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The Clapback Existed Long Before Social Media

Here are 11 Examples (and Pro Tips)

By Beth Clark • December 19, 2018

The Art of the Clapback

Clapping back is the act of (or art of, depending) responding to criticism, insults, or any other form of attack or rudeness by putting someone in their place, online and in real life. How do you do that? With a 'clapback': a witty, targeted reply that establishes a boundary and shuts the conversation—and the negativity—down. (Previously known as a 'burn.') Below are some current and historical examples, plus a few pro tips.

J.K. Rowling, Stephen King, and Chrissy Teigen are all known for their clapbacks on social media and in interviews. Here's an example:

Chrissy: posts photo of husband John Legend asleep in a chair with their baby sleeping on his chest, and the comment "My babies are jetlagged."
User comments: "I didn't know you could get private jet lagged?"
Chrissy: Responds, "@User, a plane is a plane. What do you think, it's a time machine?"

Why it's brilliant: 1) She has a valid point. And 2) She targeted what she needed to and stopped...the clapback isn't about being mean or launching a war, it's about cleverly and effectively standing up for yourself.

When to Clap Back

Most of the time, clapping back is a defensive move in response to someone overstepping or being rude. It can be an offensive move in response to a general situation, but it's best used sparingly so it retains its effectiveness. So, when do you clap back?

  1. When someone insults your intelligence.
  2. When someone passive-aggressively judges you for having something, especially if you worked hard for it, i.e. a private jet.
  3. When someone projects their unwelcome beauty or body standards onto you.
  4. When someone goes too far with sarcasm and hurts your feelings.
  5. When someone tries to suck you into drama that’s not yours.
  6. When someone oversteps their bounds in your other relationships.
  7. When you're being bullied or trolled.
  8. When you want to end a round of sibling rivalry.
  9. When you want to end a workplace rivalry.
  10. When someone does any of the above to your kids. (Hello, mama bear.)

More Examples: 10 of the Best Historical Clapbacks

James Joyce

Fan: "Mr. Joyce, may I kiss the hand that wrote Ulysses?"
Joyce: "No, it did a lot of other things, too."

Oscar Wilde

Lewis Morris: "There's a conspiracy against me, a conspiracy of silence. But what can we do? What should I do?"
Wilde: "Join it."

James McNeill Whistler

Oscar Wilde, after Whistler made a good joke: "I wish I had said that."
Whistler: "You will, Oscar, you will."

Winston Churchill

Lady Astor: "Winston, if you were my husband, I'd put poison in your coffee."
Churchill: "Nancy, if you were my wife, I'd drink it."

Ilka Chase

Actress: "I enjoyed reading your book. Who wrote it for you?"
Chase: "Darling, I'm so glad that you liked it. Who read it for you?"

Calvin Coolidge

Woman at White House Dinner: "Mr. Coolidge, I've made a bet against a fellow who said it was impossible to get more than two words out of you."
Coolidge: "You lose."

Mohandas Gandhi

Reporter: "What do you think of Western civilization?"
Gandhi: "I think it would be a wonderful idea."

Abraham Lincoln

Lincoln, after being called 'two-faced': "If I had two faces, do you think I'd be wearing this one?"


Admirer: "Herr Mozart, I am thinking of writing symphonies. Can you give me any suggestions as to how to get started?"
Mozart: "A symphony is a very complex musical form. Perhaps you should begin with something simpler."
Admirer: "But you were writing symphonies when you were 8 years old."
Mozart: "Yes, but I never asked anybody how."

Pope John XXIII

Pope John, when asked "How many people work in the Vatican?": "About half."

Happy clapping and remember to follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and/or Pinterest!

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History | Comedy
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