see: "HURTING (SOMEONE)" for related links
see: "COMMUNICATION" for related links
A thick skin is a gift from God.
--Konrad Adenauer (1876—1967)
In "N.Y. Times" [30 December 1959].
[Teri Yaki (Mie Hama) talking about Shepherd Wong (Tadao Nakamaru):]
I'd call him a sadistic, hippophilic necrophile,
but that would be beating a dead horse.
--Woody Allen [Allen Stewart Konigsberg] (b. 1935)
American actor, screenwriter, and director.
"What's Up, Tiger Lily? " [1966 film]
Demagogue, n. A political opponent.
--Ambrose Bierce (1842—1914)
American newspaperman, wit, and satirist.
"Wasp" (San Francisco) [20 January 1882]
[George] Orwell heard the word "fascist" used
so often that, if Jones called Smith a fascist,
Jones meant, "I hate Smith!" But if Jones had
said, "I hate Smith," he would be confessing to
unchristian hatred. By calling Smith a fascist,
he need not explain why he hates Smith or
cannot best Smith in debate; he has forced
Smith to prove that he is not a closet admirer
of Adolf Hitler. Huey Long was right. When
fascism comes to America, it will come in
the name of anti-fascism.
--Patrick Buchanan (b. 1938)
American journalist, author, and candidate for U.S. President.
_The Defeat of the West_ 
When I feed the hungry, they call me a saint.
When I ask why they have no food, they call
me a Communist.
--(Dom) Hélder Câmara (1909—1999)
Brazilian Roman Catholic Archbishop.
Quoted in "N.Y. Times" [31 March 1991].
Men are much more unwilling to have their weaknesses
and their imperfections known than their crimes; and if
you hint to a man that you think him silly, ignorant, or
even ill-bred or awkward, he will hate you more and
longer than if you tell him plainly that you think him
--Lord Chesterfield [Philip Dormer Stanhope] (1694—1773)
British writer and politician.
_Letters Written By The Late Right Honourable Philip Dormer
Stanhope Earl of Chesterfield, to His Son_ [3rd. ed., 1774, 4 vol.]
Once you've told a lie or slandered someone, be sure to repeat
it as often as possible until it becomes true. 'Members and front
organizations must continually embarrass, discredit and degrade
our critics. When obstructionists become too irritating, label them
as fascist or Nazi [...] The association will, after enough repetition,
become "fact" in the public mind.'
--Communist Party, Moscow Central Committee, , as
quoted in Article 25 of the "Leftwing Liberal Handbook".
He that flings dirt at another dirtieth himself most.
If you can't answer a man's argument, all is
not lost; you can still call him vile names.
--attributed to Elbert Hubbard (1859—1915)
American editor, publisher, and author who
died in the sinking of the "Lusitania."
The ... propagandist must ... be consistently dogmatic. All his
statements are made without qualification, everything is either
diabolically black or celestially white ... He must never admit
that he might be wrong or that people with a different point
of view might be even partially right. Opponents should not
be argued with; they should be attacked, shouted down, or
--Aldous Huxley (1894—1963)
English novelist (Grandson of T.H. Huxley.)
_Brave New World Revisited_ 
I do not care to speak ill of any man behind his back,
but I believe the gentleman is an *attorney.*
--Samuel Johnson (1709—1784)
English poet, critic, and lexicographer.
In James Boswell, _The Life of Samuel Johnson_ .
From Ronald Kessler's
_In the President's Secret Service_ 
One evening, Nixon built a fire in the fireplace at San
Clemente and forgot to open the flue damper.
'The smoke backed up in the house, and two agents came
running,' says a former agent who was on the Nixon detail.
'Can you find him?' one of the agents asked the other.
'No, I can't find the son of a bitch,' the other agent said.
From the bedroom, a voice piped up, 'Son of a bitch is
here trying to find a matching pair of socks,' Nixon said.
Words can destroy. What we call each other
ultimately becomes what we think of each
other, and it matters.
--Jeane Kirkpatrick (1926—2006)
American political scientist, professor, author, and the
first woman to serve as the American Ambassador to
the United Nations.
"Israel as Scapegoat," an address before the
Anti-Defamation League [11 February 1982].
Everyone is a weirdo freak. Except you,
which makes you a weirdo freak.
