"Well, it's no secret how I feel about surgeons. I hate them. I'd liken them to rocks, but that would be an insult to rocks because, you see, at least rocks are useful to society. We build bridges with them. We stone surgeons with them."
Bob wants to tell Alice that she's as dumb as a brick. But then he says that's a terrible thing to say about bricks.
More generally, any insult following the form of "I'd call you an X, but that would be an insult to all X's." Typically, X will be an inanimate object, or whatever detestable. I'd call you a motherfucker, but it'd be demeaning to those guys who fuck their mothers. Using this insult is like saying that the one being insulted is far worse and more worthy of contempt than the detestable X he's being compared to.
Another additional variant is acknowledging that at least X is much more worthy of some respect. "I'd call you an X, but then again I take it back, because at least X is <insert positive descriptions here>".
See also My Friends... and Zoidberg, Bait-and-Switch Comparison. Compare Insult Friendly Fire.
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Anime and Manga
During Yu-Gi-Oh!'s Duelist Kingdom arc (English dub), Yugi faces off against a gay clown Kaiba's evil side, brought back from the Shadow Realm by Pegasus. When the doppelganger reveals its true form, Yugi remarks, "You know, I'm not quite sure what to call you. I was thinking about 'monster' … but I wouldn't want to insult the cards."
The second Gundam Evolve CG short ends with Kamille Bidan writing an apology for destroying a camera during a field test of the Gundam Mk-II. The Wangst-filled "apology" includes this memorable line:
"Letting a person like Lieutenant Quattro command a mission is like letting a monkey handle a bomb. Saying it, I even feel as if I were insulting a monkey."
In Encounter 142 of Keroro Gunsou, the author explains that the underground base constantly expands with no plans or organization, and says that while he could say it looks like an ants nest, that he feels it's an insult to the ants.
When Konata from Lucky Star compares her using homework as an excuse to go see Kagami to that of an animal following her around, Kagami tells her to apologize to the animal world. Konata asks if she's lower than a dog.
In an alternate Cowboy Bebop tale, 'Shooting Star', rich people are compared to pigs (in their eating manners). Another member says they're insulting pigs, even including a line defending pigs' manners. Another of the characters even states that she used to be like that
When Kenichi: The Mightiest Disciple begins his training, Akisame has him focus on building strength, alluding to the old saying that an ant cannot defeat an elephant, no matter what kind of techniques it has. Kenichi asks if he's being compared to an ant, and Akisame says no; that would be insulting to the ant.
A Donald Duck comic set in Donald's childhood has him wanting to call a classmate a rat, but he doesn't since that would be insulting to all the rats of the world. Given the Furry Confusion, the insult may or may not be worse than it is in our world.
In the Superman vs. Predator crossover comic, the Mad Scientist is trying to cleanse the world of genetic defects by killing everyone with them, via atmospheric poisoning. Lois Lane claims she would spit if her mouth wasn't so dry, but retracts the statement, saying "…spit's too good for you."
"Le Chat", a Belgian comic book written by Philippe Geluck:
"We often say "Man is a wolf to man". But saying this is bad for the wolves. Instead, we should say "Man is a man to man". But it would be bad for men."
Hans von Hammer: No chimpanzee would ever speak to me again, I know.
In The Beano strip Crazy for Daisy, Daisy compares Ernest, the guy who just won't leave her alone, to a warthog. After this, she's incredibly shocked at herself for being so insensitive and immediately apologizes…to any warthogs who happen to be reading.
In Batman: Hush, Batman thinks about Ra's al Ghul's daughter Talia, who is running Lex Luthor's company:
Talia. Ra's. Luthor. Calling them a nest of vipers is an insult to vipers…
In A Stitch In Time, Twilight has had enough of her jerkass of a blind date trying to get her liquored up, and tells her that to compare her to the pondscum she cleans out of fishtanks would be more of an insult to the pondscum, giving a lecture about how essential cyanobacteria is to Equestria.
Otto: "Don't call me stupid!" Wanda: "Oh, right! To call you stupid would be an insult to stupid people!"
