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Some of the sickest burns in history have been delivered by writers, but in this episode of The List Show we also cover historic insults from a famous actress, a pop star, and even a Valentine's Day card (sort of).

Would-be lover-boys and aspiring film critics will want to watch. You'll learn what Truman Capote said to a man who revealed a bit too much of himself and find out why you didn't want Dorothy Parker penning your eulogy.

In case you forgot, The List Show is a trivia-tastic, fact-filled show for curious people. Subscribe here for new Mental Floss episodes every Wednesday:

Roger Ebert skewered dozens of awful  movies during his decades as a film critic,   but his review for Larry Bishop’s  1996 crime comedy Mad Dog Time,   with a cast that included Jeff Goldblum and Ellen  Barkin, just might be his most creative takedown.   He wrote that “Mad Dog Time is the first movie I  have seen that does not improve on the sight of a   blank screen viewed for the same length of time.  … Watching [it] is like waiting for the bus in a   city where you’re not sure they have a bus line.”   It gets better.

And by better I obviously mean   worse. Ebert closed his critique  with a suggestion for the film:      Hi, I’m Mental Floss editor-in-chief Erin  McCarthy, and welcome to The List Show.    At some point in your life, a well-meaning  adult has probably spouted this wise old adage:   If you don’t have anything nice to  say, don’t say anything at all.    Fortunately for our purposes, a lot of people seem  to have missed the memo—or flat-out ignored it.   Today, I’m covering some of the sickest burns in  history, from a story of Truman Capote responding   to indecent exposure with a withering comeback  to the time when Virginia Woolf compared James   Joyce’s Ulysses to pimple-popping.   Let’s get started.    One night at a packed bar in Key West,  Florida, a woman approached Truman Capote   and asked him to autograph her napkin.  He was happy to oblige, but the request   irritated the woman’s inebriated husband.    As Capote later recalled, “ … he staggered   over to the table, and after unzipping his  trousers and hauling out his equipment, said:   ‘Since you’re autographing things,  why don’t you autograph this?’”    A hush fell over the area as other bar patrons  waited to see how Capote would respond.

He didn’t   disappoint. “I don’t know if I can autograph  it,” he said. “But perhaps I can initial it.” Yet   another reason to keep your pants on in public.   Behind the posh facade of Victorian society were   certain impolite customs—like vinegar  Valentines. These cards featured catty   rhymes that insulted anyone from an unwanted  admirer to the worst singer on your street.   Here’s part of one that does just that,  titled “You are a nerve-destroyer.”    “When a pig’s getting slaughtered,  the noise that it makes  Is sweeter by far than your  trills and your shakes;  And the howling of cats in the backyard at night, Compared with your singing’s a dream of delight.  Your squalls and your bawls  are such torture to hear,  A man almost wishes he had not an ear.”   The tradition lasted well into the 20th   century and crossed the pond to the U. S.,  too.

Here’s the poem from one Vinegar   Valentine that shows a slick-haired  suitor about to smooch a donkey:    “Hey, lover boy, the place for you Is home upon the shelf,  ’Cause the only one who’d kiss you Is …. A jackass like yourself!”    I'm gonna save that. For my enemies.    As far as I know, Elizabeth Taylor never sent  a caustic holiday card to any male co-star.   But she did diss most of them in a 1981  interview for The Times of London, saying,  “I reckon some of my best leading  men have been dogs and horses.”    Granted, Taylor was a lifelong animal lover.  She owned a number of dogs during her life,   and she even handpicked the horse she  rode in the 1944 film National Velvet.   But since animals are generally considered  to be the worst possible co-stars—along with   kids—Taylor’s comment seems pretty shady.   Virginia Woolf was more than shady when   criticizing James Joyce’s novel  Ulysses.

In a 1922 diary entry,   she expressed that the first few chapters had  “amused” and “charmed” her. For the rest of   the first 200 pages, she was, quote, “puzzled,  bored, irritated, & disillusioned as by a queasy   undergraduate scratching his pimples.”   But the pimple parallel ventured beyond   her private diary. She used it again when  sharing her thoughts on that first chunk of   Ulysses with fellow writer Lytton Strachey.   The third through sixth chapters, she wrote,   were “merely the scratching of pimples on  the body of the bootboy at Claridges.??”   Woolf, added, charitably?, “Of course genius may  blaze out on page 652 but I have my doubts.”    Woolf was far from the only 20th-century  writer to critique their contemporaries.   Gore Vidal and Norman Mailer did it right in each  other’s faces—on national television.