--The Ninja from Ask A Ninja.com
Quite so. But I have not been on a ship
for fifteen years and they still call me
--An Italian admiral's response when Eva Perón complained
to him that she had been called a whore on a visit to northern
Italy; in Nigel Rees _Brewer's Famous Quotations_ .
One summer, when I was eight, my folks and some
relatives rented cabins at Sag Harbor on Long
Island. I was outside by myself playing mumblety-
peg, trying to make the knife stick into the ground,
when a piece of dirt flew up and lodged under my
I ran crying into the cabin, where my Aunt Laurice
managed to get the irritant out, while I continued
bawling. When I went back outside, I overheard her
say to Aunt Gytha, 'I don't know about that boy.
He's such a crybaby.'
It stung me then, and the fact that I vividly
remember the incident almost fifty years later
suggests my youthful devastation. I remember
thinking, nobody's ever going to see me cry
again. I did not always make it.
--Colin L. Powell (b. 1937)
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff [1989-93]
and Secretary of State [2001-05].
_My American Journey_ , "Luther and Arie's Son"
Never does a man portray his own character more
vividly than in his manner of portraying another's.
--Jean Paul Richter (1763—1825)
_Titan_ [4 vols., 1800-03], "Twenty-Eighth Jubilee"
No one can make you feel inferior
without your consent.
--Eleanor Roosevelt (1884—1962)
American human rights activist, diplomat, and
wife of U.S. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
Quoted in "Vidette-Messenger" (Valparaiso, Indiana) [7 June 1941].
A last trick is to become personal, insulting, rude, as soon as
you perceive that your opponent has the upper hand, and that
you are going to come off worst. It consists in passing from the
subject of dispute, as from a lost game, to the disputant himself,
and in some way attacking his person. It may be called the
_argumentum ad personam_, to distinguish it from the
_argumentum ad hominem_, which passes from the objective
discussion of the subject pure and simple to the statements or
admissions which your opponent has made in regard to it. But
in becoming personal you leave the subject altogether, and turn
your attack to his person, by remarks of an offensive and spiteful
character. It is an appeal from the virtues of the intellect to the
virtues of the body, or to mere animalism. This is a very popular
trick, because every one is able to carry it into effect; and so it
is of frequent application.
--Arthur Schopenhauer (1788—1860)
"The Art of Controversy" tr. by T. Bailey Saunders .
Calling a spade a spade never made the spade
interesting yet. Take my advice, leave spades
--Dame Edith Sitwell (1887—1964)
British poet and critic.
Letter to Charles Henri Ford [23 August 1933].
Since the Freudian revolution, and especially since
the Second World War, the secret formula has been
this: If you want to debase what a person is doing,
call his act psychopathological and call him mentally
ill; if you want to exalt what a person is doing, call
his act psycho-therapeutic and call him a mental
--Thomas Szasz (1920—2012)
_The Myth of Psychotherapy_ 
In all matters of opinion, our adversaries are insane.
--Mark Twain [Samuel Langhorne Clemens] (1835—1910)
American humorist, novelist, journalist, and river pilot.
_Christian Science_, bk. I, ch. 5 
Jimmy Walker (1881—1946)
Mayor of New York City [1925-32].
When someone at a Board of estimate meeting
shouted "liar" at him, Walker retorted, "Now that
you have identified yourself, we shall proceed."
--Michael E. Parrish
_Anxious Decades_, p. 160 
When you call me that, smile!
--Owen Wister (1860—1938)
American writer of western novels.
_The Virginian_ch. 2 
effluvium (noun) [ê-'flu-vee-yêm]
Potentially noxious, usually nauseating vapor or gas.
To feel loathing for somebody or something.
obloquy (noun) [ob'-luh-kwee]
Language which brings, or is intended to
bring, someone into odium or reproach.
stultify (verb) ['stêl-tê-fI]
To make someone appear stupid or foolish.
The prestige you acquire by being able to tell your
friends that you know famous men proves only that
you are yourself of small account.
--W. Somerset Maugham (1874—1965)
English novelist, playwright, and short-story writer.
_The Summing Up_ 
I mustn't go singling out names. One must not be
a name-dropper, as Her Majesty remarked to me
--attributed to Norman St. John Stevas (1929—2012)
British politician, author, and barrister.
Leader of the House of Commons [1979-81].
I have fallen in love with American names,
The sharp, gaunt names that never get fat,
The snakeskin-titles of mining claims,
The plumed war-bonnet of Medicine Hat,
Tucson and Deadwood and Lost Mule Flat.
