Political insults and repartee featured in new book
BYLINE: By JOSEPH B. FRAZIER, Associated Press Writer
SECTION: ENTERTAINMENT NEWSLENGTH: 548 words
"I'll Be Sober in the Morning" (Frontline Press Ltd. 195 pages. $15), edited by Chris Lamb:
The political insult, the repartee, the comeback is a nimble fencer's epee in from out of nowhere, out in a flash, intended to unstuff shirts, slice and dice egos and leave the recipient humbled, dazed and speechless, preferably in public.
They've been around for centuries, and Chris Lamb, a professor of communications at South Carolina's College of Charleston, has culled some examples of the best of a low art form just in time for the fall campaign.
Some we know by heart.
When Winston Churchill, who liked a few, ran into Socialist Parliament member Bessie Braddock at a party she said, "Mr. Churchill, you are drunk."
To which he replied, "And Bessie, you are ugly. You are very ugly. I'll be sober in the morning."
Hence the title.
"Winston, if you were my husband I'd put poison in your coffee."
"If you were my wife, Nancy, I'd drink it."
But it is the lesser-known comebacks in "I'll be Sober" that make it so much fun.
They generally are not remarks made on the offensive but in reply to inadvertent openings by dimmer wits.
Churchill, credited with some of the best, said many of the classics likely were thought of beforehand. Lamb goes further, suggesting some may have been created after the fact or not at all, but that facts shouldn't ruin a good story.
Lamb says he weeded out the clearly apocryphal ones. Some retain an air of civility. Some don't even try. A few have, over time, been attributed to others.
A diplomat walked into Abraham Lincoln's office and saw the great man shining his own shoes, and remarked, "Mr. President, you black your own boots?"
"Yes, Lincoln replied. "Whose boots do you black?"
Here's Churchill again, uncharacteristically on the receiving end:
Lady Astor, his nemesis, was speaking to the House of Commons on agriculture when Churchill interrupted, saying "I'll make a bet she doesn't even know how many toes a pig has."
Replied Lady Astor: Why don't you take off your little shoosies, and we'll count them together."
After the 1992 Republican convention Dan Quayle declared that he intended to "be a pit bull" in the upcoming campaign.
When Bill Clinton heard the news, he said "That's got every fire hydrant in America worried."
Will Rogers once approached President Warren Harding, whose administration was awash in scandal, saying "I would like to tell you all the latest jokes."
"You don't have to," Harding replied. "I appointed them all to office."
The portly queen of Tonga attended the 1953 coronation of Queen Elizabeth II and when she passed Churchill in the procession she was accompanied by a small boy.
"Who's that?" a companion asked. "Her lunch," Churchill grumbled.
The 18th century political reformer John Wilkes was in a heated exchange with John Montagu, the Fourth Earl of Sandwich, who shouted "I do not know whether you will die on the gallows or of the pox" (venereal disease).
Wilkes replied, "That sir, depends on whether I embrace your Lordship's principles or your Lordship's mistress."
"There is no record of Montagu's response," Lamb said. "He probably put what was left of his manhood in a thimble and skulked away. To this day, none has delivered a comeback so devastating and so spontaneous."