talleyrand

"He was as great as a man can be without morality."- Alexis de Tocqueville

"He loves nature in spite of what it did to him." - Forrest Tucker

"His ignorance covers the world like a blanket, and there's scarcely a hole in it anywhere." - Mark Twain

"Why do you sit there looking like an envelope without any address on it?" - Mark Twain

"I didn't attend the funeral, but I sent a nice letter saying I approved of it." - Mark Twain

"Some cause happiness wherever they go; others whenever they go."- Oscar Wilde

"He has no enemies, but is intensely disliked by his friends." -Oscar Wilde

"He uses statistics as a drunken man uses lamp-posts for support rather than illumination." - Andrew Lang (1844-1912)


Thomas Reed Vs. Henry Clay

Pierre Trudeau Vs. Richard Nixon
Upon hearing that Nixon had called him an asshole.


Calvin Coolidge Vs. An Opera Singer 

Oscar Wilde Vs. Lewis Morris
Morris had just been passed over for the Poet Laureateship.


Miriam Hopkins Vs. An Anonymous Singer

Reverend Edward Everett Hale Vs. The U.S. Senate
When asked if he prayed for the Senators.


Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart Vs. An Admirer


Alcibiades Vs. Pericles



Groucho Marx Vs. A Contestant on "You Bet Your Life"
After the contestant revealed he was a father of 10.

NY Mayor Ed Koch Vs. Andrew Kirtzman
After the reporter insisted on pressing a point about an
inconsistent statement Koch had made.


Senator Fritz Hollings Vs. Henry McMastor
When challenged by his Republican opponent during a televised debate to take a drug test.




Abraham Lincoln Vs. Stephen Douglas
After Douglas called him "two-faced" during a debate:




Rick Archer's Three Favorites:

George Bernard Shaw (to Winston Churchill):
Am reserving two tickets for you for my premiere. Come and bring a friend - if you have one.

Churchill:  Impossible to be present for the first performance. Will attend the second - if there is one.

Anonymous Singer:  You know, my dear, I insured my voice for fifty thousand dollars.

Miriam Hopkins: That's wonderful. And what did you do with the money?

A young man began a correspondence with Mozart, and the following was said:

Q: "Herr Mozart, I am thinking of writing symphonies. Can you give me any suggestions as to how to get started."
A: "A symphony is a very complex musical form, perhaps you should begin with some simple lieder and work your way up to a symphony."
Q: "But Herr Mozart, you were writing symphonies when you were 8 years old."
A: "But I never asked anybody how."



William Faulkner when asked about Ernest Hemingway:
"He has never been known to use a word that might send a reader to the dictionary."

“So, you're the man who can't spell 'fuck.'"
Dorothy Parker to Norman Mailer after publishers had convinced Mailer to replace the word with a euphemism, 'fug,' in his 1948 book, "The Naked and the Dead.”

Ten men waiting for me at the door?  Send one of them home, I'm tired.
Mae West


Rick's Note: So which ones do we agree on?  Which ones did I miss on that you think are wonderful?

Let me know which ones you liked the best.  And if have some more, send them to me!

Thanks for reading!



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