Think of Quick Witted Comebacks

Have you ever been in an argument in which your reputation among friends or colleagues might change, depending upon your ability to fling a quick comeback at someone who has insulted or outwitted you? Or, in lower-stakes situations, have you ever just wished you could reply with a witty comeback on the spot? Quick-witted comebacks require some natural talents, but can also be improved with practice and preparation. You should also work on being confident and thoughtful, if you want to navigate the fine line between witty and mean-spirited.


Building Your Skills

  1. Practice your quick-response abilities. Not everyone is comfortable with thinking on their feet, so the art of quick-witted comebacks may depend on memorizing some standard comebacks as a last resort. Don't try to be quick witted if you simply aren't wired that way; you risk looking foolish and being so frustrated with yourself that the attempt isn't worth it.
    • Memorization and practice can help you get the most out of the abilities you have, and may get you through some good verbal exchanges here and there. Like artists in other fields, though, the masters of witty comebacks seem to have an innate gift to pair with their demeanor and preparation.
  2. Work on your listening skills. There is no magic formula for developing a quicker wit, but improving your listening skills can help immensely. Look at the other person, and focus on their words and what they mean by them. The wittiest comebacks are created in direct response to what has been said, not pulled out of a stockpile of witticisms that sort of fit the situation.[1]
    • Practice focusing on what is being said instead of letting your mind wander off trying to formulate comebacks. Try practice activities like "verbal volleyball," in which you and a partner take turns inventing a story one word at a time -- they say a word, you listen closely and come up with the next word as quickly as you can, and so on.[2]
  3. Revisit past situations. Try writing your own version of a conversation that you wished you'd been witty in. Replace that past attempt with a better script and work from this point to guide your future wittiness.[2]
    • However, remember that the best comebacks are created in the moment, not rehashed from similar circumstances in the past. Use this exercise for inspiration and practice, not as a source for specific comebacks.
  4. Quickly deflect any insults flung your way. If you think about the insult, you'll dwell on it, letting it get to you personally. Instead, don't focus on the insult but on responding quickly.[2]
    • The trick behind witty comebacks is speed. Don't analyze the ramifications of what has just been said; instead treat it like the game it is and the insult merely becomes a shuttle to be hit back.
    • For instance, if someone ends an insult with “and you smell, too," don’t mull over your hygiene routine while formulating a response. Focus strictly on the words and come back with something like “Yes, but at least my stink will shower off, unlike your rancid personality."
  5. Be ready and willing to pick apart what someone says. Enter the fray and enjoy the spirit of the confrontation instead of fearing it or downplaying it. See Deal With a Confrontation as an invitation to play rather than a reason to feel insulted. If you simply can’t make yourself see things this way, you may be better off avoiding witty comeback attempts in favor of another approach.[2]
    • Seize the opportunity to point out any contradictions the other person makes while trying to show off their wit. Doing so usually devalues an insult in the eyes of the insulter.
    • However, don't pick something apart for longer than you need to. If you get into a long-winded reply, they might interrupt you with another comeback, thereby making what you were saying irrelevant.
    • For example, if they say you're not worth their time to insult, reply "Well, I'm glad to hear you weren't actually trying to insult me the past five minutes."
  6. Use sarcasm if you can pull it off well. Sarcasm has its place if it’s treated with cleverness and is not overdone. If someone tries to insult you with a nonsensical comment, feel free to drawl sarcastically, "Well, there's an intelligent answer." Brevity is helpful here as well; a sarcastic but rambling monologue will not have the same impact.
    • Remember that sarcasm also involves good timing and proper tone of voice. Think of Severus Snape in the Harry Potter series or Oscar Wilde, both good practitioners of sarcasm that is pulled off succinctly and effectively.
    • Use sarcasm playfully, not to cut someone to the core. Consider your opponent and whether they’re equipped to see sarcasm for what it is and not take it too personally.[3]
    • For instance: "Oh, that last insult was so close to making sense. Please keep trying."
  7. Don't belabor the point. The most famous examples of witty retorts are invariably short and sweet, finishing the job all at once.[4] In most cases, your witty comeback should be sufficient to end the matter there and then. Continuing to discuss, argue, or toss points around will likely weaken the impact of what you've said.
    • It's up to you whether you change the topic, walk away to resume conversing with this person another time, or pretend they're not even there anymore. The key thing is to have the upper hand before you move on.
    • Don't just walk away in the middle of being insulted, because it suggests you can't take it. However, you can stand up for yourself if necessary by saying: "I'll come back when your tantrum is over so we can get back to trading insults." That puts the onus on your opponent to behave more appropriately and gives you a dignified exit.
  8. Stay calm above all else. Don't get angry, or even a little annoyed. Bear in mind that your opponent's insults are not worth your time or anger. Detach yourself from personal dislike of a person and focus on what's been said in a calm, objective manner instead. Focus on being witty and stick with your resolve to stay calm.[1]
    • Think of it like stepping to the plate against the other team’s ace pitcher. Don’t focus on whether or not he’s a jerk; calmly focus on the ball and driving it into the gap for the game-winning hit.
    • Practice looking perfectly calm, even amused or bemused, in front of a mirror. Even if you're extremely angry on the inside, on the outside, you are calm – tell yourself this and your thoughts will respond in kind.
  9. Don’t try to be witty if you’re not ready for it. While you're learning to be witty, be tactful and diplomatic in the meantime. If wittiness never comes to you, at least people will be unaware of all your striving to be witty and will just presume you're polite!

