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…
Best literary insults
1. As You Like It, William ShakespeareBuy now from Amazon
“I desire that we be better strangers.”
2. Timequake, Kurt VonnegutBuy now from Amazon
“If your brains were dynamite there wouldn’t be enough to blow your hat off.”
3. The Importance Of Being Earnest, Oscar WildeBuy now from Amazon
“I never saw anybody take so long to dress, and with such little result.”
4. The Lion And The Unicorn, George OrwellBuy now from Amazon
“He is simply a hole in the air.”
5. Murder On The Orient Express, Agatha ChristieBuy now from Amazon
“If you will forgive me for being personal… I don’t like your face.”
6. The Life And Adventures Of Martin Chuzzlewit, Charles DickensBuy now from Amazon
“He would make a lovely corpse”
7. The Long Goodbye, Raymond ChandlerBuy now from Amazon
"You talk too damn much and too damn much of it is about you."
8. The Adventures Of Huckleberry Finn, Mark TwainBuy now from Amazon
"Well, Ben Rogers, if I was as ignorant as you I wouldn't let on."
9. The Sun Also Rises, Ernest HemingwayBuy now from Amazon
“I misjudged you… You’re not a moron. You’re only a case of arrested development.”
10. A Scandal In Bohemia, Arthur Conan DoyleBuy now from Amazon
“You see, but you do not observe.”
11. The Dying Animal, Philip RothBuy now from Amazon
"Stop worrying about growing old. And think about growing up."
12. A Happy Death, Albert CamusBuy now from Amazon
"I feel like getting married, or committing suicide, or subscribing to L'Illustration. Something desperate, you know.”
13. A Feast For Crows, George R.R. MartinBuy now from Amazon
“The man is as useless as nipples on a breastplate.”
14. Crime And Punishment, Fyodor DostoyevskyBuy now from Amazon
"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."
15. Anna Karenina, Leo TolstoyBuy now from Amazon
"He liked fishing and seemed to take pride in being able to like such a stupid occupation."
16. King Lear, William ShakespeareBuy now from Amazon
“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.”
17. Another Country, James BaldwinBuy now from Amazon
"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."
18. The Catcher In The Rye, J.D. SalingerBuy now from Amazon
“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.”
19. Skippy Dies, Paul MurrayBuy now from Amazon
“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 . . ."
20. Norwegian Wood, Haruki MurakamiBuy now from Amazon
"Don't feel sorry for yourself. Only assholes do that."
21. Breakfast At Tiffany’s, Truman CapoteBuy now from Amazon
“It should take you about four seconds to walk from here to the door. I’ll give you two.”
22. Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf, Edward AlbeeBuy now from Amazon
“In my mind, Martha, you are buried in cement right up to your neck. No… right up to your nose… that’s much quieter.”
23. Pride & Prejudice, Jane AustenBuy now from Amazon
“You are the last man in the world I could ever be prevailed upon to marry.”
24. Gone With The Wind, Margaret MitchellBuy now from Amazon
“My dear, I don’t give a damn.”
25. Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows, JK RowlingBuy now from Amazon
"She is nuttier than squirrel poo."
26. Matilda, Roald DahlBuy now from Amazon
“You blithering idiot! … You festering gumboil! You fleabitten fungus! … You bursting blister! You moth-eaten maggot!”
27. Macbeth, William ShakespeareBuy now from Amazon
"You should be women and yet your beards forbid me to interpret that you are so."
28. The Stand, Stephen KingBuy now from Amazon
“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.”
29. Lucky Jim, Kingsley AmisBuy now from Amazon
“You bloody old towser-faced boot-faced totem-pole on a crap reservation.”
30. A Pair Of Blue Eyes, Thomas HardyBuy now from Amazon
"You ride well, but you don't kiss nicely at all."
31. The Canterbury Tales, Geoffrey ChaucerBuy now from Amazon
“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.
32. The Metamorphosis, Franz KafkaBuy now from Amazon
"He was a tool of the boss, without brains or backbone.”
33. Alice In Wonderland, Lewis CarrollBuy now from Amazon
"Your hair wants cutting"
34. The Picture Of Dorian Gray, Oscar WildeBuy now from Amazon
"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."
35. A Clockwork Orange, Anthony BurgessBuy now from Amazon
“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.”
36. The Great Gatsby, F Scott FitzgeraldBuy now from Amazon
“She’s not leaving me. Certainly not for a common swindler who’d have to steal the ring he put on her finger.”
37. Waiting For Godot, Samuel BeckettBuy now from Amazon
38. Kim, Rudyard KiplingBuy now from Amazon
“Thy aunts have never had a nose for seven generations!”
39. The Ginger Man, J.P. DonleavyBuy now from Amazon
"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."
40. The Fountainhead, Ayn RandBuy now from Amazon
“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.”
41. Loss Of Breath, Edgar Allan PoeBuy now from Amazon
"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-"
42. Janet's Repentance (Taken From Scenes Of Clerical Life), George EliotBuy now from Amazon
“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.”
43. The Rules Of Attraction, Bret Easton EllisBuy now from Amazon
“I only had sex with her because I'm in love with you.”
44. Ulysses, James JoyceBuy now from Amazon
“If you see kay
Tell him he may
See you in tea
Tell him from me.”
45. Wuthering Heights, Emily BronteBuy now from Amazon
“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.”
46. Engleby, Sebastian FaulksBuy now from Amazon
"What a pair of frauds."
47. Lord Of The Flies, William GoldingBuy now from Amazon
"You're a beast and a swine and a bloody, bloody thief!"
48. No Country For Old Men, Cormac McCarthyBuy now from Amazon
"You keep runnin’ that mouth and I'm goin’ to take you back there and screw you."
49. A Confederacy Of Dunces, John Kennedy TooleBuy now from Amazon
“This liberal doxy must be impaled upon the member of a particularly large stallion!”
50. Of Mice And Men, John SteinbeckBuy now from Amazon
"I could get you strung up in a tree so easy it ain't even funny."
- Literature's greatest opening paragraphs - the best opening lines in novels