The Complete Book of Insults by Nancy McPhee

Who doesn’t love a pithy one-liner? I know that I do and in Nancy McPhee’s (not to be confused with Nanny) collection there are some great lines, from the vaguely veiled verbal poke to the downright damaging and directly delivered jibe.

I don’t condone the use of insults and am more of a raiser-upper (upperer?) than a putter-downer but even I, positive and encouraging as I am, relish the quick wit and sharpness of a comment from a person whose intelligence is declared within their statement. Churchill was renowned for this and does feature in this collection as does Jonathan Swift and Mark Twain, all of whom will be regularly quoted in any book of this ilk.

However, there are some other less known people and, whilst a book like this can be quite dense as a sit-down read, as a delver of a few pages at a time, it is interesting. McPhee’s comprehensiveness in gathering together so many diverse sources of barbed comments is its strength and I have to say that there were people in this book that I had never heard of and may not recall to this day.

However, some will inevitably stick in one’s mind and one such previously unknown person is Charlotte Whitton, the first female mayor of Ottawa. There are two reasons that I draw attention to Charlotte in particular: one is that when I started reading this book, I lived in Ottawa but did not have a great grasp of the history of the place other than from a day-to-day sort of living way and a general history of Canada way – it’s the capital, it’s where parliament is, it has a canal that freezes and you can skate on it – that sort of thing; two because it is witty and when I read it, I was struck by its humour and its pointedness.

So, to finish this review, it seems only apt that I should pull my favourite quote from Charlotte Whitton so that you can glean an idea of what the book contains and perhaps delve into it yourselves:

“Whatever women do they must do it twice as well as men to be thought half as good. Luckily, this is not difficult.”

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