The 50 best literary put-downs

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People like Simon Cowell and Gordon Ramsay have built careers on the back of their infamous tongue lashings. But humans have had the capacity to be snarky, mean and downright insulting to one another way before the dawn of reality TV. What's more, a lot of them have committed their insults to print. From Dostoevsky to Charles Dickens and Grace Dent to Shakespeare, we present some of the wittiest and cruelest jibes ever to have graced the realm of literature. Who knew books could be quite so rude?

Click on an image below to launch the gallery. Do you agree with our choices? Let us know your thoughts on Twitter or in the comments section below.

  • A Clockwork Orange

    by Anthony Burgess

    "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 garbles, if you have any garbles, you eunuch jelly thou."

  • The Importance of Being Earnest

    by Oscar Wilde

    "The simplicity of your character makes you exquisitely incomprehensible to me."

  • How To Leave Twitter

    by Grace Dent

    "I unfollowed @50cent because the poor man is almost entirely fixated on the daily happenings of his own penis."

  • Platform

    by Michel Houellebecq

    "Rumour had it that he was homosexual; in reality, in recent years, he was simply a garden-variety alcoholic."

  • Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

    by Edward Albee

    "Martha: Uh…you make me puke!"

  • My Booky Wook

    by Russell Brand

    "I couldn't possibly have sex with someone with such a slender grasp on grammar!"

  • The Collector

    by John Fowles

    "He's not human; he's an empty space disguised as a human"

  • A Streetcar Named Desire

    by Tennessee Williams

    "Blanche: I have been foolish - casting my pearls before swine"

  • After Claude

    by Iris Owens

    "If looks could kill, you'd soon find out that yours couldn't."

  • A Christmas Carol

    by Charles Dickens

    "You may be an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of underdone potato. There's more of gravy than of grave about you, whatever you are!"

  • Mr Dooley's Philosophy

    by Finley Peter Dunne

    "Most vegetarians I ever see looked enough like their food to be classed as cannibals"

  • The Secret History

    by Donna Tartt

    "As if happened, I knew Gartrell. He was a bad painter and a vicious gossip, with a vocabulary composed almost entirely of obscenities, guttural verbs, and the word 'postmodernist'."

  • Breakfast at Tiffany's

    by Truman Capote

    "It should take you about four seconds to walk from here to the door. I'll give you two."

  • Lord of the Flies

    by William Golding

    "You're a beast and a swine and a bloody, bloody thief!"

  • Gone With The Wind

    by Margaret Mitchell

    "My dear, I don't give a damn."

  • Bridget Jones's Diary

    by Helen Fielding

    "That is such crap. How dare you be so fraudulently flirtatious, cowardly and dysfunctional? I am not interested in emotional f***wittage. Goodbye."

  • The Color Purple

    by Alice Walker

    "He gave me a lynched daddy, a crazy mama, a lowdown dog of a step pa and a sister I probably won't ever see again. Anyhow, I say, the God I been praying and writing to is a man. And act just like all the other mens I know. Trifling, forgetful and lowdown."

  • Strangeland

    by Tracey Emin

    "IM GOING TO GET YOU YOU C*** YOU F***ING B*****D. And when I do - The whole world will Know That you destroyed Part of my childhood, TRACEY EMIN'

  • Pride and Prejudice

    by Jane Austen

    "She is tolerable; but not handsome enough to tempt me"

  • God Is Not Great

    by Christopher Hitchens

    "The Bible may, indeed does, contain a warrant for trafficking in humans, for ethnic cleansing, for slavery, for bride-price, and for indiscriminate massacre, but we are not bound by any of it because it was put together by crude, uncultured human mammals."

  • To Kill A Mockingbird

    by Harper Lee

    "You're more like Atticus than your mother. You're also growing out of your pants a little."

  • The Soul of Man Under Socialism

    by Oscar Wilde

    "In centuries before ours the public nailed the ears of journalists to the pump. That was quite hideous. In this century journalists have nailed their own ears to the keyhole. That is much worse."

  • American Psycho

    by Bret Easton Ellis

    "She placed the file on top of the desk before asking, 'Doin' the crossword?' dropping the g in 'doing' - a pathetic gesture of intimacy, an irritating stab at forced friendliness."