--Stephen Vincent Benét (1898—1943)
American poet and novelist.
"American Names" 
Remember, they only name things after
you when you're dead or really old.
--Barbara Bush (b. 1925)
American wife of the 41st U.S.president, George H.W. Bush,
and mother of the 43rd president, Geowge W. Bush.
At the naming ceremony at the George Bush Center
for Intelligence, in "Independent" [28 April 1999].
If you want to win friends, make it a point to remember
them. If you remember my name, you pay me a subtle
compliment; you indicate that I have made an impression
on you. Remember my name and you add to my feeling
--attributed to Dale Carnegie (1888—1955)
American writer and lecturer.
How inappropriate to call this planet
Earth when it is clearly Ocean.
--Sir Arthur C. Clarke (1917—2008)
English science-fiction writer.
Quoted in "Nature" [8 March 1990].
My mother's name was Mary,
She was so good and true;
Because her name was Mary,
She called me Mary too.
She wasn't gay or airy,
But plain as she could be;
I hate to meet a fairy
Who calls herself Marie.
For it is Mary, Mary,
Plain as any name can be.
But with propriety, society
Will say Marie.
But it was Mary, Mary,
Long before the fashions came,
And there is something there
That sounds so square,
It's a grand old name.
--George M. Cohan (1878—1942)
American songwriter, dramatist, and producer.
"Mary's A Grand Old Name" [1905 song] sung by Fay Templeton
in the musical _Only Forty-five Minutes From Broadway_.
Some to the fascination of a name,
Surrender judgment hoodwinked.
--William Cowper (1731—1800)
English poet and hymnodist.
_The Task_, bk. vi 
Any child can tell you that the sole purpose of a middle
name is so he can tell when he's really in trouble.
--attributed to Dennis Frakes
A man that should call everything by its right name
would hardly pass the streets without being knocked
down as a common enemy.
--George Savile, 1st Marquess Halifax (1633—1695)
English politician and essayist.
Quoted in Helen Charlotte Foxcroft _The Life and
Lettters of Sir George Savile_ [2 vols, 1898].
[On Samuel Goldfish changing his name to Samuel Goldwyn:]
A self-made man may prefer a self-made name.
--Learned Hand (1872—1961)
Quoted in Bosley Crowther _Lions Share_ .
A nickname is the heaviest stone that
the devil can throw at a man.
--William Hazlitt (1778—1830)
_Sketches and Essays_ , "Nicknames"
Some cultures (especially those in sub-Saharan
Africa) give children names with meanings such
as "ugly," "disagreeable," or "crippled." The idea
is that the monikers will make them undesirable
--A.J. Jacobs (b. 1968)
_Mental Floss Magazine_ [May/June 2007], "Know-It-All: Names"
One-way first-name calling always means inequality
— witness servants, children, and dogs.
_Thank You, Dr. Lamaze_, ch. 7 
Most of those old settlers told it like it was, rough and
rocky. They named their towns Rimrock, Rough Rock,
and Wide Ruins, Skull Valley, Bitter Springs, Wolf Hole,
Tombstone. It's a tough country. The names of Arizona
towns tell you all you need to know.
--Charles Kuralt (1934—1997)
American journalist and broadcaster.
_Dateline America_ 
N.W. Ayer was not the founder of the advertising agency
that bears his name (the oldest such firm in the US).
The founder was Francis Wayland Ayer, and he was twenty-
one years old. It was a one-man firm, so he made it look
more substantial by calling it 'N.W. Ayer & Son.' His father,
N.W. Ayer, was never in the firm.
--John Maass, letter to William Safire, quoted in Safire's
_Language Maven Strikes Again_ ; "Invasion of the Verbs"
I call a fig a fig and a spade a spade.
--Menander (343?—291 B.C.)
It always matters to name rubbish as rubbish;
to do otherwise is to legitimize it.
--Sir Salman Rushdie (b. 1947)
Indian-born British novelist.
"Outside the Whale" [1984 essay]
What's in a name. That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.
--William Shakespeare (1564—1616)
_Romeo and Juliet_, II, ii 
Good name in man and woman, dear my lord,
Is the immediate jewel of their souls:
Who steals my purse steals trash; 'tis something, nothing:
'Twas mine, 'tis his, and has been slave to thousands;
But he that filches from me my good name
Robs me of that which not enriches him,
And makes me poor indeed.