A version appears in The Abyss "You're going to give that rat a disease".
In Oh My Goth by Gena Showalter, Jade Leigh says she would like to add fangs and horns to the Alpha Bitch's face (on a school election poster). She promptly changes her mind, deciding that it would be an insult to The Devil. (After the two of them escape from the virtual reality world together, she celebrates seeing those same posters.)
The Gordon Korman book The Chicken Doesn't Skate. "To call you a pig is an insult to pigs!"
The anti-hero of the classic satire Augustus Carp, Esq. By Himself cries so much that he sprays his former boss with his tears, and then apologizes. To the tears.
In the Mage: The Ascension novel Ascension Warrior, the insanely powerful (and just plain insane) archmage Porthos Fitz-Empress, on noting that a political enemy of his is present at a meeting of the Council of the Traditions, announces that he'd thought he'd smelled a large pile of rotting fish. He then proceeds to summon a pile of dead fish so he could apologize to it for mistaking it for Vargas.
In one book, a character calls Corporal Nobby Nobbs a pig, and another responds "Hey now. I've known some splendid pigs."
In another book, Nobby is described by saying that the only reason why you can't say that he's close to the animal kingdom is that the animal kingdom would get up and move away.
One book remarks that Ankh-Morpork is known as the Big Wahoonie, the wahoonie being a large foul-smelling root vegetable, then adds that even the wahoonie doesn't smell as bad as Ankh-Morpork on a hot summer's day.
In The Art of Discworld, Terry Pratchett says that one of the inspirations for Greebo was his own Russian Blue, who has the intelligence of a rubber band "and at that I'll probably be accused of being offensive to stationery equipment".
In the Gentleman Bastard Sequence, the author claims that to say that a pimp called as "Rude Trevor Vargas" "was an intemperate, murderous lunatic would wound the feelings of most intemperate, murderous lunatics".
In Storm from the Shadows, Solarian League Battle Fleet Admiral Josef Byng is described by one character as not having "the brains God gave a cockroach", to which another character later says that the first person was "doing cockroaches a disservice".
In Mission of Honor Admiral Sandra Crandall is described as having "the disposition of a grizzly bear with hemorrhoids trying to pass pinecones", after which another character thinks the comment "gross libel against grizzly bears".
At one point in the Belisarius Series, Irene got angry at Ousanas, calling him "a foul creature from a foul land. Now I know where Homer got the inspiration for the Cyclops." A moment later, she brightened up and apologized for slandering "the memory of an honorable monster of legend."
In one of G. K. Chesterton's Mr. Pond stories, a General is explaining his thought processes to a subordinate, and the Lemony Narrator comments that he's the sort of person who enjoys explaining things to the dog, before adding "It would be unjust to compare Lieutenant Von Hocheimer to a dog. It would be unjust to the dog, who is a much more sensitive and vigilant creature."
In Neal Stephenson's Reamde, a reviewer once apparently stated about Devin Skraelin that "to say he is tin-eared would render a disservice to a blameless citizen of the periodic table of the elements."
In The Secret of Platform 13, Nanny Brown agrees to go along with Larina's kidnapping plan in part because she knows that someone has to take care of the stolen baby:
I, Claudius: Claudius' mother, Antonia, manages to make this one do double duty, by finding something a moment later that she thinks is a sufficiently insulting comparison.
Antonia: That man ought to be put out of the way! He's as stupid as a donkey—what am I saying? Donkeys are sensible beings by comparison—he's as stupid as … as … Heavens, he's as stupid as my son Claudius!
Papillon features an inmate who says to a guard: "I would spit on you, but my spit would just get dirty."
Shen:You're right. I wasn't being fair to the pigs.
In A Feast For Crows, one character describes the "butchery" committed to a nearby town. Another takes issue, as "that gives insult to honest butchers everywhere."
In the Paladin of Shadows book Unto the Breach, Father Kulcyanov says that calling Stalin a pig is an insult to pigs.
