Author Archives: Alexander Atkins

Wittiest Comebacks of All Time

alex atkins bookshelf quotationsWe’ve all been there. Someone makes a snide remark and you either you deliver a feeble response or walk away in silence, angry and annoyed — only to think of a witty comeback hours later. “I should have said…” The French even have a word for it — esprit de l’escalier, literally “the wit of the staircase” (it’s a perfect metaphor: you think of a snappy comeback after you have reached the bottom of the stairs). Better late, than never, right? However, some people who possess a razor-sharp wit can deliver a stinging comeback right on the spot — at the top of the metaphorical stairs! — leaving the offensive person speechless. Touché! Here are some of the wittiest comebacks of all time:

Lady Astor: “Winston, if you were my husband, I would put poison in your coffee.”
Winston Churchill: “Nancy, if you were my wife, I would drink it.”

Claire Booth Luce running into Parker: “Age before beauty!”
Dorothy Parker: “Pearls before swine!”

Member of Parliament: “Mr. Churchill, must you fall asleep while I’m speaking?”
Winston Churchill: “No, it’s purely voluntary.”

Elizabeth Braddock: “Winston, you are drunk!”
Winston Churchill: “You’re right, Bessie. And you’re ugly. But tomorrow morning, I’ll be sober and you will still be ugly.”

Drunk man: “I can’t bear fools!”
Dorothy Parker: Apparently your mother could.”

Actress: “I enjoyed reading your book. Who wrote it for you?”
Ilka Chase: “Darling, I’m so glad that you liked it. Who read it to you?”

George Bernard Shaw inviting Churchill to one of his plays: “Bring a friend, if you have one.”
Winston Churchill: “Please send tickets to the second performance, if there is one.”

4th Earl of Sandwich: “You, sir, will certainly die upon the gallows or of a social disease.”
Samuel Foote: “That depends, my Lord, upon whether I embrace your principles or your mistress.”

Member of the House, rubbing Longworth’s bald head: “Nice and smooth. Feels just like my wife’s bottom.”
Nicholas Longworth, Speaker of the House, after running his own hand over his head: “Indeed, it does!”

Read related posts: Top Ten Insults Using Archaic Words
Top Ten Literary Insults
There’s A Word for That: Espirit de l’escalier

For further reading:

James Joyce’s Ulysses Written in Code?

alex atkins bookshelf booksJames Joyce’s Ulysses, published in 1922, is considered one of the finest works of modernist fiction of the 20th century; however it was considered extremely controversial. Set aside for a moment that it was considered obscene due do its masturbation and sex scenes, it was also considered inscrutable for its challenging stream-of-consciousness narrative style, obscure allusions, wordplay, foreign phrases, and minimal punctuation. In fact, British war censors considered Joyce’s novel so enigmatic (in their words, “unreadable, unquotable, and unreviewable”) that they believed it was actually written in spy code. I guess you can say that Joyce was the first human “enigma machine.”

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For further reading: The Most Dangerous Book: The Battle for James Joyce’s Ulysses by Kevin Birmingham

In the Face of Suffering One Has No Right to Turn Away

alex atkins bookshelf quotationsIn the face of suffering, one has no right to turn away, not to see. In the face of injustice, one may not look the other way. When someone suffers, and it is not you, that person comes first. His very suffering gives him priority. When someone cries, and it is not you, he has rights over you even if his pain has been inflicted by your common God. To watch over a man who grieves is a more urgent duty than to think of God.

From a discussion of Cain and Abel in Messengers of God: Biblical Portraits and Legends (1976) by Eliezer “Elie” Wiesel (1928-2016), American Jewish writer and Holocaust survivor, and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986. He was a prolific author, having written 57 books; however, he is best know for Night, an unflinching but inspiring memoir based on his imprisonment at the age of 15, at the Auschwitz and Buchenwald concentration camps from 1944 to 1945. The memoir has sold over 10 million copies in America and has been translated into 30 languages.

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There’s a Word for That: Decemnovenarianize

atkins-bookshelf-wordsThe definition of the word decemnovenarianize is to act like a person of the nineteenth century; a person who behaves in such a manner is aptly called a decemnovenarian. It is certainly a mouthful; the word is pronounced “dee sem no vuh NAR yan eyes.”

In the 21st-century — call it the “digital era” or the “Google era” — why would anyone want to act like a nineteenth century person? That person would be clueless about modern communication, i.e., texting, snapchatting, emojis, textese, etc. So archaic. So boring. Outside of an actor, for example, playing the role of a character in Victorian England, there isn’t much need for such a word in everyday language. That it is why the word, as lovely as it sounds, is an obsolete word and rarely found in dictionaries — even online dictionaries. The only place the word shows up in print, in the 21st century, is in Erin McKean’s Weird and Wonderful Words, a delightful collection of obsolete words, published in 2003.

But perhaps we have been too hasty with regard to the word — rather than leaving it forlorn in the language vault to collect dust, we should bring it back as an eloquent synonym for a Luddite: “Don’t be such a decemnovenarian — use your freaking phone to text or call me back!” or “Don’t be such a decemnovenarian — use the “find my iPhone” app instead of tearing your house apart looking for your phone!” What the Dickens, fine fellow, the word just might make a comeback!


Read related posts: There’s a Word for That: Esprit de l’escalier
There’s a Word for That: Jouissance
There’s a Word for That: Abibliophobia
There’s a Word for That: Petrichor
There’s a Word for That: Deipnosophist
There’s a Word for That: Pareidolia
There’s a Word for That: Macroverbumsciolist
There’s a Word for That: Ultracrepidarian
There’s a Word for That: Cacology

For further reading: Weird and Wonderful Words by Erin McKean.

