taySome of the greatest figures in history, art, music, and politics will never be forgotten. We remember them because of the tremendous impact they had on shaping the world as we know it.
But just because they were legends, that doesn’t mean they were always on their best behavior. In fact, some of the most famous names from history should also be remembered for coming up with the wittiest insults.
From Mark Twain to Roseanne Barr and everyone in between, these 41 insults from society’s legends will leave you cackling. Prepare to up your own insult game!
1. Mark Twain: This legendary author wasn’t afraid to speak the truth when it came to what was on his mind. “The trouble ain’t there is too many fools, but that the lightning ain’t distributed right.” Serious burn, Twain.
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2. Mae West: This femme fatale was known for cutting right to the chase when it came to talking about the men in her life, whether it was good, bad… or really, really bad! “His mother should have thrown him away and kept the stork.”
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3. Groucho Marx: Of all of the Marx brothers, it was always Groucho you could turn to when the time came for a witty rejoinder—and then some! He even made “you’re ugly” jokes seem like art. “I never forget a face, but in your case, I’ll make an exception.”
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4. Oscar Wilde: Whenever Oscar Wilde was in a room, people turned to him for the best takes on life, love, and modern society. When it came to talking about the people he cared for and the people he didn’t, he didn’t mince words.”Some cause happiness wherever they go, others whenever they go.”
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5. Kurt Vonnegut: When little kids fight they are known to resort to low blows, like calling each other “stupid heads.” Kurt Vonnegut never grew out of it, but at least he called out stupidity with style. “If your brains were dynamite, there wouldn’t be enough to blow your hat off.”
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6. Elizabeth Taylor: This legendary Hollywood actress was just as well known for her tempestuous relationships and her multiple marriages as she was for her acting ability—and she knew it. “Some of my best leading men have been dogs and horses.”
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7. Albert Einstein: As a master scientist, Albert Einstein knew how important it was to remember that nothing in life or science is absolutely certain—and he knew that was true about humans, too! “Only two things are infinite—the universe and human stupidity, and I’m not so sure about the former.”
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8. Beethoven: This famous classical composer was known for his incredible compositions and his fierce temper. When he didn’t like something, he wasn’t afraid to say it; he was the master of the original burn. “I like your opera. I think I will set it to music.”
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9. Roseanne Barr: Roseanne Barr’s acrimonious relationship with her ex-husband Tom Arnold at one point was on every tabloid you could see. It didn’t help that Roseanne didn’t hold back when it came to talking about her ex. “We were trying to get pregnant, but I forgot one of us had to have a penis.”
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10. Soren Kierkegaard: If you think that today’s public figures lack class and sophistication, you should have heard the stuff this philosopher used to say when he was up against his opponent, Martensen. “My opponent is a glob of snot.”
11. Nick Faldo: Some people get divorces and part as friends, while others become mortal enemies. Nick Faldo falls into the second category. “We were happily married for eight months. Unfortunately, the marriage lasted four and a half years.”
12. Pope John Paul XXIII: Who knew that even religious figures could issue such totally epic smackdowns? Beware the Vatican if you can dish it out and can’t take it! When asked, “How many people work in the Vatican?” the Pope pithily said: “About half.”
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13. Dorothy Parker: This author was known for her quick retorts. One night while at a party, a drunk man commented to the group that “[he couldn’t] bear fools.” She snapped back with, “Apparently your mother could.”
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14. Victor Hugo: This French mastermind was known for his titanic literary works that have become household names. But did you know that, when it came to Napoleon, Hugo got his point across in just a handful of words? “God was bored by him.”
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15. Catherine the Great: “If you won’t be a good example, then you’ll have to be a horrible warning.” Pretty intense words coming from a woman whose greatest legacy would be the urban legend that she slept with a horse.
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16. Hunter S. Thompson: On presidential candidate Hubert Humphrey: “They don’t hardly make ’em like Hubert anymore—but just to be on the safe side, he should be castrated anyway.” Can you imagine someone saying this today?
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17. Frankie Boyle: “Nobody thought Mel Gibson could play a Scot, but look at him now! Alcoholic and a racist!” It was okay for him to make this royal roast of the Scots, because you know, he’s a Scottish comedian himself!
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18. King Edward VIII: “The thing that impresses me most about America is the way parents obey their children.” Yeah, yeah, it’s pretty funny, but never forget that the dude abdicated the throne and all of his friends were Nazis, so consider the source.
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19. Conan O’Brien: “Sarah Palin met with world leaders to discuss her foreign policy expertise. The meeting lasted 90 seconds.” Frankly when you claim that you can see Russia from your porch, you’d better be prepared for the comedy world to come after you.
