I recently encountered the following zinger on twitter:
Shades of noted wits from the past! As when Dorothy Parker, asked to use the word horticulture in a sentence, said “You can lead a whore to culture, but you can’t make her think” or when Nancy Astor said to Winston Churchill, “Winston, if I were your wife, I’d put poison in your coffee,” and he replied, “Nancy, if I were your husband, I’d drink it,” or less meanly, Oscar Wilde on his deathbed: “Either that wallpaper goes or I do.” (My all time favorite, from the collection Viva la repartee, tells how the Earl of Sandwich braced reformist politician John Wilkes with the insult, “Upon my soul, Wilkes, I don’t know whether you’ll die upon the gallows, or of the pox,” to which Wilkes cuttingly replied, “That will depend, my lord, on whether I embrace your principles, or your mistress.” Ouch!)
It occurred to me that twitter, with its 140 character limit, its dialogue between people who may be rivals as well as friends, is a breeding ground for the rebirth of repartee and of the aphorism and epigram.
So I started keeping track of some of these sparks of wit. Some of these are actual rejoinders; others are simply clever insights. Here are a few I’ve captured recently:
@tempo: Evolution is a sorting process that is the very antithesis of random. (in response to http://is.gd/1Do1 )
I only follow a few hundred people out of millions of twitter users, so I’m thinking that there must be tens of thousands of great lines waiting out there to be captured into a book of twitter one-liners. If you know of any, and want to share them, either tweet them to the attention of @timoreilly or leave them in the comments here. A book of twitter wit and wisdom would make a fun conference giveaway, don’t you think?
Keep in mind that, as Aristotle said, “Wit is educated insolence.” I’m not looking for abuse, per se, but cleverness and concise expression of insight. When I asked for suggestions on twitter, several people pointed me to feeds of people who routinely insulted others, often crudely. A great insult may be appropriate, but it’s far from the soul of wit. Consider the examples above, and give me more like that!
P.S. And be sure to give me the link to the individual status message if you have it. I can hopefully find it via twitter search without, but that’s more work than you might think, especially if the quote isn’t exact. As I discovered finding the links above, one wrong word that you’re sure you remembered correctly can get you a seemingly mysterious “no results.”