In the book Elvenborn of The Halfblood Chronicles, Kyrtian and his bodyguard Gel are talking to the former's mother via teleson (a magical device that works like video chat). Gel starts to refer to the rather unpleasant Lady Triana as a bitch before correcting himself out of deference to Lady Lydiell. She then says, "I wouldn't call Triana a 'bitch', Gel. It's a terrible insult to all female canines, which are, on the whole, rather nice creatures."
In Chapter 28 of 1824: The Arkansas War, Andrew Jackson publicly denounces the deal-making that put Henry Clay into office as President after getting only about 1/6th of the popular vote, and initially lambasts John Calhoun as Judas. Later, Jackson corrects himself, saying that the comparison was an insult to Judas.
Dave Barry's column "Insect Aside" mentions that some people voting for Official National Insect compared dung beetles to Congress. He objected:
"I'm sorry, but that's a low blow: Our research indicates that no dung beetle has ever accepted money from a savings-and-loan operator."
"My Night to Remember" has Dr. Cox tell JD he's as useless as the wall he's leaning on … then take it back since the wall is somewhat useful as it's currently providing a place for "some jackass to lean on and reflect on what a jackass he truly is".
Talbot: "Please they're all dumber than a box of rocks."
Werewolf: "That's unfair!"
Talbot: "To boxes maybe. (Pause) Or rocks."
The Daily Show once featured a segment where, trying to debate whether Fox News were stupid or evil, Wyatt Cenac (on Team Evil) noted that if they weren't evil they were as stupid as potatoes with mouths. Jon Oliver (on Team Stupid) helpfully pointed out that potatoes can still power a digital clock, and suggested rocks with mouths.
The Colbert Report: In the midst of heaping abuse on Canton, Kansas Stephen says that converting the town to a landfill would be an insult to landfills.
The last episode of Room 101, when Ian Hislop tried to put in Piers Morgan and mentioned how in Private Eye they call him Piers Moron.
Paul Merton: Is that unfair to morons? Ian: And to piers. I mean, Southend — very nice.
When Paul eventually did pull the lever to send Morgan into Room 101, an alarm went off and it was announced that Room 101 had rejected him for being too toxic.
Czarsky: Haven't you embarrassed yourself enough already?
Shawn: Hardly. I'm just getting started, you giant cockroach. (beat) You know what, that was out of line. I apologize to cockroaches everywhere.
In the very first episode of Doctor Who in 1963, the Doctor uses this on his first ever human companion, Ian, who is complaining about being condescended to. It would surely be a throwaway line if it were uttered today by Matt Smith, but this is William Hartnell we're talking about here.
Ian: You're treating us like children!
The Doctor: Am I? The children of MY civilization would be insulted.
Based on the idiom "Everything resembles it's owner", the titular character of El Chavo del ocho made a comparison of Dońa Florinda and a broom. When Don Ramón told him that that was offensive. El Chavo responded that doesn't matter, because brooms doesn't understand.
In The Suite Life on Deck, Bailey compares talking to London to talking to a tractor. Zack promptly replies that it's an insult to tractors.
In the Star Trek episode, "The Trouble With Tribbles", a drunk Klingon calls the Enterprise a garbage scow. When Scotty demands an explanation, the Klingon apologizes for his misstatement, saying, "I didn't mean to say that the Enterprise should be hauling garbage. I meant to say that it should be hauled away as garbage!" Fisticuffs ensue.
Inverted in the penultimate episode of season nine of NCIS. Doctor Samantha Ryan, who loves to play mind-games and has been trying to get Gibbs to be off his game, calls Gibbs 'solid as a rock. Which is, by the way, a compliment to rocks.'
In a episode of Hannah Montana: A cleaning lady refuses to clean Jackson's room and wanted to call him a pig but it would be an insult to pigs.
Callen: Collars are for animals. Don't flatter yourself.
In one episode of The Pretender, Jarod has captured Mr. Lyle and threatens to torture him for information. He whips out a cattle prod, but adds that he shouldn't compare Lyle to cattle, it's insulting the latter.
