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British wit

Ottobre 2014
Cos’è il wit? Il dono dell’arguzia che tutti vorremmo avere: la battuta pronta, quella che spiazza l’interlocutore e ci fa sentire spiritosi e intelligenti al tempo stesso. Tra i campioni indiscussi di wit, Winston Churchill e Oscar Wilde.

di Julie Mason © British Council

File audio:

Speaker: Justin Ratcliffe (Standard British accent)

“An original idea? That can’t be too hard. The library must be full of them!” This was said by British actor and writer Stephen Fry. It’s funny because if an idea can be found in a library, then obviously it is not original. Clever and original ideas that also make us laugh are known as “wit.” It is a type of humour for which individuals often become famous.


One such individual was Noël Coward, the British writer, composer and actor. “I like long walks,” he said, “especially when they are taken by people who annoy me!” On the subject of wit itself, Coward once commented: “Wit ought to be a glorious treat like caviar. Never spread it about like marmalade.”


It would be wrong to suggest, however, that wits are always actors or writers.Sir Winston Churchill was one of Britain’s most famous prime ministers, but he was also known for his witty comments. Once, a female politician called Nancy Astor said to him: “If I were married to you, I would put poison in your coffee.” Churchill immediately replied: “If I were married to you, I would drink it!” On another occasion, the Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw invited Churchill to the first night of his new play. Shaw wrote: “Bring a friend, if you have one.” Churchill wrote back: “Impossible to be present for the first performance. Will attend the second – if there is one!”


A poll by a British television channel found that the wittiest person is not actually British at all, but another Irishman. He made such memorable comments as “I am so clever that sometimes I don’t understand a single word of what I’m saying” and “I have the simplest tastes. I am always satisfied with the best.” On another occasion he said: “There is only one thing in life worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.” Fortunately, we do still talk about him – he’s the Irish poet and playwright Oscar Wilde.


Oscar Wilde on Education:
“Education is an admirable thing, but it is well to remember from time to time that nothing that is worth knowing can be taught.”

Frank Sinatra on Robert Redford:
“Well at least he has found his true love – what a pity he can’t marry himself.”

Winston Churchill after being accused of being drunk by Bessie Braddock:
“My dear, you are ugly but tomorrow I shall be sober and you will still be ugly.”

Winston Churchill on being disturbed in the bathroom with a call from the Lord Privy Seal: “Tell him I can only deal with one s**t at the time.”

Winston Churchill and George Bernard Shaw:
Shaw: I have reserved two tickets for the opening night. Come and bring a friend, if you have one.”
Churchill: “Impossible to come to first night. Will come to the second night, if there is one.”

Winston Churchill:  
“A politician needs the ability to foretell what is going to happen tomorrow, next week, next month, and next year. And to have the ability afterwards to explain why it didn’t happen.”

Noel Gallagher on Robbie Williams: “You mean that fat dancer from Take That?”

Groucho Marx: “She got her good looks from her father. He’s a plastic surgeon.”

Bette Midler on Princess Anne: “She loves nature, in spite of what it did to her.”

Liam Gallagher on Victoria Beckham: “She can’t even chew gum and walk in a straight line, let alone write a book.”

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