What Medical Specialists Think of the Health Care Act

alex atkins bookshelf wordsAt a press conference in February, President Trump stunned health care pundits, reporters — and pretty much all of America — with this jaw-dropping remark, “Now, I have to tell you, [health care is] an unbelievably complex subject. Nobody knew health care could be so complicated.” Duh. If you have ever been to a hospital and had to deal with the red tape from doctors, hospitals, and insurance companies — it makes building a wheelchair with glue and popsicle sticks while blindfolded like child’s play. So why not ask the witty (and punny) medical specialists what they think of the Affordable Health Care Act (AKA TrumpCare)? Here is how they weighed in on this complex legislation:

The allergists voted to scratch it, but the dermatologists advised not to make any rash moves.

The gastroenterologists wanted to throw up, but the neurologists thought the politicians had a lot of nerve.

The obstetricians felt they were all laboring under a misconception. Ophthalmologists considered the idea short-sighted.

Pathologists exclaimed, “Over my dead body!” while the pediatricians retorted, “Oh, grow up!”

The psychiatrists thought the whole idea was insanity, while the radiologists could see right through it.

The hematologists were so angry they just saw red, while otolaryngologists just shook their heads in strong disapproval.

The surgeons were fed up with the cuts and decided to wash their hands of the whole thing.

Gynecologists, on the other hand, thought it was all a bunch of hoo-haw.

The ear nose and throat specialists didn’t swallow it, and just wouldn’t hear of it. The pharmacologists thought it was a bitter pill to swallow, and the plastic surgeons said, “This puts a whole new face on the issue”

The podiatrists thought it was a step forward, but the urologists were pissed off at the whole idea.

The anesthesiologist thought the whole plan was a gas, but the cardiologists didn’t have the heart to say no.

Ultimately, the proctologists won out, leaving the entire decision up to the assholes in Washington.

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For further reading:

Rare Names of Baby Animals

alex atkins bookshelf wordsEveryone knows the name for a baby dog (puppy) and a cat (kitten) — and who doesn’t love adorable puppies and kittens… But we digress. In the English language, notorious for its idiosyncrasies, you will not be surprised to learn that there are several names for baby animals (or their young) that are quite rare, and perhaps a little strange; for example, a baby hare is a leveret; a baby cockroach is a nymph; a baby hawk is an eyas, and a baby salmon is a smolt. Next time you turn on the kitchen light and see baby cockroaches scattering about, impress someone by yelling out “Oh, look at all those frightened nymphs running for cover!” Be prepared for an Anderson Cooperesque eyeroll (Google it, if you don’t know get the allusion). Here is a list of some rare and common names of baby animals. How many do you know? (name of animal, followed by specific baby animal or youth name):

antelope, calf

badger, cub

bear, cub / whelp

beaver, kit

bobcat, kitten

buffalo, calf

camel, calf

caribou, fawn

cat, kitten

cattle, calf

chicken, chick

cockroach, nymph

cougar, kitten

coyote, puppy

deer, fawn

dog, puppy / pup / whelp

duck, duckling

eagle, eaglet

eel, elver

elephant, calf

elk, calf

falcon, eyas

ferret, kit

fish, fry

fox, cub / kit

frog, tadpole / polliwog

giraffe, calf

goat, kid

goose, gosling

grasshopper, nymph

hare, leveret

hartebeest, calf

hawk, chick / eyas

horse, foal / colt / filly

kangaroo, joey

leopard, cub

lion, cub / whelp

mink, kit

owl, owlet

oyster, spat

peafowl, peachick

pheasant, chick

pig, piglet/ porkling / gilt  /  shoat

pigeon, squab / squeaker

pike, pickerel

possum, joey

rabbit, kitten

rat, pup

rhinoceros, calf

roe deer, kid

salmon, parr / smolt

seal, calf / pup

sheep, lamb

skunk, kitten

spider, spiderling

swan, cygnet

termite, nymph

tick, nymph

tiger, cub / whelp

toad, tadpole

wallaby, joey

walrus, cub

weasel, kit

whale, calf

wolf, cub / pup / whelp

zebra, foal

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Best TV Opening Credit Sequences of All Time

alex atkins bookshelf cultureThere are some shows that have title sequences that are just as iconic as the TV shows themselves — remember The Beverly Hillbillies, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Gilligan’s Island, MASH, Star Trek, Cheers, The X Files, and Game of Thrones? As these title sequences demonstrate, there is a real art to the title sequence; however, sadly they have been on the decline since network televisions prefers very short or no title sequence at all, leaving more air time for ads.

Television critic Alan Sepinwall believes that TV opening credit sequences fall into one of three categories (excluding, of course, those lame, unimaginative ones that simply show photos and names of the actors): opening credits as (1) expository device; (2) as explicator of theme; and (3) as setter of mood. Examples of the first type (expository device), like Gilligan’s Island and the Twilight Zone, that explain a show’s premise through a theme song, narration, or image montage. Opening credits as explicator of theme, like Dexter, Star Trek, and Cheers, are short movies that explain what the show is about. The third type (setter of mood), like Game of Thrones or Mad Men, are brief movies that try to evoke the feeling or mood of the show.

According to ScreenRant, here are the top ten TV opening credit sequences of all time:
1. The Simpsons
2. The Sopranos
3. True Detective
4. Cheers
5. Dexter
6. Mad Men
7. Game of Thrones
8. The X-Files
9. Cowboy Bebop
10. Batman (1966)

According to Paste Magazine, here are the top ten TV opening credit sequences of all time:
1. The Simpsons
2. The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air
3. The Addams Family
4. Star Trek
5. Cheers
6. The Twilight Zone
7. The Drew Carey Show
8. The X-Files
9. Gilligan’s Island
10. Game of Thrones

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