In 1971,   the two appeared on The Dick Cavett Show some time  after Vidal had published a piece in The New York   Review of Books in which he’d accused Mailer  of misogyny and likened him to Charles Manson.    The segment was more of a verbal boxing  match than an interview. At one point,   Mailer said,, “It’s hard when you have a lot  in your head to write something that’s true.   Gore has never encountered this problem.”   Vidal’s response?   “What did you say? I wasn’t listening.”   Mailer had actually headbutted his opponent   backstage before the show—and it wasn’t the  last time the feud turned physical.

At a party   years later, Mailer threw his drink in Vidal’s  face and also punched him. Vidal kept his cool,   delivering some version of this mic-drop moment:  “Norman, once again words have failed you.”    H. G.

Wells and Henry James were frenemies,  too. They started out as friends, but both   began to feel like the other’s work fell short  of expectations. In a 1912 letter to Mary Ward,   James described Wells as having “so  much talent with so little art.” In the same letter he said of

Wells:  “I really think him more interesting   by his faults than he will probably  ever manage to be in any other way.”    Wells shared his thoughts on James’s  work in his 1915 satirical novel Boon.     “It is like a church lit but without a  congregation to distract you, with every light and   line focused on the high altar. And on the altar,  very reverently placed, intensely there, is a dead   kitten, an egg-shell, a bit of string … ”   In 1947, a creative writing student at   the University of Mississippi asked William  Faulkner to rank the leading writers of the era,   himself included. Faulkner awarded himself  second place, behind Thomas Wolfe. Ernest   Hemingway came in fourth—not too shabby, until  you hear what Faulkner had to say about him:    “He has no courage, has never crawled out on  a limb.

He has never been known to use a word   that might cause the reader to check with a  dictionary to see if it is properly used.”    According to A. E. Hotchner’s 1966 memoir Papa  Hemingway, the slight eventually made its way   to Papa himself.

He shook it off with  a string of very powerful small words.    “Poor Faulkner. Does he really think  big emotions come from big words?”     Faulkner had been dissing other authors since the  ‘20s. In one piece he called Mark Twain “a hack   writer who would not have been  considered fourth rate in Europe,   who tricked out a few of the old proven ‘sure  fire’ literary skeletons with sufficient local   color to intrigue the superficial and the lazy.”   Not only an affront to Mark Twain, but also   to … anyone who liked his work.

But before you  feel too sorry for Samuel Clemens, you should know   that Faulkner did later recognize his genius.    And Twain dished out some even harsher insults   during his heyday. In an 1898 letter to fellow  writer Joseph Twichell, Twain complained that   he couldn’t bring himself to critique  Jane Austen’s work. Not because he loved   it—but because he loathed it so much that he  couldn’t “conceal my frenzy from the reader.”    And then he wrote this  creatively horrifying barb:    “Every time I read Pride and Prejudice  I want to dig her up and beat her over   the skull with her own shin-bone.”   Every time you read Pride and Prejudice?   Sounds like you’ve read it a lot, Mark.   While the Huck Finn author was busy harboring   resentment toward Austen, Theodore Roosevelt  was penning poison about, well, everyone else.   Usually in private correspondence, but still.   He called author Henry James a “little   emasculated mass of inanity.” Woodrow Wilson’s  secretary of state, William Jennings Bryan,   was labeled “a professional yodeler, a human  trombone.” And Postmaster General John Wanamaker   was “an ill-constitutioned creature, oily, but  with bristles sticking up through the oil.”    But nobody got the Bull Moose treatment  quite as bad as William Howard Taft.   TR basically hand-picked Taft to take over the  Oval Office after him—and Taft succeeded in   getting elected.

Unfortunately, TR’s one-time  protégé failed to live up to expectations,   and so became the inspiration for some of TR’s  most biting burns. He called him a “puzzlewit,”   a “fathead,” and a “flubdub with a streak  of the second-rate and the common in him.”    Teddy was also fond of measuring people’s  intelligence in units of what he called   “guinea pig power”—a creative spin on using  horsepower to talk about engine output.    According to TR, British ambassador  Sir Mortimer Durand had “a brain of   about eight-guinea-pig-power.” It wasn’t  a compliment, but compared to Roosevelt’s   assessment of Taft—“brains less than a  guinea pig”—it might well have been.    Journalists have also done their fair share of  roasting politicians over the years. In 1936,   H.