--"Iago" in William Shakespeare (1564—1616)
_Othello_, III, iii [1602-04]
[Omar Sharif, speaking of Peter O'Toole:]
We developed a real friendship. When we first met,
he said, 'No one in the world is called Omar Sharif!
I shall call you Fred,' and he called me Fred from
--"Parade" [11 November 2012]
This agglomeration which was called and still calls
itself the Holy Roman Empire was neither holy, nor
Roman, nor an empire in any way.
--Voltaire (François Marie Arouet) (1694—1778)
French writer and philosopher.
_Essai sur Ie moeurs et l'esprit des nations_, ch. 70 
A good name will wear out; a bad one
may be turned; a nickname lasts forever.
--Johann Georg Zimmermann (1728—1795)
Swiss philosophical writer and physician.
Quoted in Tryon Edwards _World's Laconics..._ [1866 ed.].
After being charged £20 for a £10 overdraft, 30 year old Michael
Howard of Leeds changed his name by deed poll to Yorkshire Bank
PLC Are Fascist Bastards. The bank has now asked him to close his
account, and Mr. Bastards has asked them to repay the 69p balance,
by cheque, made out in his new name.
--_The Guardian_ [5 November 1999]
There used to be a listing in the Portland phone book for
Elmer Fudd. If you called it, no matter the time of day,
the person answered, "Is that you, you waskally wabbit?"
--Saint Séimí mac Liam
AFPF, Usenet newsgroup 
Lobster Newburg. According to Dictionary of Words and Phrases
by William and Mary Morris, the term is named for Ben Wenberg,
a West Indies ship captain who came up with this dish by adding
the ingredient cayenne to his famous recipe at Delmonico’s Hotel.
As the story goes, Mr. Wenberg had a falling out with the hotel
owner, who, as revenge, reversed the first three letters of a dish
which had previously been called Lobster Wenberg; hence,
--found on Net
TRIVIA: re Modesto CA (Spanish meaning 'modest, modest man.')
In 1870 the namers intended to name the town for W. C. Ralston,
San Francisco financier. Refusing, he was credited with modesty,
and the present name was thus given.
--George R. Stewart
_American Place-Names_ 
appellation [ap-uh-LAY-shun], noun:
1. The word by which a particular person or thing
is called and known; name; title; designation.
2. The act of naming.
eponym (noun) ['ep-ê-nim]
The original personal name from which another name, title, or
term is created. The adjective is "eponymous" [i-'pah-nê-mês].
misnomer [mis-NO-muhr], noun:
1. The misnaming of a person in a legal instrument,
as in a complaint or indictment.
2. Any misnaming of a person or thing; also, a
wrong or inapplicable name or designation.
1. A system of names assigned to objects or
items in a particular science or art.
2. The assigning of names to organisms in a
scientific classification system taxonomy.
onomastics (noun) [o-nê-'mæs-tiks]
The study of the formation and origins of proper names.
sobriquet [SO-brih-kay; -ket; so-brih-KAY; -KET], noun:
A nickname; an assumed name; an epithet.
Every man takes the limits of his own
field of vision for the limits of the world.
--Arthur Schopenhauer (1788—1860)
"Further Psychological Observations"
in _Parerga and Paralipomena_ (Appendices and Omissions) .
A narrow mind and a fat head invariably
come on the same person.
--attributed to Zig [Hilary Hinton] Ziglar (b. 1926)
American author and motivational speaker.
hidebound [HAHYD-bound], adjective:
Narrow-minded and stubborn.
see: "HUMOR" for other related links
see: "PEOPLE" for other related links
As a poet [Ogden] Nash works under two disadvantages:
he is a humorist, and he is easy to understand.
--Clifton Fadiman (1904—1999)
American critic and author.
_Party for One_ 
Nash is the laureate of a generation which had to develop its
own wry, none-too-joyful humor as the alternative to simply
lying down on the floor and screaming.
_New York Times Book Review_ [14 October 1945]
see: "HURTING (SOMEONE)" for other related links
Our disputants put me in mind of the cuttlefish, that
when he is unable to extricate himself, blackens all
the water about him till he becomes invisible.
--Joseph Addison (1672—1719)
English essayist, poet, and dramatist.
"The Spectator", no. 122 [20 July 1711]
I do not want people to be very agreeable, as it
saves me the trouble of liking them a great deal.
--Jane Austen (1775—1817)
Letter to Cassandra Austen [24 December 1798].
