How to fire a gun in a way which means it never needs reloading. How to fall through a window without giving yourself so much as the mildest of scratches. How to have sex without leaving either participant feeling inadequate, unfulfilled or embarrassed. Movies can teach us many things, not least amongst them how to deliver the perfect insult.
The humble put-down is what separates humans from dirty, snuffling, shit-eating animals: it’s evolution’s way of allowing humans to best opponents and achieve social dominance without having to resort to tedious and potentially fatal violence. Without wishing to hyperbolise, put-downs are essential to the survival of the entire human race, and without them we’d probably all be dead.
They come in a delicious range of varieties too, so we’ve compiled this handy guide to their myriad forms, complete with examples and suggestions for their proper usage, to allow to you become as deadly with words as the heroes of the silver screen.
10Malcolm Tucker (Peter Capaldi) to Judy (Gina McKee) – In The Loop
Allow me to pop a jaunty little bonnet on your purview and ram it up your shitter with a lubricated horse cock!
Thank God Armando Iannucci decided to adapt The Thick Of It for the big screen, because every list of insults should include offence-maestro Malcolm Tucker somewhere. It just so happens that this one is an absolute peach, too; sure, without context, it’s little more than a near-ineligible string of nouns, adjectives and severe expletives, but it is also quite, quite beautiful.
9David (Paul Rudd) to Cal (Seth Rogen) – The 40-Year Old Virgin
You know how I know you’re gay? You have a rainbow bumper sticker on your car that says ‘I love it when balls are in my face.’
Calling people gaylords and such is a practice which is, unless you are a knuckle-dragging imbecile, generally confined to the playground; abandoned, come adulthood, in favour of more creative fare. And yet, in The 40 Year Old Virgin, there’s something profoundly innocent and poetic about these two grown men regressing so shamelessly into adolescence.
I don’t want to talk to you no more, you empty-headed animal food trough wiper. I fart in your general direction! Your mother was a hamster and your father smelt of elderberries!
Now no one’s saying that, to be successful, a good insult has to be profane, or succinct, or that it even that it has to make any sense at all. In fact, this flurry of scattershot non-sequiturs from Monty Python’s first (and, arguably, best) film shows how effective stacking one illogical insult on top on another can be. The recipient is left baffled, possibly aroused, yet certainly and thoroughly offended.
7Walter Sobchak (John Goodman) to Donny (Steve Buscemi) – The Big Lebowski
Life does not stop and start at your convenience you miserable piece of SHIT!
The brilliance of the above example is not in its laser-guided directness but in the genuinely offended expression it instils upon the tortured fizzog of its poor, unprepared recipient. Donny, throughout the film, is perennially faced with the business end of Walter’s bile, but this is the one final jab that truly lands. Poor Donny.
6Ken (Brendan Gleason) to psychopathic gangster Harry (Ralph Fiennes) – In Bruges
I mean no disrespect, but you’re a cunt. You’re a cunt now and you’ve always been a cunt. And the only thing that’s going to change is that you’re going to be an even bigger cunt. Maybe have some more cunt kids.
Sometimes it’s advantageous to simply focus on a particular aspect of a person’s appearance, character or parentage and merely repeat the point in question until it’s well and truly hammered home. It’s like chipping away at a boulder to reveal the beautiful statue within. The use of repetition also alleviates the requirement for additional material, and – handily – can be deployed in practically any circumstance.
5Alexandra (Cher) to Daryl van Horne (Jack Nicholson) – The Witches Of Eastwick
I think – no, I’m positive – that you are the most unattractive man I have ever met in my entire life. You know, in the short time we’ve been together, you have demonstrated every loathsome characteristic of the male personality and even discovered a few new ones. You are physically repulsive, intellectually retarded, you’re morally reprehensible, vulgar, insensitive, selfish, stupid, you have no taste, a lousy sense of humour and you smell. You’re not even interesting enough to make me sick.
The trick to allowing an insult to swell into a detailed and lengthy tirade is always ending on a high note, and Cher’s soliloquy in this 1987 black comedy does just that. With that final sentence – the cherry on top of allusions to poor hygiene, low intelligence and ugliness – Nicholson’s down, and he’s not getting up. Always reserve your coup de grace until the very end.
4The Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger) through a door to slimy motel manager – The Terminator
Fuck you, asshole.
It was either Oscar Wilde or Mr Motivator who said ‘brevity is the soul of wit,’ and, whoever it was, they were definitely on to something. Why use fifty words when three will do? Ahh-nuld Scwarz’s hulking tin bastard was a no-nonsense kind of bloke… robot… cybernetic organism… thing, so it stood to reason that he wouldn’t mince his words when it came to dishing out a pithy put-down. Succinct insult perfection.
3Nicky Santoro (Joe Pesci) – Casino
You shit kicking, horse manure-smelling mother fucker!
It’s all about the pronunciation. For instance, ‘fucker’ is actually pronounced ‘focker’, and hard vowel sounds from the ends of words like ‘kicking’ should be replaced with lazy-tongued apostrophes. Diminutive hand-grenade Joe Pesci utters the above with such controlled brilliance and profane cadence that it’s practically a form of terrifying artistry.
2Sheridan Whiteside (Monty Wooley) to Nurse Preen (Mary Wickes) – The Man Who Came To Dinner
My great aunt Jennifer ate a whole box of candy every day of her life. She lived to be a hundred and two, and – when she’d been dead three days – she looked better than you do now.
Zingers like this are something of a lost art – one consigned to the golden age of Hollywood, when characters couldn’t simply rely on words like ‘cunt’, or ‘balljaws’, or ‘chuffcaptain’ to win arguments, so had to work a little harder FTW. The example above is perfect: witty, scathing, eloquent and effective – if you can master the zen-like art of the Hollywood Zinger then you’ll be fine in just about any situation that may befall you.
1Gunnery Sergeant Hartman (R. Lee Ermey) – Full Metal Jacket
It looks to me like the best part of you ran down the crack of your momma’s ass and ended up as a brown stain on the mattress!
One-time real-life drill Sergeant R. Lee Ermey’s use of the classic ‘mum’ insult in the example above is particularly graphic, and it’s made even more effective due to the canny nestling of a secondary dig at the recipient’s expense within the main body of the insult. This is a good lesson: you’re not limited to one technique at a time – feel free to knit them together like a balletic Street Fighter combo, against which there can be absolutely no defence.