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13 of The Best Literary Insults Ever Written

Shots fired from the literary canon!

  1. “Get thee to a nunnery”Hamlet, William ShakespeareAll standards of kindness and goodwill were disregarded when Shakespeare has Hamlet tell Ophelia she should be in a nunnery. In other words, he questions her chastity and her self-control. Coming from a guy that was in love with his mother, this insult should be taken with a grain of salt. 
  2. “Shadwell alone, of all my sons, is he / Who stands confirm’d in full stupidity. /The rest to some faint meaning make pretence / But Shadwell never deviates into sense”- “Mac Flecknoe”, John DrydenForget just one insult, Dryden takes it to the next level in his 1698 poem “Mac Flecknoe”, a mock heroic poem written for the sole purpose of humiliating his enemy Thomas Shadwell. With lines that call him the king of poetic decay and quotes that insinuate Shadwell’s poems to being of no more use than toilet paper, Dryden successfully shattered this man’s image and cemented his own place in literary history. 
  3. “There’s a stake in your fat black heart /And the villagers never liked you. / They are dancing and stamping on you. / They always knew it was you. / Daddy, daddy, you bastard, I’m through.”– “Daddy”, Sylvia PlathIn her final collection of poetry, Ariel, Plath holds nothing back. She details her tumultuous marriage to Ted Hughes, her battles with depression, and lingering feelings of resentment towards her father.Despite their separation, Plath was still legally married to Hughes at the time of her death and he became the proprietor and owner of her writing. Her scathing representation of Hughes in Ariel lead to him reordering her poetry anthology, transforming it from a narrative of rebirth to one of giving up. Many Plath fans still harbor resentment towards Hughes and, to this day, scrape his last name off her tombstone. 
  4. “ All morons hate it when you call them a moron.”- The Catcher in the Rye, J.D. SalingerThat they do Salinger, that they do. 
  5. “Why, what could she have done being what she is? / Was there another Troy for her to burn?”- No Second Troy, William Butler Yeats.Yeats was many things, but a quitter was not one of them. Despite proposing to Maud Gonne at least 5 times and being turned down repeatedly, Yeats dedicated most of his writing to depicting his love for her.However, much like modern guys, Yeats resented being in the “friend zone.” How dare a guy be kind and friendly to a woman and not receive sexual favours?!?! (Heavy sarcasm). He wrote No Second Troy to compare Maud Gonne to Helen of Troy and link her to the destruction of mankind. But how can he blame her, she’s just a measly woman after all. 
  6. “I was a daisy fresh girl, and look what you’ve done to me.”- Lolita, Vladimir NabokovDolores calls out her kidnapper and rapist, Humbert Humbert, and it results in some of the best insults ever written. She also calls him a vile old man, and casually mentions her detest for him at every chance she gets. 
  7. “ Some people are easier to love when you don’t have to be around them”- Trainspotting, Irving Welsh.We all have those people we cannot spend more than a few hours around without wanting to strangle. You still love them of course, just from afar. 
  8. “You bitch,” he said. “You rich bitch. That’s poetry. I’m full of poetry now. Rot and poetry. Rotten poetry.”“Stop it. Harry, why do you have to turn into a devil now?”“I don’t like to leave anything,” the man said. “I don’t like to leave things behind.”- The Snows of Kilimanjaro, Ernest HemingwayAs he lays dying of gangrene, Hemingway has his narrator Harry, rather than console his wife, turn to berating her. He blames her for his illness, his inability to write, and ultimately for funding his luxurious lifestyle and making him too comfortable. Wow, how dare she love and support him?! 
  9. “My dear, I don’t give a damn.”- Gone With the Wind, Margaret MitchellRhett Butler finally reaches his boiling point with Scarlett O’Hara and tells her exactly what he thinks of her. Most wounding is the fact that he doesn’t care or think about her anymore. Forgetting about someone is more painful than caring. 
  10. “Eat my shit.” – The Help, Kathryn StockettMinny Jackson not only tells Hilly to eat her shit, but also ensures that she does so by including it as a ‘secret’ ingredient in her pie. Under normal circumstances, there is no way I would condone this. But Hilly deserved this for her vile behavior and Minny’s words eloquently told her as much. 
  11. “You know what a greaser is” Bob asked. “White trash with long hair.”…“You know what a Soc is?” I said, my voice shaking with rage. “White trash with Mustangs and madras.”- The Outsiders, S.E. HintonThere is no shortage of insults in Hinton’s book depicting class division between the Socs and the Greasers. This trade off between Bob and Ponyboy is particularly effective because Ponyboy points out that the two groups are the same, the Socs just have more money and inflated egos. What’s more insulting to a group that thinks they’re better than everyone else than being knocked down a peg? 
  12. “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 BurgessAlthough I am admittedly not entirely sure of what all of these words mean, calling someone a fat, stinking billygoat can never be easily ignored. 
  13. “She’s not leaving me. Certainly not for a common swindler who’d have to steal the ring he put on her finger.”- The Great Gatsby, F. Scott FitgeraldFighting over a girl is one of the oldest plot points known to man. Tom Buchanan hits Gatsby with a low blow in their fight over Daisy, insinuating Gatsby is nothing more than a common thief.
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