You don't have to blow out the other
fellow's light to let your own shine.
--Bernard Baruch (1870—1965)
Attributed in Jon Eisenson & Paul H. Boase _Basic Speech_, p. 239 .
Vilify, Vilify! Some of it will always stick.
--Pierre de Beaumarchais (1732—1799)
French playwright and adventurer.
Attributed in "Life" (mag.) [7 June 1968].
A man's heart determines his speech. A good man's speech
reveals the rich treasures within him. An evil-hearted man
is filled with venom, and his speech reveals it.
A fool’s lips bring him strife,
and his mouth invites a beating.
You kill me so courteously.
--Lois McMaster Bujold (b. 1949)
American science fiction author.
_Memory_, ch. 6 
It is always easier to hear an insult and not retaliate than
have the courage to fight back against someone stronger
than yourself; we can always say we're not hurt by the
stones others throw at us, and it's only at night — when
we're alone and our wife or our husband or our school
friend is asleep — that we can silently grieve over our
--Paulo Coelho (b. 1947)
Brazilian lyricist and novelist.
_The Devil and Miss Prym_ 
Nothing more completely baffles one who is full of trick and
duplicity than straigthforward and simple integrity in another.
A knave would rather quarrel with a brother-knave than with
a fool, but he would rather avoid a quarrel with one honest
man, than with both. He can combat a fool by management
and address, and he can conquer a knave by temptations.
But the honest man is neither to be bamboozled, nor bribed.
--C.C. Colton (1780—1832)
English clergyman and writer.
_Lacon: or, Many Things in Few Words_, CXL [1826 ed.]
There is nothing more galling to angry people
than the coolness of those on whom they wish
to vent their spleen.
--Alexandre Dumas (1802—1870)
French novelist and dramatist.
_La Tulipe Noire_ (The Black Tulip), ch. XXVIII 
If you hear that someone is speaking ill of you, instead of
trying to defend yourself you should say: 'He obviously
does not know me very well, since there are so many
other faults he could have mentioned.'
_The Enchiridion_ [c. 135]
He that scattereth thorns must not go barefoot.
--Thomas Fuller (1654—1734)
English writer and physician.
Comp., _Gnomologia: Adages and Proverbs_ 
Make not a bosom friend of a melancholy soul:
he'll be sure to aggravate thy adversity and lessen
thy prosperity. He goes always heavily loaded;
and thou must bear half. He is never in a good
humor; and may easily get into a bad one, and
fall out with thee.
--Thomas Fuller (1654—1734)
English writer and physician.
Quoted in James Comper Gray _The Biblical
Museum_, vol. 4, p. 297 [5 vol., 1872].
Rancor is an outpouring of a feeling of inferiority.
--José Ortega y Gasset (1883—1955)
_Meditations on Quixote_ 
If you must speak ill of another, do not speak
it, write it in the sand near the water's edge.
--attributed to Napoleon Hill (1883—1970)
American journalist, lawyer, and author of self-help books.
And once sent out a word takes wing beyond recall.
--Horace [Quintus Horatius Flaccus] (65—8 B.C.)
_Epistles_, bk. I, # 18, l. 71
Her mouth is a honey-blossom,
No doubt, as the poet sings;
But within her lips, the petals,
Lurks a cruel bee that stings.
--William Dean Howells (1837—1920)
American novelist and critic.
"The Sarcastic Fair" in _Poems_ .
Insolence is not logic; epithets
are the arguments of malice.
--Robert Green Ingersoll (1833—1899)
American politician and orator known as "The Great Agnostic."
"The Christian Religion", pt. 2 in _The North American Review_ [November 1881].
A sharp tongue is the only edged tool
that grows keener with constant use.
--Washington Irving (1783—1859)
American author, essayist, and travel book writer.
_The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent_ [1819-20], "Rip Van Winkle"
A fly, Sir, may sting a stately horse and make
him wince; but one is but an insect, and the
other is a horse still.
--Samuel Johnson (1709—1784)
English poet, critic, and lexicographer.
In James Boswell _The Life of Samuel Johnson_ .
Calumnies are best answered with silence.
--Ben Jonson (c. 1573—1637)
English dramatist and poet.
_The Alchemist_, II, i 
Discourtesy does not spring merely from one bad quality of the mind,
but from several—from foolish vanity, from ignorance of what is due
to others, from indolence, from stupidity, from distraction of thought,
from contempt of others, from jealousy.