Finding Inspiration

  1. Learn from the masters. While there is no doubt that the best witty comebacks are original witty comebacks, you can get plenty of good ideas by studying some of history’s most famous wits and witticisms. Spend some time amassing a collection of effective comebacks. Eventually, as your skills develop, you’ll be better able to create comebacks “off the cuff.”
    • Have a look at the masters of quick-witted comebacks, such as Dorothy Parker, Winston Churchill, Mark Twain, Mae West, George Bernard Shaw, Groucho Marx, Oscar Wilde, Margaret Thatcher, and so forth.[4]
    • Read the witty exchanges between such people as Ernest Hemingway and William Faulkner, or George Bernard Shaw and Winston Churchill. Even the exchanges between Han and Leia in Star Wars will do it.
    • Here is a handy example from one of the best sources, Groucho Marx: "I've had a great evening but this wasn't it."
  2. Find witticisms online. There are countless witty comebacks available for the avid internet surfer. Indeed, there are websites dedicated specifically to comebacks, providing example after example (some good, some not so good).[5] Keep a list of your favorites and learn them by heart. At the very least, they may come in handy when all other words fail you! Here are just a few:
    • "Thank you for proving my point."
    • "Light travels faster than sound; that's why you appeared bright until you spoke."
    • Lean against something, close your eyes and wait a few seconds, then suddenly open your eyes and say "Oh! Sorry! Were you saying anything important just then? I must have dozed off".
    • "You and I have so much in common at times, don't we?" Use this for an insult about your weight, appearance, intelligence, etc.
    • "Pardon? Sorry I didn't quite catch that. Would you care to repeat it?" (An insult is never as effective the second time around.)
    • "Takes one to know one." This one might seem “played out” by now, but it can still be used in a pinch when you're out of ideas.
    • If someone is repeating the same insult over and over, use this: "Still clinging to the same idea? Try something more... original." Then do a little smile, and walk away.
  3. Keep context in mind as you collect witty examples. A witticism that hits the mark in one situation can miss badly in another. Read and collect comebacks that are more potentially insulting or hurtful, but don’t assume that they’re right to use on just any person in any semi-relevant situation.
    • For instance: "Next time you speak, use actual words" can be pretty innocuous in many situations, but may also be more hurtful to some people. A witty comeback should have some “bite,” but it shouldn’t leave a lasting mark.
    • Or: "I won't waste my breath burning you; I might not even waste my breath if you were actually burning." This one might work with someone who knows you well, but could also get you in hot water. Even vague jokes about violence are not taken lightly by many.
  4. Allow the other side's words and actions to speak for themselves. Sometimes there isn't even a need for a witty comeback. If a person persists in saying something ridiculous, insulting, thoughtless, or groundless, let them do all the talking and simply use a dismissive gesture to express your distaste or deflection. Other people will likely see that the person unable to control their temper, needling, or whining is not in need of a witty retort.[2]
    • Practice raising an Wiggle Your Eyebrows, smirking, rolling your eyes, or using some other gesture that displays a lack of being impressed.
    • Suppress a Yawn and look at your watch hungrily.
    • Admittedly, this one’s a bit on the childish side: repeat exactly what has been said, but in a funny voice. To avoid coming off like a cranky kindergartener, you might want to practice with a willing friend.

