Uzor Maxim Uzoatu: Celebrating the art of insults

Uzor Maxim Uzoatu: Celebrating the art of insults

Wednesday, February 17, 2016 11:10 am


Uzor Maxim Uzoatu

Uzor Maxim Uzoatu

Uzor Maxim Uzoatu

Insult is high art. Politicians all through the ages, and across the globe, have always been past masters in the art of the insult.

It is a measure of the fact that Nigerian politics has fallen from the heights that the “Fools at Seventy” counterpoint between Chief Olusegun Obasanjo and General Ibrahim Babangida was seen as being out of this world. Babangida launched forth the brouhaha with Obasanjo by saying at his 70th birthday that he managed to achieve success with little funds while a certain regime achieved failure with so much petro-dollars.

Obasanjo of course knew that Babangida’s darts were directed at him, and promptly replied thusly: “A fool at seventy can only go into his grave with his foolishness.” It is not in my interest to regurgitate the incestuous charges Babangida deployed in his reply to Obasanjo or even the other charge of the Otta man being the greatest fool of the century. Where Babangida got my attention was in his calling Obasanjo a “witless comedian” which happens to be a “Maradonic” way of calling the old man an idiot! Well, Babangida would eventually run from pillar to post claiming that he has been misquoted by the press, but that is neither here nor there for now…

Back in the days of yore, eminent Nigerian politicians such as Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, SL Akintola, KO Mbadiwe knew how to adeptly knock out their political opponents with astutely delivered insults. In the Second Republic, Awo said that he could only hold a debate on the issue of education with Zik but not with Shehu Shagari because the man from Sokoto knew next-to-nothing on the subject!

Babangida launched forth the brouhaha with Obasanjo by saying at his 70th birthday that he managed to achieve success with little funds while a certain regime achieved failure with so much petro-dollars. Obasanjo of course knew that Babangida’s darts were directed at him, and promptly replied thusly: “A fool at seventy can only go into his grave with his foolishness.”

The art of insults is a universal phenomenon, not at all limited to Nigeria or Africa. Nancy McPhee actually edited a book titled The Book of Insults which was then reviewed in Time magazine by the preeminent essayist Roger Rosenblatt. The British are said to have a stiff upper lip in their humorlessness, but British politicians have from time been tops in the art of insults. Former British Prime Ministers, Benjamin Disraeli and William Gladstone, were always at each other’s throats.

Once at a social gathering, Gladstone said to Disraeli, “I predict, sir, that you will die either by hanging or of some vile disease”. Disraeli instantly replied, “That all depends, sir, upon whether I embrace your principles or your mistress.” At another time Disraeli quipped: “William Gladstone has not a single redeeming defect.” As if to cap it all up, Disraeli has this final word on Gladstone: “The difference between a misfortune and a calamity is this: If Gladstone fell into the River Thames, it would be a misfortune. But if someone dragged him out again, that would be a calamity.”

Once at a social gathering, Gladstone said to Disraeli, “I predict, sir, that you will die either by hanging or of some vile disease”. Disraeli instantly replied, “That all depends, sir, upon whether I embrace your principles or your mistress.”

The great Winston Churchill was another gifted British insult merchant. A fine lady, Nancy Astor, said to Churchill in annoyance: “Sir, if you were my husband, I would give you poison.” Churchill replied her in kind: “If I were your husband I would take it.” What Churchill meant was that he would prefer to die of the poison than remain as the woman’s husband!

The Labour politician, Clement Atlee, who defeated Churchill at the polls had his fair share of the great man’s insults. Churchill described Atlee as “A sheep in sheep’s clothing.” At another time Churchill dismissed Atlee as “A modest man, who has much to be modest about.” The unfortunate lady, Bessie Braddock, once told Churchill that he was drunk, only for Churchill to tell the lady that she was ugly and would remain ugly forever when he must have become sober after the drunkenness! Churchill even took the matter as far as God, saying: “I am ready to meet my Maker. Whether my Maker is prepared for the ordeal of meeting me is another matter.”

The Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw was not a hit in the looks department. In short, the man was very ugly. Shaw was once approached by a seductive young actress who cooed him in his ear: “Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we got married and had a child with my beauty and your brains?” Shaw knowing how ugly he was replied: “My dear, that would be wonderful indeed, but what if our child had my beauty and your brains?” The actress ran away, horrified that a child could ever end up with her brainlessness and Shaw’s ugliness.

Imagine writing a book and giving it to the great Samuel Johnson for his opinion. The following words which are as yet uncorroborated have been attributed to Johnson: “Your manuscript is both good and original. But the part that is good is not original, and the part that is original is not good.” What a cruel manner to insult a wannabe author!

Let’s end this trip on insults by going to the United States where the actor and comedian Groucho Marx was given the book Dawn Ginsbergh’s Revenge by SJ Perelman, and Groucho Marx ended up saying the following words to the astonished author: “From the moment I picked your book up until I laid it down I was convulsed with laughter. Someday I intend reading it.”

*Culled from Maxim’s Facebook Wall

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