--Jean de La Bruyère (1645—1696)
French essayist and moralist.
_Les Caractères_ 
Receive no satisfaction for premeditated
impertinence; forget it, forgive it, but keep
him inexorably at a distance who offered
--Johann Kaspar Lavater (1741—1801)
Swiss writer, Protestant pastor, and founder of physiognomics.
In John Timbs _Laconics: Or, The Best Words
of the Best Authors_, p. 41 .
Burning stakes do not lighten the darkness.
--Stanislaw Jerzy Lec (1909—1966)
_Unkempt Thoughts_ 
To refrain from imitation is the best revenge.
--Marcus Aurelius Antoninus (121—180)
Roman emperor [161-80] and Stoic philosopher.
_Meditations_ Book VI, Number 6
If the only tool you have is a hammer,
it is tempting to treat everything as if
it were a nail.
--Abraham Maslow (1908—1970)
_The Psychology of Science_ 
Is it worthwhile that we jostle a brother,
Bearing his load on the rough road of life?
Is it worthwhile that we jeer at each other,
In blackness of heart—that we war to the knife?
God pity us all in our pitiful strife.
--Joaquin Miller [Cincinnatus Hiner Miller] (1837—1913)
American poet and journalist.
_Is it Worthwhile?_
No man is exempt from saying silly things;
the mischief is to say them deliberately.
--Michel Eyquem de Montaigne (1533—1592)
French moralist and essayist.
_Essais_ (Essays) [pub. 1580-88]
Never throw mud. You may miss your
mark; but you must have dirty hands.
--Joseph Parker (1830—1902)
English Nonconformist divine.
_Detached Links, Extracts From The Writings And Discourses
of Joseph Parker_, (comp. by Joseph Lucas) .
When one told Plistarchus that a notorious railer spoke
well of him, "I'll lay my life," said he, "somebody hath
told him I am dead, for he can speak well of no man
--Plutarch (A.D. 46?—119?)
Greek philosopher and biographer.
_Laconic Apophthegms_, "Of Plistarchus"
An evil-speaker differs from an evil-doer
only in the want of opportunity.
--Quintilian (c. 35—100)
Attributed in J. K. Hoyt & Anna L. Ward (eds.)
_The Cyclopedia of Practical Quotations_, p. 521 [4th ed., 1882].
This trick consists in making your opponent angry;
for when he is angry he is incapable of judging aright
and perceiving where his advantage lies. You can
make him angry by doing him repeated injustice
or practising some kind of chicanery and being
--Arthur Schopenhauer (1788—1860)
_The Art of Controversy_, "Stratagem VIII"
Be thou as chaste as ice, as pure as snow, thou shalt
not escape calumny. Get thee to a nunnery, go.
--William Shakespeare (1564—1616)
_Hamlet_, III, i 
'Do you know what a pessimist is?'
'A man who thinks everybody is as nasty
as himself, and hates them for it.'
--George Bernard Shaw (1856—1950)
Irish dramatist and critic.
_An Unsocial Socialist_ 
Sometimes the only way you can feel good about
yourself is by making someone else look bad.
in episode 6 of the 2nd season, "Dead Putting Society".
Nothing is more silly than the pleasure some people
take in 'speaking their minds.' A man of this make will
say a rude thing for the mere pleasure of saying it,
when an opposite behavior, full as innocent, might
have preserved his friend, or made his fortune.
--Sir Richard Steele (1672—1729)
Irish-born essayist and dramatist.
[8 April 1713] issue of "The Guardian" (newspaper pub. March— October 1713).
We cannot be kind to each other here for an hour;
We whisper, and hint, and chuckle, and grin at a brother's shame;
However we brave it out, we men are a little breed.
--Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809—1892)
_Maud; A Monodra_ 
He who meanly admires mean things is a Snob.
--William Makepeace Thackeray (1811—1863)
_The Book of Snobs_ 
Neither evil tongues,
Rash judgments, nor the sneers of selfish men,
Nor greetings where no kindness is, nor all
The dreary intercourse of daily life,
Shall e'er prevail against us.
--William Wordsworth (1770—1850)
"Lines Composed a few miles above Tintern Abbey" [13 July 1798]
Portly G.K. Chesterton once remarked to the exiguous George Bernard Shaw: "To look at you, anyone would think there was a famine in England." To which Shaw replied: "To look at you, anyone would think you caused it."