Using Your Wit Wisely

  1. Retort in a composed, serene, and confident manner. While the content of your retort matters, so too does the style with which you deliver it. Avoid condescension or superiority in tone of voice. Also avoid sounding hurt or insulted, as if your comeback has been forged in the fire of your burning rage.[1]
    • Speak your witty comeback clearly, quickly, and with confidence. Include a slight smile in your voice and eyes, because you need to veer to the funnier, humorous side of what is happening to be a successful wit.
  2. Avoid swearing (or at least minimize it). Swearing isn't typically considered witty, but rather a visceral expression of emotions. It might make you feel better as tension is released, but mostly it makes you seem immature. It's also not going to hit the target of undoing their argument or statements.[6]
    • However, your opponent's swearing can definitely be used as a target of your wit, such as making a biting comment or saying in a monotone: "Oh, you're swearing now? How mature," and leaving it at that.
  3. Tone down the Resist Calling Names. Closely related to swearing, name-calling simply makes you look envious, lost, and overly emotional. Name-calling might again seem like a great outlet for your anger and frustration, but it works to your opponent's advantage all too easily and isn't that witty.[6]
    • If you must name-call, stick to their argument rather than them. For example, say "That's a very odd way to see the situation," rather than "You're an idiot." Or try "Well, I'm now thoroughly convinced of your ignorance in the matter" instead of “You’re so ignorant.”
  4. Steer clear of being snobby. A witty comeback that seeks to assert your superiority or greater status will usually backfire, because it will turn into a matter of the other person insisting that "you think you're too good for me," and so forth. Once you're in this type of argument, things usually spiral ever more out of control.
    • Responding along the lines of "Yes, I used to have that same problem in school ... preschool, that is" can take on more or less of a snobby air depending upon the context and your delivery.
    • It is hard to walk the fine line between being witty and snobby but the key factor is to retain your sense of humor and see the triviality of the situation.
  5. Be a Considerate Consumer of people who take things personally. Sure, they shouldn't keep playing victim and acting as if their whole world will fall apart if you so much as poke them, but you have to take people as you find them. In some cases, it's plain unfair, unkind, and uncaring to provoke a weak arguer with witty comebacks.[2]
    • Perhaps it's your intent to teach such a person a lesson. But at least do consider the consequences of demolishing a verbal opponent who is likely to fly into a sulk, funk, or rage as a result.
    • On the other hand, if they're being a complete jerk, then perhaps it is the lesson they need regardless of their weak armor.
  6. Don't hold grudges. Be aware that dismissing someone verbally removes your validation from them. Don't do it too often, as putting them down is direct and alienating; be sure there is a real need for it. Once done, it's done, and if you wish to open dialog with someone you've put down, be the first to offer the olive branch and to make it clear that you bear no grudges.
    • Say something like "I really like the way you kicked the ball the other day but I didn't appreciate your attitude following the game. I felt I had no choice but to put your bad mood in its place. I hope you'll forgive my direct approach."
  7. Respect yourself and the other person. Despite the whole “sticks and stones” saying, words have the ability to hurt. So, be sure that your words are still considerate of the dignity of the other person. In turn, don't let their words get to you; if you choose to be wounded, then you will find yourself struggling to overcome the verbal barbs.[6]
    • Refuse to permit their words to become any more than just words, and get on with your day in the knowledge that you have maintained your dignity, spoken with integrity and intelligence, and respected yourself and the other person.