Dave Bartholomew's "The Monkey Speaks His Mind". In the song, three monkeys claim that the idea that man evolved from primates is an insult to monkeys.
PJTV's Bill Whittle, in his Afterburner episode "Rule of Lawlessness" states that calling the "fiscal cliff" shenanigans (or "goat rodeo" as Bill calls it) Kabuki theater was an insult to that art, which has rules, structure, beauty and an ancient and honorable tradition.
After the CEO of Abercrombie and Fitch made some nasty comments about the company refusing to make larger sizes of clothing because they don't want "ugly people" in their stores, the internet got angry and started making fun of his appearance, with posts circulating Tumblrcomparing him to◊ a particularly ugly orc captain named Gothmog in the Lord of the Rings movies. Cue the counter-post saying that this is entirely unfair to Gothmog, because he's a total badass.
There's a cartoon that refers to an incident where Ken Livingstone compared an Evening Standard journalist he was exasperated with to a concentration camp guard.
Nintendo Power once said that saying Wario smells like a sewer is insulting to the sewer.
On an episode of WWE Raw, Chris Jericho would call Stephanie McMahon a "filthy, dirty, disgusting nasty, skanky brutal bottom-feeding, trash-bag ho!" When he was forced to apologize, he apologized to all the filthy, dirty, disgusting, brutal, skanky, bottom-feeding, trash-bag hoes for even comparing them to Stephanie. He decided that "Bargain basement slut" and "Miserable slimeball pig" were more appropriate.
Jason Sartin's review of the tabletop RPG F.A.T.A.L. notes that "saying that this game should be burned is an insult to fire." Later, he says that "giving FATAL a 1/1 Style/Substance rating was an insult to almost every other product on RPGnet that ever got a 1/1."
Along with his Racial Holy War's "Badness" rating: "To say that this game sucks would be an insult to oral sex."
There is also one that almost fits on Myra Breckinridge: "This means that at one point, there was actually a scene in this movie that implied a fucking ten year old was getting bukkaked. I now understand why Time called this movie "about as funny as a child molester." Actually, that's not completely accurate. I think a child molester gets more laughs."
Speaking of Battlefield Earth, J.D. Shapiro, one of the credited screenwriters (he wrote the first draft, and was fired due to Executive Meddling), started an apology letter on the movie with this:
" Let me start by apologizing to anyone who went to see "Battlefield Earth." It wasn't as I intended — promise. No one sets out to make a train wreck. Actually, comparing it to a train wreck isn't really fair to train wrecks, because people actually want to watch those."
"This movie doesn't scrape the bottom of the barrel. This movie isn't the bottom of the barrel. This movie isn't below the bottom of the barrel. This movie doesn't deserve to be mentioned in the same sentence with barrels."
And A Lot Like Love: "To call A Lot Like Love dead in the water is an insult to water."
And The Spirit: "To call the characters cardboard is to insult a useful packing material."
And, of course, The Village: "Eventually the secret of Those, etc., is revealed. To call it an anticlimax would be an insult not only to climaxes but to prefixes."
Additionally, discussing Ishtar on their Worst of 87 special, Gene Siskel said, "I just saw Road to ... Morocco, and it is funnier than Ishtar—of course, that's really, I guess, an insult to Road to Morocco. Anything is funnier than Ishtar—except Leonard Part 6."
Of Battle: Los Angeles, he said: "Here's a science-fiction film that's an insult to the words "science" and "fiction," and the hyphen in between them."
His G.I. Joe: Retaliation review reads: "To say "G.I. Joe: Retaliation" is a video game for the big screen is to insult a number of video games that are far more creative, challenging and better-looking." Mr. Ebert never was a fan of video games, either.
Megan Fox is truly the Raquel Welch of our generation. And maybe that's an insult to Raquel Welch.
One RPGamer review had much to say about Hoshigami's lack of sound quality (among other things):
"The sound quality is the crappiest this side of the original NES and the compositions are so dull, so bland, so sickening, that you'll think it was composed by an ape! I apologize; I meant no disrespect to the ape community."
