Friday, March 30, 2012

“You are an idiot of the 33rd degree”

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Do you ever wonder how a literary genius with a profound mastery of the English language might insult someone?

That’s right. No crude, simplistic curse words would suffice for a writer like Mark Twain.

DSC_0545photo source: Autobiography of Mark Twain. Vol.1

As the story goes, in November 1905 Mark Twain wrote this letter to a medicine salesman named, J. H. Todd, because Twain was outraged by the bogus medicine claims made by this salesman. At this point in his life Twain had experienced much family illness and death and he was in no mood for fakery. He was also sickly himself, but not too ill to compose this supreme illustration of a literary insult.

Recommended Reading: Autobiography of Mark Twain, Vol. 1.



Nov. 20. 1905
J. H. Todd
1212 Webster St.
San Francisco, Cal.
Dear Sir,
Your letter is an insoluble puzzle to me. The handwriting is good and exhibits considerable character, and there are even traces of intelligence in what you say, yet the letter and the accompanying advertisements profess to be the work of the same hand. The person who wrote the advertisements is without doubt the most ignorant person now alive on the planet; also without doubt he is an idiot, an idiot of the 33rd degree, and scion of an ancestral procession of idiots stretching back to the Missing Link. It puzzles me to make out how the same hand could have constructed your letter and your advertisements. Puzzles fret me, puzzles annoy me, puzzles exasperate me; and always, for a moment, they arouse in me an unkind state of mind toward the person who has puzzled me. A few moments from now my resentment will have faded and passed and I shall probably even be praying for you; but while there is yet time I hasten to wish that you may take a dose of your own poison by mistake, and enter swiftly into the damnation which you and all other patent medicine assassins have so remorselessly earned and do so richly deserve.
Adieu, adieu, adieu!
Mark Twain

Sigh, don’t you long for the days when people chose real words to express their outrage, instead of the ubiquitous and crass F-bombs of today?

Mark Twain, you were the best.


happy Weekend!


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