A Literary Insult For Every Occasion

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Famous authors have been known to go around insulting each other, but their characters aren’t saints either (or maybe they are, if you ask a certain Ellsworth Toohey). Of course, Shakespeare is famous for the insults in his plays, but he’s not the only one putting some very rude remarks into his characters’ mouths — our favorite literature is full of witty jibes, bold attacks, and sly rejoinders. Click through to see some of the best put-downs in the wide realm of literature — and how we suggest you utilize them — and of course there are hundreds where these came from, so if we’ve missed your favorite zinger, add it to our collection in the comments!

When faced with someone else’s incomprehensible slang:

“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.” – A Clockwork Orange, Anthony Burgess

To liven up a dull conversation:

“If your brains were dynamite there wouldn’t be enough to blow your hat off.” – Timequake, Kurt Vonnegut

For telling someone to get lost, but nicely:

“I desire that we be better strangers.” – As You Like It, William Shakespeare

For when someone is quite below your notice, and you want to let them know:

“He is simply a hole in the air.” – The Lion and the Unicorn, George Orwell

For dispelling any illusions:

“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.” – The Fountainhead, Ayn Rand

For disagreements over Magic cards/games of Dungeons and Dragons/cosplay:

“The man is as useless as nipples on a breastplate.” – A Feast for Crows, George R.R. Martin

For morons (read: everybody):

“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.” – The Catcher in the Rye, J.D. Salinger

When only the juiciest alliteration will do (or when cursing out children):

“You blithering idiot! … You festering gumboil! You fleabitten fungus! … You bursting blister! You moth-eaten maggot!” – Matilda, Roald Dahl

For someone who thinks they’re better than you:

“This liberal doxy must be impaled upon the member of a particularly large stallion!” – A Confederacy of Dunces, John Kennedy Toole

For bitter arguments in Parisian bars:

“I misjudged you… You’re not a moron. You’re only a case of arrested development.” – The Sun Also Rises, Ernest Hemingway

For proving that you are far loftier than your opponent and (channeling Downton Abbey‘s Dowager Countess):

Cecily: This is no time for wearing the shallow mask of manners. When I see a spade I call it a spade.

Gwendolen: I am glad to say that I have never seen a spade. It is obvious that our social spheres have been widely different. – The Importance of Being Earnest, Oscar Wilde

When only the most cinematic and recognizable insult will do:

“My dear, I don’t give a damn.” – Gone With The Wind, Margaret Mitchell

When you want to cut to the core as quickly as possible:

“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 fucking shell of a woman…” – Revolutionary Road, Richard Yates

For long evenings of verbal sparring:

“In my mind, Martha, you are buried in cement right up to your neck. No… right up to your nose… that’s much quieter.” – Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, Edward Albee

When you need the ultimate insult:

“Critic!” – Waiting for Godot, Samuel Beckett

For insufferable suck ups:

“She would of been a good woman… if it had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life.” – “A Good Man is Hard to Find,” Flannery O’Connor

When you’ve finally decided to say what you’re thinking:

“You bloody old towser-faced boot-faced totem-pole on a crap reservation.” – Lucky Jim, Kingsley Amis

For theoretical disagreements that you’d really like to turn into personal attacks:

“It’s a nasty view of things, Gerald… and no wonder you are afraid of yourself and your own unhappiness.” – Women in Love, D.H. Lawrence

For that moment that comes in every young man’s life when he needs to quit his band and get a job:

“Barry, you’re over thirty years old. You owe it to your mum and dad not to sing in a group called Sonic Death Monkey.” – High Fidelity, Nick Hornby

When nothing else has worked, and only a sheer avalanche of adjectives will suffice:

“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.” – King Lear, William Shakespeare