"Poisoned Pens" is a delightfully malicious compilation of literary invective across the centuries, registering the less than kind views of one author for another. We always knew that the profession of writing was as cut-throat as any other. Now we can see little authorial daggers doing their malicious work.
The effects is oddly pleasurable. Feelings of envy, anger, condescension, contempt and irritation are universal, of course, but writers have a way of expressing such feelings with unusual style and, at times, with astonishing accuracy—when they are not being merely rude, petty and childish.
George Meredith, a novelist who prided himself on his prose refinement, knocked his contemporary Charles Dickens for being the "incarnation of cockneydom." Virginia Woolf felt that the poet T.S. Eliot was too religious: "He seems to me to be petrifying into a priest." Her complaint about Katherine Mansfield was less elegant. One might wish, she wrote in a letter, "that one's first impression of K.M. was not that she stinks like a—well, civet cat that had taken to street walking."
A monstrous snob, Vladimir Nabokov criticized Fyodor Dostoevsky for his "lack of taste." H. Rider Haggard, the author of "King Solomon's Mines," denounced Anthony Trollope (whom he met in South Africa) for being "obstinate as a pig" and filled with "peculiar ideas."
Henry Miller, famous for such louche classics as "Tropic of Cancer," mocked George Orwell for his high-mindedness. Aristotle attacked Euripides (for being too modern). Ben Jonson sniped at Shakespeare (for plagiarism). Alexander Pope skewered Colley Cibber (for excruciatingly bad poetry); Cibber, for his part, called Pope a "dwarf" and ridiculed his translations of Homer. The milk of human kindness does not seem to be an innate writerly trait, and charity is scant.
One wonders what role similarity plays. Woolf, who employed interior monologue in "Mrs. Dalloway" and other novels, bitterly dismissed James Joyce, famous for his pages of stream-of-consciousness. "I dislike Ulysses more & more," she said. "That is I think it more and more unimportant; and don't even trouble conscientiously to make out its meanings." William Faulkner, who clearly borrowed from Mark Twain the idea of giving the "tall tale" a literary spin, called Twain "a hack writer who would not have been considered fourth rate in Europe, who tricked out a few of the old proven 'sure fire' literary skeletons with sufficient local color to intrigue the superficial and the lazy." Not that Twain himself was kind. "Every time I read 'Pride and Prejudice,' I want to dig her up and hit her over the skull with her own shin-bone," he wrote of Jane Austen.
Some put-downs have a lapidary quality. "I am reading Proust for the first time," Evelyn Waugh wrote in a letter. "Very poor stuff. I think he was mentally defective." Clive James said of contemporary romance-novelist Judith Krantz: "To be a really lousy writer takes energy," adding: "As a work of art [her novel "Princess Daisy"] has the same status as a long conversation between two not very bright drunks."
Authorial contempt is democratic and need not depend on category differences. Women writers, for instance, easily dislike each other. Ayn Rand lost no time running down Isabel Paterson, a libertarian like herself: "I enjoyed talking to her, but thought nothing of her writing." Edith Sitwell said of Virginia Woolf: "I consider her 'a beautiful little knitter.' " Mary McCarthy famously excoriated Lillian Hellman, who she considered "tremendously overrated, a bad writer, and dishonest writer." (Hellman filed a lawsuit that ended only with her death.) "His work is evil," Anatole France wrote of his countryman Emile Zola. "He is one of those unhappy beings of whom one can say that it would be better had he not been born." Noël Coward dismissed Oscar Wilde as a "tiresome, affected sod." Wilde in turn lambasted Henry James for writing fiction "as if it were a painful duty."
The canonized masters can be as every bit as catty as anyone else, but perhaps that is not such a bad thing. In his introduction to "Poisoned Pens," Gary Dexter notes, truthfully, that the splenetic is a truer barometer of thought than the gushy or the kind. "What is negative is, if nothing else, generally sincere," he writes. "Good reports of fellow writers can easily be flattery or log-rolling: just think of the ways book-reviewers operate. It is only in the negative and the scabrous that we can be sure of a writer's true feelings."
Spite makes for better show business, too. Edmund Gosse once observed of the 18th-century critic John Dennis that his "acute, learned and sympathetic treatises" were long forgotten, though he was indeed known for not perceiving the genius of Pope. Likewise, Gosse said, no one paid any heed to the "grace and discrimination" of the critic Francis Jeffrey, who would go down in history as the ill-tempered man who attacked the Romantic poets, including Wordsworth. Jeffrey's shrewd judgments "weigh like a feather" beside "one tasteless sneer at Charles Lamb."