  • Don't appear as if you're trying too hard to come up with something clever. This will turn in favor of your opponent, especially if they seem to be responding easily.
  • If you have insulted someone to the point where they're speechless or are taking a long time to think of something, smirk, say "That's what I thought" or something like that, and walk away.
  • When searching online for witty comebacks, use such search terms as "witty comebacks", "clever retorts/replies", "witty replies", "using wit", "insult jokes", etc. Be aware that some sites have clean and rude comebacks.
  • Playing the detached and disinterested party is a key part to the success of many comebacks; show your lack of being insulted by smiling, using dismissive gestures, keeping the tone of your voice calm, and thinking all the time of deflecting rather than engaging your opponent. It might help to think to yourself: "Look bored and cool at once!"
  • If someone says "shut up!" or "leave me alone", it means you've won. Just smirk and say something like "I knew you'd give up sometime or other" or "Can't take it any more then? Alright, I'll lay off you."
  • If other people are dragged into the comebacks, remind your opponent that it has nothing to do with anyone else.
  • Don't comeback on your comebacks - use the best of them one time, then look for some new ones.
  • It's also possible to use a comeback to ward off an argument completely. Adopt the same principles outlined above and cut the argument off before it even has a chance to start.
  • If all else fails, laugh it off. Seeming unhurt will defeat the point of the insult and is the point of your retort.
  • For those to whom it does not come naturally, learn to paint a smile on your face and pretend as if you do not care about what has just been said; that's another way to deflect and immediately feel better.
  • If they are complaining about something nonstop, look at them and curtly tell them, "you'll live."
  • Seek to neutralize what has been said, not to decimate a person's character.
  • Whip out a "Did you know that if someone is trying to bring you down, it can only mean you're ABOVE them?" That slight tilting of their head in surrender and simple confusion will render the winner of the argument... you!
  • If they are always bragging about themselves, just add an exaggerated "Ooooooooooh" in there so you sound like you really care- they'll shut up about it then.
  • Try to keep some of them simple. Don't be witty and sarcastic on all of them or they will become less funny; say something like "next time you want to speak raise your hand..... and cover your mouth with it" then smile sweetly.
  • Sometimes you need to back off a little. Don't try too hard to be "cool" by coming up with a good insult.
  • Reacting is their power. They feed off of it. If you say, "Pssh, sure I totally care", "I don't care about what you're trying to prove", or "Whatever" with sarcasm, you aren't reacting and it makes a good comeback. Also, it makes them leave you alone for a while.


  • Do not, under any circumstances, use childish insults such as "I know you are, but what am I" or "At least I have a life." All these do is show that you're unoriginal and scrambling for a good line (and failing). The latter insult also assumes you're superior, breaching the rule about not actively putting that sense across.
  • Don't bring mom, dad, siblings, or great-aunt Matilda into the insulting unless you're countering a same insult or you're willing to have your own family members insulted too.
  • "Leave me alone" is a cry for ... being left alone. It is not a witty comeback. Say it and you'll open up the vista for more verbal bullying. It is better to remain silent than to utter this forlorn and desperate statement.
  • Too many comebacks make you seem dimwitted and parrot-like. Remember to keep the comeback short, pointed, and to stop engaging.
  • Remember that insulting someone can soon turn into defaming them if care is not taken. Be particularly aware of this if jousting in an environment where words are recorded, such as IRC, blog comments, and emails.

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Sources and Citations