You are here

The art of witty repartee

Monday, August 11, 2014

A politician once asked me, sneeringly, “Do journalists ever get it right?’’

Before I could chasten myself, the words flew right out of my mouth: “Read tomorrow’s story about yourself and find out.’’

He never spoke to me after that. And the next day’s story was a doozy. 

In one of my less than shining moments, I was called into my editor’s office, expecting to be chewed out about a comma or dangling something. Instead, he congratulated me on my most recent article and then added, “Who wrote it for you?’’

Again, the words escaped my lips before I could kick myself in the ankle: “I am so glad you liked it. Who read it to you?’’ 

My mind must have been invaded by Ilka Chase, an American actress and novelist who had once subdued a sweet young thing with the same comeback, after the actress had sniped about Ilka’s autobiography, Past Imperfect.

Good thing Mr editor could take a joke.

Have you ever had one of those awkward moments when someone says something offensive, annoying or just plain stupid and you can’t think of a rejoinder until days later? 

While there is truth in the maxim that a still tongue keeps a wise head, sometimes you just have to define a moment with a shivering retort. The best rejoinders are perfectly polite, and delivered with a sangfroid that would put the chill in the bones of Winston Churchill, who was famous for his icy comebacks. One of his most celebrated took place at a reception where a well-starched wife of a politician reprimanded him: “Mr Churchill, you are drunk!’’ Came the reply: “And Madam you are ugly but I shall be sober in the morning.”


User comments posted on this website are the sole views and opinions of the comment writer and are not representative of Guardian Media Limited or its staff.

Guardian Media Limited accepts no liability and will not be held accountable for user comments.

Guardian Media Limited reserves the right to remove, to edit or to censor any comments.

Any content which is considered unsuitable, unlawful or offensive, includes personal details, advertises or promotes products, services or websites or repeats previous comments will be removed.

Before posting, please refer to the Community Standards, Terms and conditions and Privacy Policy

User profiles registered through fake social media accounts may be deleted without notice.