As a nipper growing up our dear old Mum would beseech of us many things: Always wash behind your ears; Never eat three Shredded Wheat; and Never marry a lady taller than our good selves.
But there was one other maxim that haunted our very being: If you can’t say anything nice then don’t say anything at all.
We’d like to say that we maintain this mantra, but unfortunately we love nothing more than a particular cutting quip or insult. Our excuse for such verbal volleys? If it’s good enough for literature then it’s good enough for us.
To that end, allow us to present the 50 greatest literary putdowns of all time…
Click on each image for the full quote
A Confederacy of Dunces, John Kennedy Toole
“This liberal doxy must be impaled upon the member of a particularly large stallion!”
A Pair of Blue Eyes, Thomas Hardy
"You ride well, but you don't kiss nicely at all."
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain
"Well, Ben Rogers, if I was as ignorant as you I wouldn't let on."
King Lear, William Shakespeare
“Thou art a base, proud, shallow, beggarly, three-suited, hundred-pound, filthy worsted-stocking knave; a lily-liver’d, action-taking, whoreson, glass-gazing, superserviceable, finical rogue; one-trunk-inheriting slave; one that wouldst be a bawd in way of good service, and art nothing but the composition of a knave, beggar, coward, pandar, and the son and heir of a mungril bitch.”
Gone With The Wind, Margaret Mitchell
“My dear, I don’t give a damn.”
The Catcher in the Rye, J.D. Salinger
“I told him he didn’t even care if a girl kept all her kings in the back row or not, and the reason he didn’t care was because he was a goddam stupid moron. He hated it when you called him a moron. All morons hate it when you call them a moron.”
Matilda, Roald Dahl
“You blithering idiot! … You festering gumboil! You fleabitten fungus! … You bursting blister! You moth-eaten maggot!”
A Clockwork Orange, Anthony Burgess
“Well, well, well, well. If it isn’t fat, stinking billygoat Billy-Boy in poison. How art thou, thy globby bottle of cheap, stinking chip-oil? Come and get one in the yarbles, if you have any yarbles, you eunuch jelly thou.”
Timequake, Kurt Vonnegut
“If your brains were dynamite there wouldn’t be enough to blow your hat off.”
As You Like It, William Shakespeare
“I desire that we be better strangers.”
The Lion and the Unicorn, George Orwell
“He is simply a hole in the air.”
The Fountainhead, Ayn Rand
“Don’t fool yourself, my dear. You’re much worse than a bitch. You’re a saint. Which shows why saints are dangerous and undesirable.”
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, JK Rowling
"She is nuttier than squirrel poo."
Loss of Breath, Edgar Allan Poe
"Thou wretch! - thou vixen! - thou shrew!" said I to my wife on the morning after our wedding, "thou witch! - thou hag! - thou whipper-snapper! - thou sink of iniquity - thou fiery-faced quintessence of all that is abominable! - thou - thou-"
Janet's Repentance (taken from Scenes of Clerical Life), George Eliot
“A deistical prater, fit to sit in the chimney-corner of a pot-house, and make blasphemous comments on the one greasy newspaper fingered by beer-swilling tinkers.”
Macbeth, William Shakespeare
"You should be women and yet your beards forbid me to interpret that you are so."
Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, Edward Albee
“In my mind, Martha, you are buried in cement right up to your neck. No… right up to your nose… that’s much quieter.”
Pride & Prejudice, Jane Austen
“You are the last man in the world I could ever be prevailed upon to marry.”
The Importance of Being Earnest, Oscar Wilde
“I never saw anybody take so long to dress, and with such little result.”
The Canterbury Tales, Geoffrey Chaucer
“Thou woldest make me kisse thyn old breech, And swere it were a relyk of a saint, Though it were with thy fundement depeint!… I wolde I hadde thy coillons in myn hond… Lat kutte hem of”
(“You’d have me kiss your old trousers and swear they were the relic of a saint, even though they’re stained with your s—… I wish I had your balls in my hand… I’d cut them off.”