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20. Winston Churchill: “Americans will always try to do the right thing—after they’ve tried everything else.” Churchill may have been English, but his mother was American, which might explain why he felt so comfortable joshing us!
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21. Mahatma Gandhi: When asked, “What do you think of Western civilization?” Gandhi said “I think it would be a good idea.” Whether or not the whole room erupted shouting, “roooooasted” has not, sadly, been recorded in the annals of history.
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22. Milton Berle: “You can lead a man to Congress, but you can’t make him think.” Milton Berle was so successful on TV that you know his finger was on the pulse of society, and this quote is living proof of that fact!
23. Nero: While looking at a man he had just had killed, the emperor sneered down at his body and said, “How could I have been afraid of a man with such a long nose?” Big words, coming from a living guy to a dead guy.
24. Billy Wilder: “He has Van Gogh’s ear for music.” Billy Wilder directed some of Hollywood’s most successful films in the 1940s and 1950s and his clear opinions are what made him such a great. This zinger is just one of his many memorable retorts.
25. Ernest Hemingway: “Poor Faulkner. He thinks big emotions come from big words.” Hemingway was known for being a bit macho (and then some). If this insult hasn’t convinced you, the photo below will do the trick!
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26. Christopher Hitchens: “If you gave Jerry Falwell an enema, you could bury him in a matchbox.” Hitchens, an outspoken atheist, didn’t have any time for the bluster of his enemy the evangelist Jerry Falwell.
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27. Timothy Leary: “Women who want to be equal with men lack ambition.” Clearly all of that LSD helped Timothy Leary elevate himself to a truly enlightened plane of being. Maybe if more dudes took LSD they’d realize women are more than their equals.
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28. Gerald Ford: “Ronnie [Reagan] doesn’t dye his hair—he’s just permanently orange.” President Ford was more well-known for falling over than he was for governing the nation, but hey, at least he didn’t spray tan… Ronald.
29. Joan Rivers: “Prince Charles’s ears are so big, he could hang-glide over the Falklands!” The Queen of Mean wasn’t afraid to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but when it came to talking about the way the future king really looked.
30. John Lennon: “Before Elvis, there was nothing.” Okay John, sure, Elvis Presley was an amazing musician, but the fact that you just quietly denied the fact he took most of his inspiration from the works of earlier musicians is not so cool.
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31. William Shakespeare: “The tautness of his face sours ripe grapes.” Pretty sure that you’ve probably said exactly this when you finally met that guy you matched with on Tinder who kept hounding you to meet up for drinks…
32. Whitney Houston: For most of her career, this killer songstress was hounded by the press. When asked her thoughts on the media, she really let the world know how she felt: “They’re devils to me, and they eat my flesh!”
33. H.L. Mencken: Check out what he said about FDR: “If he became convinced tomorrow that coming out for cannibalism would get him the votes he needs so sorely, he would begin fattening a missionary in the White House yard come Wednesday.”
All That Is Interesting
34. Margaret Thatcher: “If you want anything said, ask a man. If you want anything done, ask a woman.” You might not agree with this former prime minister’s politics, but it’s pretty hard not to like how much of an advocate she was for women’s rights.
35. Muhammad Ali: “If they can make penicillin out of moldy bread, then they can sure make something out of you.” Try this one on the next person who tries to cut in front of you in line at the movies. They’ll be so shocked, you’ll get your spot back!
36. Lily Tomlin: “I always wanted to be somebody, but now I realize I should have been more specific!” Lily Tomlin earns her place on this list because she’s one of the only folks who directed her killer insult at herself.
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37. Aristotle: “It is Homer who has chiefly taught other poets the art of lying skillfully.” You don’t necessarily think of the great minds of ancient Greece roasting each other, but it’s kind of hard not to arch your eyebrows at this insult from Aristotle.
38. John Adams: “In my many years I have come to a conclusion that one useless man is a shame, two is a law firm, and three or more is a congress.” Being a founding father wasn’t easy, and this shade thrown by John Adams is proof!
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39. E.E. Cummings: “A politician is an arse upon which everyone has sat except a man.” This poet knew how to use words sparingly, but when it came to his real feelings on politicians, he was happy to go over the top.
40. Charlotte Whitton: “Whatever women must do, they must do twice as well as men to be thought half as good. Luckily, this is not difficult.” Men and women should definitely be treated like equals, and Charlotte Whitton more than knew it!
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41. Calvin Coolidge: After seeing a musical performance, the famously terse politician was asked what he thought of the singer’s execution. Here’s what Coolidge had to say in response: “His execution? I’m all for it.”
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Who knew that these famous historical figures were capable of dishing out such serious jabs? They might have made the history books for their successes, but it’s their insults we will truly never forget.
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