  • The Garrett

    by Ezra Pound

    "Come, let us pity those who are better off than we are/ Come, my friend, and remember that the rich have butlers and no friends/ And we have friends and no butlers."

  • Bossypants

    by Tina Fey

    "You could put a blond wig on a hot-water heater and some dude would try to f*** it."

  • Being Jordan

    by Katie Price

    "I did meet David Beckham, though. He held my hand while Posh wasn't looking. She's really rough without makeup."

  • Twelfth Night

    by William Shakespeare

    "Go shake your ears"

  • The Lion and the Unicorn

    by George Orwell

    "He is simply a hole in the air."

  • Fear of Flying

    by Erica Jong

    "'You've got a nice looking husband' 'Maybe I ought to fix you up with him. After all, you're both analysts. You'd have a lot in common. You could b****r each other under a picture of Freud."

  • The Constant Gardener

    by John Le Carre

    "You're history, Donohue. You think countries run the f***ing world! Go back to f***ing Sunday school."

  • Wide Sargasso Sea

    by Jean Rhys

    "Vain, silly creature. Made for loving? Yes, but she'll have no lover, for I don't want her and she'll see no other."

  • On Beauty

    by Zadie Smith

    "Any woman who counts on her face is a fool."

  • Great Expectations

    by Charles Dickens

    "Mrs Joe was a very clean housekeeper, but had an exquisite art of making her cleanliness more uncomfortable and unacceptable than dirt itself."

  • We Need To Talk About Kevin

    by Lionel Shriver

    "Everything people do that doesn't work has to be somebody else's fault. Next time you know, geezers'll be suing the government for getting old and kids'll be taking their mommies to court because they come out ugly."

  • This Be The Verse

    by Phillip Larkin

    "They f*** you up, your mum and dad"

  • Hannibal

    by Thomas Harris

    "On a related subject, Signore Pazzi, I must confess to you: I'm giving serious thought to eating your wife."

  • The Great Gatsby

    by F. Scott Fitzgerald

    "She's not leaving me! Certainly not for a common swindler who'd have to steal the ring he put on her finger."

  • The Picture of Dorian Gray

    by Oscar Wilde

    "Without your art you are nothing. I would have made you famous, splendid, magnificent. The world would have worshipped you, an you would have borne my name. What are you now? A third-rate actress with a pretty face."

  • Lolita

    by Vladimir Nabokov

    "Don't cry. I'm sorry to have deceived you so much, but that's how life is."

  • Orlando

    by Virginia Woolf

    "As long as she thinks of a man, nobody objects to a woman thinking."

  • Alice in Wonderland

    by Lewis Carroll

    "Your hair wants cutting"

  • Janet's Repentance

    by George Eliot

    "A deistical prater, fit to sit in the chimney-corner of a pot-house, and make blasphemous comments on the one greasy newspaper fingered by beer-swilling tinkers."

  • Romeo and Juliet

    by William Shakespeare

    "Sampson: No sir, I do not bite my thumb at you, sir, but I bite my thumb, sir."

  • Mythologies

    by Roland Barthes

    "The mythology of Einstein shows him as a genius so lacking in magic that one speaks about his thought as of a function analogous to the mechanical making of sausages, the grinding of corn or the crushing of ore."

  • Catcher in the Rye

    by J.D. Salinger

    "All morons hate it when you call them a moron."

  • The Rambler

    by Samuel Johnson

    "Nothing has more retarded the advancement of learning than the disposition of vulgar minds to ridicule and vilify what they cannot comprehend."

  • The Idiot

    by Dostoyevsky

    "According to her opinion, the whole thing had been one huge, fantastical, absurd, unpardonable mistake. 'First of all, this prince is an idiot, and, secondly, he is a fool - knows nothing of the world, has no place in it. Whom can he be shown to? Where can you take him to? What will old Bielokonski say? We never thought of such a husband as THAT for our Aglaya!"

  • The Help

    by Kathryn Stockett

    "Hilly, darling. No young husband wants to come home and see this. Look at your hair. And that … that is not attractive, dear."

  • Of Mice and Men

    by John Steinbeck

    "I could get you strung up in a tree so easy it ain't even funny."

  • King Lear

    by William Shakespeare

    "Fool: Cry you mercy, I took you for a join-stool"


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