The insults taxonomized in "Poisoned Pens" take the form of lengthy denunciations, one-line waspish barbs and sheer bitchery. Entire paragraphs of truly memorable spite, such as Mark Twain on James Fenimore Cooper or D.H. Lawrence on Aldous Huxley—or harangues like E.M. Foster's lengthy evisceration of Sir Walter Scott—are far more effective than mere angry quips and brief nastiness.
One can't help recalling, in this context, the only serious line delivered in the movie comedy "Animal House." The English professor (Donald Sutherland) makes a sour—and stupid—remark to his class that it is not only boring but indeed pointless to study the poetry of John Milton.
Still, hatred alone is what lasts, Mr. Dexter suggests. Reasonlessness in the matter of assault is not to be avoid—it positively helps.
Many venomous attacks are thus ad hominem, in the physical sense. Bertrand Russell mocked Alfred Lord Tennyson for having "an almost theatrically pink complexion and two red spots on his cheeks." Charles Baudelaire called George Sand "stupid, heavy and garrulous." Algernon Swinburne's cruel description of Ralph Waldo Emerson: "A foul mouth is so ill matched with a white beard." Thomas Carlyle thought that Samuel Coleridge lacked will ("he has no resolution") but chose to focus on his homeliness: "Figure a fat flabby incurvated personage, at once short, rotund and relaxed, with a watery mouth, a snuffy nose, a pair of strange brown timid yet earnest looking eyes, a high tapering brow, and a great bush of grey hair—you will have some faint idea of Coleridge." Samuel Butler was no less cruel: "Yes it was good of God to let Carlyle and Mrs. Carlyle marry one another and so make only two people miserable instead of four." In our own time, Martin Amis, after a literary dinner in London, recounted how Salman Rushdie failed to respond to one of his points: "No answer; only the extreme hooded-eye treatment." He looked, Mr. Amis wrote, "like a falcon staring through a Venetian blind."
For sheer schadenfreude "Poisoned Pens" is a book that one can pick up and put down anywhere. There are some notable gaps in the collection. We see nothing of H.L. Mencken. (The focus is mainly British.) Neither is mention made of Baron Corvo, one of literature's most contumacious practitioners, a man who lived to dish and to vilify. Nor are we are treated to anything from the late Truman Capote—"That's not writing," so went his famous remark on Jack Kerouac, "that's typing"—who could have taken up a whole chapter by himself.
The nastiness is amazing. Do buy copies of "Poisoned Pens" for your curmudgeonly friends. It is a perfect Christmas book for those seeking to stem the glut of good will.
--Quoted in "A Nasty Way With Words" by Alexander Theroux,
reviewing _Poisoned Pens_ ed. by Gary Dexter. In _The Wall
Street Journal_ [20 November 2009].
acerbic [uh-SUR-bik], adjective:
Sharp, biting, or acid in temper, expression, or tone.
acrimony [AK-ruh-moh-nee], noun:
Bitter, harsh, or biting sharpness, as of language,
disposition, or manners.
bilious [BIL-yuhs], adjective:
1. Of or pertaining to bile.
2. Marked by an excess secretion of bile.
3. Of a peevish disposition; ill-tempered.
Nasty: mean, treacherous, or cowardly.
i.e.: a dastardly deed
effrontery [ih-FRUN-tuh-ree], noun:
Insulting presumptuousness; shameless
enervate (verb) ['en-êr-veyt]
Deprive someone of vitality or energy.
impugn [im-PYOON], transitive verb:
To attack by words or arguments; to call in question;
to make insinuations against; to oppose or challenge
pejorative [pih-JOR-uh-tiv], adjective:
1. Tending to make or become worse.
2. Tending to disparage or belittle.
pernicious [pur-NISH-us], adjective:
Highly injurious; deadly; destructive;
snide (adjective) [snId]
In speaking of what someone says or writes:
condescendingly malicious, sneering, 'snooty.'
termagant [TUR-muh-guhnt], noun:
1. A scolding, nagging, bad-tempered woman; a shrew.
2. Overbearing; shrewish; scolding.
vituperate (verb) [vI-'tu-pêr-yet or -'tyu (British)]
To scold extremely harshly and with abusive
language, to furiously verbally abuse.
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