L. Mencken wrote an article in The American  Mercury lambasting Franklin Roosevelt for,   in Mencken’s view, being a shameless opportunist.   “If he became convinced tomorrow that coming out   for cannibalism would get him  the votes he so sorely needs,   he would begin fattening a missionary in  the White House backyard come Wednesday.”    The piece was so inflammatory that someone at  a White House press conference asked Roosevelt   himself for a response. He said he hadn’t read  it.

But according to Mencken’s biographer Marion   Elizabeth Rodgers, Mencken didn’t believe that.   Meanwhile, across the pond, Conservative   politician Stanley Baldwin was serving his third  and final stint as the UK’s prime minister.   In George Orwell’s opinion, which he shared in  a 1941 essay titled “The Lion and the Unicorn:   Socialism and the English Genius,” Baldwin  royally botched the country’s foreign policy.    As Orwell wrote, “ … one could not even  dignify him with the name of stuffed shirt.   He was simply a hole in the air.”    Critic Dorothy Parker had similar feelings   toward Calvin Coolidge, though hers were more  about personality than policy. The 30th president   could apparently be conversational and witty  behind closed doors. But in public he often seemed   taciturn, earning him the nickname “Silent Cal.”   In January 1933, Parker was reportedly at a   theater performance when she found out that  Coolidge had just died.

Her response? “How   can they tell?” Some sources cite Parker’s  remark as “How do they know?”—which was also   reportedly how playwright Wilson Mizner responded  to the news of Coolidge’s death. The possibility   that two people uttered this same sick burn  makes it twice as rough—and twice as fortunate   that Coolidge, at least, never heard it.   The creators of the Broadway musical Girl O’ Mine,   on the other hand, probably did find out  what Parker had to say about their project.   Her not-so-glowing review was printed  in the April 1918 issue of Vanity Fair.    Parker wrote, “Girl O’ Mine is one of those shows  at which you can get a lot of knitting done.   I turned a complete heel without once having my  attention distracted by anything that happened   on the stage. … By all means go to Girl O’ Mine  if you want a couple of hours’ undisturbed rest.   If you don’t knit, bring a book.”    But as Mariah Carey taught us,   saying basically nothing can sting worse  than even the most inspired insults.   While talking to German media outlet Taff in  the early 2000s, Carey gushed about Beyoncé.   “I love Beyoncé,” she said, calling  her “fabulous” and “a great writer,   a great singer,” among other things. When asked  for her opinion on Jennifer Lopez, the Queen of   Christmas delivered the most scathing four-word  retort in pop star history: “I don’t know her.”    The moment has gotten the meme treatment ever  since, and Carey has leaned into it as part   of her legacy.

Upon seeing a fan sporting  an “I don’t know her” shirt at a concert,   she snuck the words “I still don’t know  her” into the song “Love Takes Time.”    The diva also sort of hinted at how the beef  began in her 2020 memoir The Meaning of Mariah   Carey. When Carey divorced Sony executive Tommy  Mottola and left the label in the late 1990s,   she was already working on the soundtrack  for her 2001 movie Glitter. The first single,   “Loverboy,” was supposed to include a sample from  Yellow Magic Orchestra’s song “Firecracker.”    According to Carey, Mottola and Sony sabotaged  that plan to get back at Carey for her departure.   “After hearing my new song,” she  wrote, “using the same sample I used,   Sony rushed to make a single for another female  entertainer on their label (whom I don’t know).”    For what it’s worth, Carey has clarified that she  wasn’t saying she didn’t know who J.

Lo was—just   that she didn’t know her well  enough to share a positive opinion.   In 2018, she told Pitchfork that she “was trying  to say something nice or say nothing at all.”    So maybe that’s not such great advice after all. Depending on how you see things,  this video was either a lot of fun,   or a lot of well-crafted negativity. To  cleanse the palate, comment below with the best   *compliment* you ever received.

Or  if you just can’t help yourself,   a great burn you’ve heard is OK, too.  Who are we to judge? Thanks for watching!