Saturday, April 16, 2011


Not easy to know what the local idiom of waterfront sailors and back alley cutthroats was a hundred years ago, but chances are good it was far different from the language heard in polite circles. We could say the same for the language differences in society today. There are always going to be those who use a rougher manner of speaking, as well as those using the more polite words and forms. And just as we might assume a roughneck is going to speak in a rough way, the bankers and lawyers more eloquently, we can also recognize that some cultures use foul language less than others. Japan is one of those cultures where foul words and cursing are rare. Bad words there are, but they aren’t thrown around like they are among Americans. I found a note stuck under the windshield wiper last week when I returned to my car parked in an ordinary and perfectly legal parking space: ‘You #!!*&$@!% !! You think your *%$!# don’t stink. You’re a &*#{!@^?!#$!!!!’ %^?*@! off! I got in my car wondering if maybe I had run over their cat, or maybe their grandmother. Obviously, whoever left the note on my windshield had no other way of expressing their anger and frustration.

I’ve always admired people who use language well. Some people are better with words than others. There are also those blessed with a quick wit that produces in many cases an unanswerable stab. History is full of people with a talent for the quick verbal kill. You would have likely seen Noel Coward chomping on a leg of Kentucky Fried Chicken as spitting out curse words, but he was razor sharp when it came to repartee or disagreement.

I got one of those email forwards from a friend last week, probably another of those globetrotting forwards that seem to live in perpetual orbit. Honestly, I was glad this one finally made its way to me. The lead-in said, ‘glorious insults from an era before the English language got boiled down to four-letter words.’ Some of them may be familiar, but they’re good enough to be repeated more than once or twice.

Lady Astor once said to Winston Churchill, “If you were my husband I’d give you poison.” Churchill’s reply was, “If you were my wife I’d drink it.”

Clarence Darrow admitted, “I have never killed a man, but I have read many obituaries with great pleasure.”

About Ernest Hemingway William Faulkner commented, “He has never been known to use a word that might send a reader to the dictionary.”

Oscar Wilde speaking of someone, “He has no enemies, but is intensely disliked by his friends.”

Irvin S. Cobb said about another, “I’ve just learned about his illness. Let’s hope it’s nothing trivial.”

Songwriter Stephen Bishop once quipped, “I feel so miserable without you, it’s almost like having you here.”

Billy Wilder speaking probably about a soundtrack composer, “He has Van Gogh’s ear for music.”

Upon leaving a party Groucho Marx tossed out, “I’ve had a perfectly wonderful evening. But this wasn’t it.”

George Bernard Shaw once wrote to Winston Churchill saying, “I am enclosing two tickets to the first night of my new play; bring a friend…if you have one.” In response Churchill wrote, “Cannot possibly attend first night, will attend second…if there is one.”

Thanks to Shelby for sending this funny list of literate and pre-four letter style of communication.

1 comment:

  1. Loved the humor....most of all the one about having a wonderful evening but that this wasn't one of them.


About Me

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Oak Hill, Florida, United States
A longtime expat relearning the footwork of life in America