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The World’s Wit and Humor: An Encyclopedia in 15 Volumes. 1906.

William Shakespeare (1564–1616)

The Retort Courteous

From “As You Like It

Touchstone.I did dislike the cut of a certain courtier’s beard: he sent me word, if I said his beard was not cut well, he was in the mind it was: this is called the “retort courteous.” If I sent him word again it was not well cut, he would send me word he cut it to please himself; this is called the “quip modest.” If again, it was not well cut, he disabled my judgment: this is called the “reply churlish.” If again, it was not well cut, he would answer, I spake not true: this is called the “reproof valiant.” If again, it was not well cut, he would say, I lie: this is called the “countercheck quarrelsome”: and so to the “lie circumstantial,” and the “lie direct.”… I durst go no farther than the “lie circumstantial,” nor he durst not give me the “lie direct”; and so we measured swords, and parted…. We quarrel in print, by the book; as you have books for good manners: I will name you the degrees. The first, the retort courteous; the second, the quip modest; the third, the reply churlish; the fourth, the reproof valiant; the fifth, the countercheck quarrelsome; the sixth, the lie with circumstance; the seventh, the lie direct. All these you may avoid, but the lie direct, and you may avoid that, too, with an if. I knew when seven justices could not take up a quarrel. But when the parties were met themselves, one of them thought but of an if, as, If you said so, then I said so. And they shook hands and swore brothers. Your if is the only peace-maker; much virtue in if.