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Dr Klaus Bung
68 Brantfell Road
Blackburn BB1-8DL


© 2010 Klaus Bung

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Klaus Bung:
From chat-up line to parting shot

Nowadays parting shots are not bullets but words, for example at the end of an argument. The last report an Ambassador sends before he leaves his post can be called a parting shot. We also discuss people who always want to have the last word (win an argument), what people say immediately before they die (famous last words) and "first words", chat-up lines with which a young man tries to start a conversation with a girl or, nowadays equally likely, the other way round (a girl trying to chat up a boy). Read more ...

2010-11-01 From chat-up line to parting shot

Some general advice

If you are a learner of English and therefore also a student of European culture, you will benefit most if you study not only these articles, which are packed with English idioms and synonyms, but also take advantage of the many links we have provided. You will benefit not only from the contents of the linked articles but also from reading a wide variety of plain English prose and thus enrich your knowledge of English.

Winston Churchill

Here is a story about Winston Churchill. It sounds too good to be true.

Churchill: "Madam, would you sleep with me for five million pounds?"

Lady: "My goodness, Mr. Churchill... Well, I suppose... we would have to discuss terms, of course... "

Churchill: "Would you sleep with me for five pounds?"

Lady: "Mr. Churchill, what kind of woman do you think I am?!"

And now comes Churchill's parting shot: "Madam, we've already established that. Now we are haggling about the price."

Now, what is a parting shot?


There used to be a convention in the British diplomatic service that Ambassadors who were about to retire were allowed to use their last dispatch (report) to the Foreign Office in London "to let their hair down", "speak their mind", be brutally frank, "pull no punches", be as undiplomatic as they wished. Only God knows if you will understand all these idiomatic expressions, all meaning more or less the same thing.

The regular reports which Ambassadors send to London are normally couched in fairly diplomatic language, and great care is taken that the Ambassador should not offend anybody. These reports sometimes hide the Ambassador's real message between the lines. They must be sober and serious, not show a sense of humour, and be factual and reasonably dull.

But at the end of his appointment to a certain country, the Ambassador would be given a chance "to let rip" (to speak his mind). If he did that in any of his ordinary reports, he might lose his job or be severely reprimanded, but at the end of his appointment it was customary for ambassadors to speak out, to "tell it as it was".

Recently the BBC has been broadcasting a series of programmes containing extracts from these final despatches, also called "valedictory despatches". "valedictory" means "saying good-bye". It comes from Latin "vale" (= fare well, keep well, good-bye) and "dictory" (= saying). So "valedictory despatches" are "good-bye reports", last reports.

The BBC called this series "Parting shots". When two people leave each other, we say "they parted", i.e. they left each other. Example: "They parted after having exchanged a passionate kiss". Or: "They parted in anger", i.e. they were angry when they left each other.

That brings us to the "shots". The verb is "to shoot". You can shoot with a gun, a machine gun, a pistol, with bow and arrow. You can shoot somebody, in which case he may be wounded. Or you can shoot a person dead.

You can fire a shot. Here "shot" is a noun.

A person who is good at shooting, who always hits his target, is a good shot. Example: "My father was a very good shot."

Arjuna, the Indian hero, was such a good shot that he could shoot, with his arrows, blind-folded, over his shoulder, through the eye-hole of a metal fish that was swiveling around a pivot on a tree behind him, having seen it only once before being blind-folded. This is a story from the Indian epic Mahabharata.

The shepherd-boy Ekalavia stopped a dog that was molesting him during his shooting practice by shooting arrows into the dog's mouth so that one arrow got stuck between each pair of adjacent teeth, and the dog was not wounded.

If you shoot when you are parting (leaving), you are firing a parting shot. This may happen in a battle or in a gun fight between the police and criminals, but the expression "firing a parting shop" is more often used in a figurative sense (figurative = not literal).

For example, during a heated debate (angry debate) or a slanging match, words are the ammunition of the protagonists (the people who are fighting). They are firing insults at each other. Then, for some reason, they have to stop the argument. Perhaps because it starts raining or because the police come to arrest one of them. The one who was arrested has saved some of his ammunition (hurtful words) to use at the very end. He "wants to have the last word." As the police lead him away, he turns around and shouts to his opponent: "And, by the way, last year when you were in America on business, I fucked your wife; and, by God, was she good! Give her my love." This is his parting shot.

A parting shot has to be surprising or devastating to be considered good.

She always wants to have the last word

In a debate the person who "has the last word" (this is a fixed expression) is often considered the person who wins. If both partners insist on having the last word (e.g. because this is their particular character), then the debate may never end.

Married people often accuse their partner of always wanting, or getting, or wanting to get, the last word.

Here is a Wikipedia article on The Last Word.

Download it now because it may not be online forever.

The expression "the last word" is also used in a figurative sense.

A legal battle, which starts in a lower court, then goes to appeal in a higher court, and ends up in the Supreme Court. Probably the Supreme Court will have the last word. But sometimes the case may be taken to the European Court of Human Rights, in which case that court has the last word.

Here is such a case:

Not the last word

Sometimes the expression "not the last word" is used to indicate that some event or action is NOT NECESSARILY the end of an affair, that something else MAY happen.