Breakfast At Tiffany’s, Truman Capote
“It should take you about four seconds to walk from here to the door. I’ll give you two.”
The Great Gatsby, F Scott Fitzgerald
“She’s not leaving me. Certainly not for a common swindler who’d have to steal the ring he put on her finger.”
The Picture of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde
"Without your art you are nothing. I would have made you famous, splendid, magnificent. The world would have worshipped you, an you would have borne my name. What are you now? A third-rate actress with a pretty face."
The Sun Also Rises, Ernest Hemingway
“I misjudged you… You’re not a moron. You’re only a case of arrested development.”
Revolutionary Road, Richard Yates
“You’re not worth the trouble it’d take to hit you. You’re not worth the powder it’d take to blow you up. You’re an empty, hollow f*****g shell of a woman…”
Alice In Wonderland, Lewis Carroll
"Your hair wants cutting"
Ulysses, James Joyce
“If you see kay
Tell him he may
See you in tea
Tell him from me.”
Waiting for Godot, Samuel Beckett
Kim, Rudyard Kipling
“Thy aunts have never had a nose for seven generations!”
The Life and Adventures of Martin Chuzzlewit, Charles Dickens
“He would make a lovely corpse”
Of Mice And Men, John Steinbeck
"I could get you strung up in a tree so easy it ain't even funny."
The Rules of Attraction, Bret Easton Ellis
“I only had sex with her because I'm in love with you.”
Another Country, James Baldwin
"People don't have any mercy. They tear you limb from limb, in the name of love. Then, when you're dead, when they've killed you by what they made you go through, they say you didn't have any character. They weep big, bitter tears - not for you. For themselves, because they've lost their toy."
The Metamorphosis, Franz Kafka
"He was a tool of the boss, without brains or backbone.”
Wuthering Heights, Emily Bronte
“You teach me now how cruel you've been—cruel and false. Why did you despise me? Why did you betray your own heart, Cathy? I have not one word of comfort. You deserve this. You have killed yourself. Yes, you may kiss me, and cry; and wring out my kisses and tears: they'll blight you—they'll damn you.”
The Stand, Stephen King
“I think you're a taker. You've always been one. It's like God left some part of you out when He built you inside of me.”
No Country for Old Men, Cormac McCarthy
"You keep runnin’ that mouth and I'm goin’ to take you back there and screw you."
The Ginger Man, J.P. Donleavy
"Some day you’ll show up when I’m back where I belong in this world. When I have what I ought to have. My due. And when you do. My gamekeepers will drive you out and away for good. Out. Away. Out."
A Happy Death, Albert Camus
"I feel like getting married, or committing suicide, or subscribing to L'Illustration. Something desperate, you know.”
The Long Goodbye, Raymond Chandler
"You talk too damn much and too damn much of it is about you."
A Scandal In Bohemia, Arthur Conan Doyle
“You see, but you do not observe.”
Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy
"He liked fishing and seemed to take pride in being able to like such a stupid occupation."
A Feast for Crows, George R.R. Martin
“The man is as useless as nipples on a breastplate.”
Skippy Dies, Paul Murray
“As Jesus said to me once, Greg, what's your secret? And I said, Jesus--study your notes! Get to class! Shave that beard! You show up to your first day on the job dressed like a hippie, of course they're going to crucify you, I don't care whose son you are . . ."
Engleby, Sebastian Faulks
"What a pair of frauds."
Norwegian Wood, Haruki Murakami
"Don't feel sorry for yourself. Only assholes do that."
The Dying Animal, Philip Roth
"Stop worrying about growing old. And think about growing up."
Lucky Jim, Kingsley Amis
“You bloody old towser-faced boot-faced totem-pole on a crap reservation.”
Crime and Punishment, Fyodor Dostoyevsky
"He was one of the numerous and varied legion of dullards, of half-animated abortions, conceited, half-educated coxcombs, who attach themselves to the idea most in fashion only to vulgarize it and who caricature every cause they serve, however sincerely."
Lord of the Flies, William Golding
"You're a beast and a swine and a bloody, bloody thief!"