A COLLECTION OF TOUGH TALK

By EW Staff
Updated April 21, 1995 at 04:00 AM EDT

Some people have a gift for the nasty put-down that has the sting of a stiletto, like theater critic John Simon, who once described Barbra Streisand as ”a cross between an aardvark and an albino rat. ” And then there are those folks who come out swinging with a mallet. Like, for instance, Roseanne. ”I approached his review,” she once said of a critic’s pan of her then husband Tom Arnold’s TV show, ”the way some people anticipate anal warts.” Either way, according to put-down experts Ross and Kathryn Petras, the nasty remark is a work of art. ”A nasty quote is beautiful,” says Ross, who, with his sister, has compiled The 776 Nastiest Things Ever Said (HarperPerennial, $7.95). ”It’s like haiku poetry: a put-down in two sentences.” The Petrases, who spent two years combing through books, magazines, movies, and television shows for their quotes, classify nastiness into seven basic categories. There’s the Witty Put-down, as perfected by British playwright Noel Coward: ”Two things should be cut,” he once said of a bad play that featured a child star, ”the second act and the child’s throat.” There’s also the Deadly Description: ”She is so hairy,” Joan Rivers said of Madonna, ”when she lifted up her arm, I thought it was Tina Turner in her armpit.” But the Petrases seem especially partial to the Snappy Comeback. ”I always wish I had a witty retort,” says Ross. ”My tendency is to think of it two hours later.” Not like Dorothy Parker and her Algonquin Round Table associates, who earned their own section in the book. The Petrases had so much nastiness from which to choose, they are already at work on a sequel.

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