Can you imagine how dry our languages would be if they hadn’t any metaphors or simlies or idioms or delightful little phrases? “As quiet as a church mouse”, “over my dead body”, “it rained cats and dogs”. Yes, I think communication wouldn’t just be same if it wasn’t peppered with these words that could almost visually evoke the feeling of the moment.

Every language dictionary has their standard stock of such phrases aimed to familiarize the learner with the language. But language, my dear, is a fickle friend. The same language changes across countries, regions of the same country, even over a generation. Have you walked into a new club, or a new school, or visited a new family and heard something that you had never heard before? To the true learner, it comes as a joy to unlock the doors that lead to the shared thoughts, ideas and history that cook up their unique and sometimes surprising set of phrases.

At work last week, I had reached out to the Admin group to request an access. They are quite prompt, but this time, it took a week. The access was accompanied by a delightful apology -“we might have Alphonsed and Gastoned this one”. I had never come across the term before. Who or what was Alphonse and Gaston?

Alphonse and Gaston, it turns out, was an American comic strip by Frederick Burr Opper, featuring a bumbling pair of Frenchmen with a penchant for politeness.The strip’s premise was that both were extremely polite, constantly bowing and deferring to each other. Neither could ever do anything or go anywhere because each insisted on letting the other precede him. Ah, now I understand why the request took a week in completing 🙂

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courtesy: Wikipedia

But here’s what surprised me the most – they first appeared in the New York Journal on September 22, 1901! I was being reintroduced to a catchphrase that was more than a hundred years old, though the admin guy did say that he’d heard the phrase in his childhood – and that there was some hockey commentator in Detriot who used the term pretty frequently. Wiki says, Their “After you, Alphonse.”, “No, you first, my dear Gaston!” routine entertained readers for more than a decade. The catchphrase continues to the present day, spoken in situations when a person receives a dare to do something difficult or dangerous or both; the catchphrase returns the dare to the person who made it. Sometimes it is said when two people are simultaneously trying to go through the same doorway and awkwardly stop to let the other go through.” Well, now you know the perfect phrase for such a situation 🙂

What new phrases have you learnt recently?

PS: All details of the comic strip Alphose and Gaston were got from Wikipedia

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