To describe this film as dishonest and demagogic would almost be to promote those terms to the level of respectability. To describe this film as a piece of crap would be to run the risk of a discourse that would never again rise above the excremental. To describe it as an exercise in facile crowd-pleasing would be too obvious. Fahrenheit 9/11 is a sinister exercise in moral frivolity, crudely disguised as an exercise in seriousness. It is also a spectacle of abject political cowardice masking itself as a demonstration of “dissenting” bravery.
The Moiderah Of Ponies has this to say about The Conversion Bureau: "Burning is not advised, as burning it is a grave heresy to fire. Consider sending it to your enemies instead."
After a scandal over the number of synthetic additives contained in Miller Lite beer, the well-known beer critic Roger Protz stated "I have, in the past, compared Miller Lite to a certain equine by-product, but now I see that that is an insult to a noble animal".
A NBAanalysis states that "To call the 2012-13 season a forgettable one for the [Bob]'Cats is an insult to long-lost memories everywhere."
We'd call him a weasel at heart, if he had a heart and it wasn't an insult to respectable weasels.
In Jade Empire, one of the more fucked up people you meet in the game, aside from the villains themselves, is the powerful Judge Fang: a man so disgustingly perverted that he's implied to have gotten off to a corrupt guard's genitals being torn off by starved dogs in addition to paying a prostitute a lot of money to allow him to "do things to her" that makes his own guards both flinch at their offensiveness but still pity her for having to put up with him. If your main character comments "Sounds like a really sick and twisted person", the guard quips "Nah. I wouldn't call him sick and twisted. That would be an insult to all sick and twisted people everywhere. Fang, he's on a whole other level …"
In Lords of the Realm the default insulting message contains the line:
"You look like a toad. No, that's an insult to toads, you look worse".
Jim: Hair products? Check. Scantily clad players? Check. If I didn't know better I could have mistaken these for an Amazon team, Bob. Bob: Don't be silly, Jim, I don't think I know anyone that fears an elf. Jim: That's true, Bob.
And the exact words of the initial insult were that Belkar would compare unfavorably to tables. The tables started off smarter than Belkar and he was still dumb enough to make the comparison offensive.
In Between Failures, Mike finds himself confronting Reggie over setting the microwave on fire. When he mentions the number of accident reports in Reggie's file (long story short, Reggie's reliance on his executive aunt's interference makes the official quantity "long past too many"), Reggie interrupts to point out that they were all accidents, just like the term says. Mike states in no uncertain terms that "accident" is no longer sufficient to describe the things Reggie accomplishes, and that it's entirely possible that there is no word for what Reggie does, but either way, it's not fair to accidents to lump them in with Reggie.
Adam: So your method to criticize something you'll never watch is to swear about the people involved? That's not a critical opinion, that's throwing a tantrum for attention. Congrats, you're equal to my 4 year-old cousin.
Linkara: Now that, sir, is simply unfair. 4 year-olds don't know any better.
Tom Foolery, a JokerExpy from the Global Guardians PBEM Universe once took offense to one of the heroes calling the super-powered serial killer Abattoir "a psychotic clown" because doing so was an insult to him (Tom Foolery) and his fellow psychotic clowns.
In a micro-commercial for Pinky and the Brain, the Brain said Pinky had the approximate IQ of an empty soap dish. "I take it back. I don't want to insult the soap dish."
Tripping the Rift - When Angel calls the alien T'Nuk a cow for knocking her out of her chair:
Chode: She's not a cow. T'Nuk: Thank you, Chode. Chode: Cows have a quiet dignity and serve a purpose. T'Nuk: Jackass! Chode: Let's not drag your mother into this.
And let's not get into the implication that T'Nuk's mother was somehow a male donkey.
Johnny Test: Dirt tastes better than Mr. Test's cooking. Johnny checked.
In one Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog episode Sonic mentions that he'd like to call Robotnik a slime bucket, "but that would be an insult to decent slime buckets everywhere!"
