verb. reply - return - answer
noun. rejoinder - answer - repartee
Often, we try our best to retort when we feel offended by what was said by someone. The ability to do so depends on one's command of the language used. For the retort to be effective, the intended listener should be of the same level to be able to get the message. For example, it would be useless if an aristocrat said it in his usual stiff upper-lipped way to a working class chap, who is more used to swearing at him.
I like to watch the serial, Downtown Abbey because it is useful if I wish to learn more about how the British aristocrats speak. It reminds me of 'Upstairs, downstairs' where the people living above and those below were in sharp contrast. We can learn how the British of different social levels speak, without having to moralize. Even in normal interaction with the locals, it takes time for a foreigner with an 'A' in English to be able to understand and be understood.
In Downtown Abbey, there was an episode in which the matriarch of the family asked the local pastor to conduct a wedding ceremony. Sensing the latter's reluctance, she said something to the effect that the house he lives in and the garden he enjoys, and a few other things, belong to them. "...The young man saved my son's heir in the war...you can take your scruples elsewhere!"
We have to be careful with retorts, because they can lead to physical fights. Once, two sisters and their husbands were strolling in a street in Petaling Jaya. One of the sisters asked a durian seller about the price and she complained about it being too expensive. The seller said that she probably could not afford it. This led to the lady lawyer insulting him about his having to sell durians at the roadside!
There was another incidence when a Malaysian lady visited Hong Kong. She is known to be very quick in going through clothes on the racks while selecting (her actions had to be quick as her brain, she later became a Professor). In the '80s, HK sales assistants were known to be rude to customers who browsed with no intention of buying anything. Her retort was really incisive in Cantonese: 'Yan chi uh, ng hou wat chan ke sau' or 'Be careful, don't sprain your hands.'
The following joke inspired me on the above subject:
A woman and her ten-year-old son were riding in a taxi on Seymour Street in Vancouver .
It was raining and all the prostitutes were standing under the awnings.
"Mom," said the boy, "what are all those women doing?"
"They're waiting for their husbands to get off work," she replied.
The taxi driver turns around and says, "Geez lady, why don't you tell him the truth? They're hookers, boy! They have sex with men for money."
The little boy's eyes get wide and he says, "Is that true, Mom?" His mother, glaring hard at the driver, answers in the affirmative.
After a few minutes, the kid asks, "Mom, what happens to the babies those women have?"
"Most of them become taxi drivers," she said.