I googled "the last word" and 2.7 millions hits came up.
For "NOT the last word" 3.2 million hits came up.

"xyz is not the last word in compression algorithms" means it is not the best and not the last. Better ones are required and will be developed.

"Google is not the last word in information," i.e. however famous and popular it may be, it is not the best, it is capable of being improved.

Last words before dying

Matthias Gruenewald, ResurrectionA few weeks ago, I published a commentary on the last words planned by agony aunt Claire Rayner.

Christians believe that Jesus died on the Cross, but that three days later, on Easter Sunday, he came back to life again ("he rose from the dead"; that was his resurrection). Therefore you can read in religious texts: "The cross was not the last word" or "Death did not have the last word".

During the second world war (1939-1945), Hitler bombarded London, Coventry and other British cities (the blitz). But Hitler did not have the last word. Eventually he was defeated and committed suicide before he could be captured.

Famous last words

There is a tradition of recording (writing down and remembering) the last words of a person who is about to die.

Most famous are the seven last words of Jesus on the Cross. They have been written down in the gospels. They have been the object of Christian contemplation, especially during Holy Week, and they have often been set to music, e.g. by Austrian composer Joseph Haydn.

These are NOT "parting shots" because they are not intended to hurt anybody.

It would be interesting to know what Nietzsche's last words were. He was a German philosopher and is considered by many people to have been an atheist (a person who believes that God does not exist, that there is no such thing as God, a person without religion). In two of his books (Cheerful Science (= Gay Science); Zarathustra) he wrote: "God is dead. We have killed him."

In a toilet in University College London, years ago, I saw the following graffito written on the wall:

God is dead. (Nietzsche)

Nietzsche is dead. (God)

In this case, God had the last word. LOL

Religious people believe that God also had the first word, namely when he said: "Let there be light," and there was light.

I have been looking for famous last words (there are lots of them on the Internet) but found few which are easy, or simple or cheerful enough to be worth quoting. Moreover I am often not sure if these long sentences are really the words of dying people.

Here are some of the easier ones:

  • William Somerset Maugham (British author, died in 1965): "Dying is a very dull and dreary affair. And my advice to you is to have nothing whatever to do with it"

  • James Rodgers (murderer, on being asked for a final request before a firing squad): "Why, yes! A bulletproof vest."

    This sort of humour is called "gallows humour", the sense of humour of a person who is standing under the gallows, about to be executed and still able to make fun of his predicament.

Google's testimony

I searched in Google for "as a parting shot" to get some real-life examples of this phrase, in its figurative sense.

  • Quote: "My friends state that as a parting shot at the board meeting tonight, Daughtery tried to sneak in an extension on Watson's contract before Armstrong and Kurrus caught him? Is that true?"

    Here the expression "as a parting shot" is simply used in the sense as "the last thing he did" (on a particular occasion). It has nothing to do with insults or a heated argument.

  • An employee might resign (leave his job) and as a parting shot expose corruption in the firm he is leaving. Click on this link, to read a related news story. The expression "parting shot" is used repeatedly in it.

  • About disgraced US president Nixon: ' I never knew a man could tell so many lies' ... Young meant it as a parting shot in the direction of the disgraced and venal Richard Nixon. "

  • The following is a report about a string of arguments. The last argument is called "a parting shot".

    "There's no doubt a shift in attitude is currently underway across the public sector, including local authorities, towards the need to implement a radical overhaul of infrastructure and services hierarchies in order to cope with ever-constricting budgets. As a parting shot, Hopkins says the independence of organisations "had to be respected"."

I googled <"parting shot", divorce>, and 13,000 hits came up. Try this for yourself. You will find quite a few juicy stories. You have to read this for yourself because it takes too long to summarise in each case what preceded the parting shot, and the original stories are much nicer. The important thing to observe is that there is always something preceding the parting shot. You can not start an affair with a parting shot.

Chat-up line

But you can start it with an "ice breaker" or with a "chat-up line" (something you say to start a conversation with a nice boy or a girl whom you have never met before and with whom you want to have a relationship; often chat-up lines are conventional (standardised) and are used repeatedly (to different people in whom you are interested): "Do you often come here?", "Have we met before?". If the other person likes the way you look, she/he will respond. Or she may turn her back on you in disgust because these two chat-up lines are so boring, hackneyed, old-fashioned, over-used.

Relationship: chat-up line > affair > marriage > divorce > parting shots

If you want to have fun, have a look at this site:


There are lots of chat-up lines on that site. Many, I am sure, are smart but will not work in practice, for example the following:

Boy says to girl: "If you've lost your virginity, can I have the box it came in?"

This chat-up line is my parting shot for today. :-)


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Soon to come

Prices going through the roof

This article will deal with change and increases, prices going through the roof, bread riots (because of price rises), why a quantum leap is a tiny change, leap frogs, and people progressing at a snail's pace, snail mail, a sea change in politics and on dry land, and hitting the roof, and women hitting the glass ceiling. changes going off the scale, prices inexorably raising, unstoppable developments



Teachers tell you WHAT to learn, IDYLL (R) shows you HOW to learn it.