Beavis: They should have a "Crap" section in the records store. Butthead: Uhhh, yeah. It should be out in the dumpster. Beavis: No way, Butthead. There's cool stuff in the dumpster. You wouldn't want to mess it up with this crap.
In the The Simpsons episode "Homer's Enemy" Frank Grimes observes Homer's eating habits.
Grimes: God, he eats like a pig.
Lenny: I dunno. Pigs tend to chew. I'd say he eats more like a duck.
"I'd say you were a carnival barker — except that wouldn't be fair to carnival barkers! A carny will at least tell you up front that he's running a shell game!" Sen. Peter Fitzgerald (R-IL) to Kenneth Lay, Feb. 12, 2002
David Letterman on the OJ Simpson trial: "To call this trial a circus is an insult to the fine people at Ringling Brothers!"
"I'd call her a cunt, but she lacks the depth and the charm." — William Styron. Nobody seems to know whom he was referring to.
On the Usenet newsgroup news.admin.net-abuse.email, comparing a spammer to anything will get you a metaphorical call from the proper Anti-Defamation League.
Classic lawyer joke: A man loses a lot of money in a trial and goes to a bar to drown his sorrows. As he gets more and more drunk, he finally slams his mug down on the bar and shouts, "Godammit! Lawyers are nothing but a load of scumbags!" The man sitting next to him turns and says, "Mister, I take offense to that." "Why, you a lawyer?" "No, sir. I am a scumbag."
“I would call them scumbags, but that would be an insult to bags of scum." —Dennis Miller, in reference to the French.
Another classic joke: A man walks into a bar and starts complaining about the president, finally saying "The president is a horse's ass!" Another man says "Hey, don't talk like that in here." The man says "You can't tell me you actually like that horse's ass!" "No, but this is horse country."
Another generic one is calling someone "retarded", then taking it back because "that insults the intelligence of the mentally retarded."
Rare case of it actually occurring: Binghamton athletic director Joel Thirer compared the basketball team to a zoo. The Binghamton Zoo got offended. ("Not one of our tigers has been arrested with cocaine. No otter knocks over old ladies to shoplift condoms.").
British MEP Nigel Farage was ordered to apologise after comparing the President of the European Council to a low-grade bank clerk. His response was to issue an apology to bank clerks.
In addressing a Republican convention, Ronald Reagan said, "To say Congress is spending like drunken sailors is an insult to drunken sailors …" The cheers and applause kept him from delivering his punchline, "… who at least are spending their own money."
When Mohamed Morsi, the Egyptian president elected in 2012 seized dictatorial powers, he was declared "Egypt's new pharaoh." However, at least one commentator stated that this was an insult to pharaohs, as ancient Egyptians were very advanced.
After Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez compared George W. Bush to the Devil. Rafael Correa, President of Ecuador and a friend of Chavez's, said that Chavez was being unfair to the Devil.
Along similar lines, during the 2013 White House Correspondents Dinner, Barack Obama noted that The History Channel was not present, jokingly because of the kerfluffle over their series on The Bible where some thought the portrayal of Satan looked like him. He then riffs on Fox News:
"Of course, that never kept Fox News from showing up. They actually thought the comparison was not fair — to Satan."
After Matt Taibbi called Goldman Sachs "a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity", he received responses from a number of zoologists saying he was slandering the squid.
After the Italian election of 2013, German politician Peer Steinbrück made a comment about being shocked that "the two Italian clowns" won, referring to Berlusconi and Beppe Grillo. Afterwards, the clown and boss of circus Roncalli Bernhard Paul protested against the comparison, stating that clowning is a honorable, difficult, and sensible job.
A common form of rebuke from an instructing NCO to a recruit in the British Army was "I'd call you a c**t, but unlike you, c**ts are useful. And decorative. You c**t'"
In June 2013, The Sun published the following retraction/apology:
In an article on Saturday headlined 'Flying saucers over British Scientology HQ,' we stated 'two flat silver discs' were seen 'above the Church of Scientology HQ.' Following a letter from lawyers for the Church, we apologise to any alien lifeforms for linking them to Scientologists.