Never underestimate the power of a good comeback – a few little words in the right order can really go far. And even though clapbacks seem like a twitter-age phenomenon, there are plenty of historical figures who were masters of the witty retort.
Seriously – you’re going to want to steal all of these amazing zingers.
19. Mahatma Ghandi
When asked what he thought of Western civilization, the famous Indian pacifist replied, “I think it would be a good idea.”
18. Truman Capote
The author of Breakfast at Tiffany’s, when confronted with a man who had whipped out his penis in an attempt to get an autograph, replied “I don’t know if I can autograph it, but perhaps I can initial it.”
17. Pierre Trudeau
The Canadian Prime Minster learned that then President Nixon had called him an asshole. He came up with the sickest polite burn someone from Canada could muster – “I’ve been called worse things by better men.”
16. Melville Fuller
U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice Melville W. Fuller, when faced with an audience member railing against universities and education, waited until the man said he gave thanks to God that he had never been corrupted by any contact with a college.
Fuller asked, “Do I understand the speaker thanks God for his ignorance?”
“Well, yes, if you want to put it that way.”
“Then you have a great deal to be thankful for.”
15. Ilka Chase
The American actress-turned-author was once confronted by a fellow actress who said, “I enjoyed reading your book. Who wrote it for you?”
To which she replied, “Darling, I’m so glad that you liked it. Who read it to you?”
14. Dorothy Parker
A quick-witted writer, Parker confronted a drunk man who claimed he couldn’t “bear fools” with the reply “Apparently, your mother could…”
13. Robert Surcouf
Surcouf was a French privateersman who made a fortune in shipping (and pirating), and when caught, faced a derisive officer who scoffed, “You French fight for money while we fight for honour.”
“Each of us fights for what he lacks most,” Surcouf replied.
12. Ed Koch
When a reporter kept pressing the New York City Mayor to elaborate on a statement, he eventually snapped the response, “I can explain this to you; I can’t comprehend it for you.”
11. John Kerry
Upon hearing that George W. Bush had taken a tumble from his bicycle: “Did his training wheels fall off?”
10. Edna Ferber
The American writer was fond of wearing tailored suits before they were in fashion for women, and when English playwright Noel Coward had the balls to say, “You look almost like a man,” she replied, “So do you.”
9. Winston Churchill
A politician once asked the old guy, “Must you fall asleep while I’m speaking?”
To which Churchill replied, “No, it’s purely voluntary.”
8. Winston Churhill, Part Deux
Churchill and Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw were good friends, and the latter wrote a letter inviting the statesman to see the opening of his new play, Buoyant Billions.
“Have reserved two tickets for opening night. Come and bring a friend, if you have one.”
The reply came, “Impossible to come to first night. Will come to second night, if you have one.”
7. Robert Benchley
An American humorist who laid the foundation for many modern-day comedians, Benchley once ran across a man in uniform and asked him to hail a taxi.
“I’m not a doorman. I happen to be a rear admiral in the United States Navy.”
“All right then; get me a battleship.”
6. Calvin Coolidge
The 30th president of the United States was asked about a vocal performance: “What did you think of the singer’s execution?”
To which he replied, “I’m all for it.”
Classical composer Amadeus Mozart was once approached at a party by an admirer asking for advice on writing symphonies. Mozart replied that since a symphony was a very complicated piece of music, perhaps the aspiring composer should start with something more simple.
The admirer said, “But Herr Mozart, you were writing symphonies when you were 8 years old.”
And Mozart replied “Yes, but I never asked anybody how.”
4. John Wilkes
When Wilkes, a British radical, journalist, and politician, was confronted by the more traditional Edward Montagu saying, “Sir, I do not know whether you will die on the gallows or of the pox,” Wilkes replied, “That will depend, my lord, on whether I embrace your principles or your mistress.”
3. Fritz Hollings
Fritz Hollings, a democrat Senator from South Carolina, was debating Republican opponent Henry McMaster on television, when McMaster challenged Hollings to take a drug test.
“I’ll take a drug test if you take an IQ test.”
2. Pope John XXIII
The pope from 1958 from 1963, John XXIII was once asked how many people work in the Vatican, to which the Pope responded “about half.”
1. Lloyd Bentsen
During a 1988 Vice Presidential debate, opponent Dan Quayle made the now-infamous mistake of comparing himself to Jack Kennedy. Bentsen had the response heard round the world:
“Senator, I served with Jack Kennedy. I knew Jack Kennedy. Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you’re no Jack Kennedy.”
Go ahead and grab them – I won’t tell!