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AWADmail Issue 371

August 9, 2009

A Weekly Compendium of Feedback on the Words in A.Word.A.Day and Tidbits about Words and Language

From: Anu Garg (words at wordsmith.org)
Subject: Interesting stories from the net

Language may shape our thoughts

The New York Times

From: Tom Reel (tom.reel cox.net)
Subject: Re: Alphonse and Gaston
Def: Two people who treat each other with excessive deference.

When a fly ball may be easily caught by either of two fielders, but still falls to the ground (each player thinking the other will make the catch), Alphonse and Gaston are often saluted in the description of the play.

By the way, neither fielder is charged wih an official error when that happens and the batter is credited with a clean hit (for individual statistical purposes).

From: Mitchel J. Schapira (mitch schapira.org)
Subject: Alphonse and Gaston

You are correct that Alphonse and Gaston started as a comic strip, but it became a popular form of vaudeville act.

I first heard the term when the NY Mets were a brand new -- and very ineffective team. A cartoon showed the outfielders being, to borrow your phrase, overly deferential.

I asked my dad about it, and he said that there was a time when the standard stereotype of the French was overly polite.

From: Doug Keeslar (dfinagle frontiernet.net)
Subject: Alphonse and Gaston

Back a couple years before the turn of the millennium, I chanced to watch a Goofy Gophers cartoon, "Oh no, no, no, I insist, after you." and my ninety year old father said "Oh, that's an Alphonse and Gaston routine". When I asked him what that meant he admitted that he didn't have the slightest idea. Well, how in the world do you look a thing like that up? But by then I had recently gotten a computer and I googled it thinking maybe it was out of a French morality play in the 1800s.

To my surprise it turned out to be a wonderful example of the immediacy of information on the Internet AND further a wonderful example of the growth of American popular culture. It was, as this week's AWAD said, a cartoon by Frederick Opper from a hundred years ago. It was published in Grit which was a newspaper that was published and read nationally. Unlike even the great city newspapers, people from all over the country read that newspaper, and for one of the very first times something that wasn't a best-seller or the Bible was known to people all over the country. SO, when vaudeville cropped up maybe a decade later, the comics and skit actors knew that the public wherever they were would "get" the references to the comic strip and the Alphonse and Gaston routine became a staple of the vaudeville stage.

When vaudeville was supplanted by movies and radio the Alphonse and Gaston routine found its way to radio and when Warner brothers copied all the famous characters and voices of radio with such incredible mimics as Mel Blanc it found its way into the starring roles of The Goofy Gophers so that anybody who had ever watched Saturday morning TV, although he may not know the source, would recognize and beam at the recognition of "Oh no, no, no, I insist, after you."

From: Dave Zobel (zobeldave aol.com)
Subject: Alphonse and Gaston and computers

Inside your computer, certain resources can only be used by one process at a time. For example, two applications can't read data from the hard drive at the same instant; they must take turns. We software developers use the term "deadlock" when two or more processes, each one needing a shared resource currently being held by another, have become permanently stuck. In meatspace (= non-cyberspace), gridlock on city streets is an example of deadlock.

One naive solution to deadlock might be to avoid using a shared resource whenever any other process also wants to use it. But this can result in livelock also known as "'after-you-after-you' blocking" -- exemplified in meatspace by Alphonse and Gaston.

From: Eric Smith (esmith11 tulane.edu)
Subject: Alphonse and Gaston

As a native of Louisiana we hear the names most often as characters in an endless series of of jokes about two Cajun characters who lack formal education, but possess a wealth of cultural wisdom garnered from their experiences in southwest Louisiana.
Thanks for providing the origin of the names. I'll spread the word.

From: Jack Ritchie (jack.ritchie sonoma.edu)
Subject: alphonse and gaston

Here's info on an Alphonse and Gaston act from the Library of Congress's Vaudeville website.

From: Sasha (andrea.aldridge seattle.gov)
Subject: Alphonse et Gaston

I remember fondly the two Disney cartoon chipmunks, "Chip and Dale", who would frequently pull off an "Alphonse and Gaston"..."Oh, please, my dear friend..." "Oh, but indubitably, you first"...etc., etc., etc...

From: Peter Bradford (peterjb1 yahoo.com)
Subject: Alphonse and Gaston

Although I've never before heard of this pair, I'm very familiar with a parody of them. From 1939 to 1949 the BBC broadcast a Tommy Handley radio show called It's That Man Again (ITMA). A pair of characters played by Jack Train and Horace Percival would always exit the microphone with the line "After you, Claude - no, After you Cecil", very much in the manner of Alphonse and Gaston.
Incidentally, this show was renowned as an innovator in the use of catchphrases, one of which is used to this day by emailers and bloggers -- TTFN (Ta-ta for now)".

From: David Franks (chautauqua cox.net)
Subject: Alphonse and Gaston

You may read a limerick (well, three of them, actually) on Alphonse and Gaston at The OEDILF.

From: Michael Klossner (klossner9 aol.com)
Subject: Tweedledum and Tweedledee
Def: Two persons, groups, or things that resemble each other so closely that they are virtually indistinguishable.

I remember there was once an election, I believe for a city mayor, in which the press said the two candidates were "Tweedledum and Tweedledumber".

From: Matthew Freeth (freethml hotmail.com)
Subject: Jekyll and Hyde
Def: Someone or something having a split personality that alternates between good and evil.

A "Jekyll" (short for Jekyll and Hyde) is also known as "Snide" in Cockney rhyming slang... snide meaning false or fake. I learned this while working in London's Soho district many years ago, and I had never come across it before. Presumably it's still in use, as rhyming slang has gone through various revivals. Check out Ian Dury's album "New Boots and Panties", which has a few songs almost entirely in the idiom, and is very funny once you understand what he's actually singing about. Also Derek Raymond's book "Crust on its Uppers" (Serpents Tail) which is written in a mixture of rhyming slang and upper-class schoolboy jargon. Glossary provided.

From: Rod Hewitt (rodders vrod.co.uk)
Subject: Jekyll (ignoring Hyde)

For many years I pronounced Jekyll as you indicate. Then I watched a program on television with one of the actual Jekyll family and her amazing garden. Seems that RLS asked permission of the family before using the name.

But she insisted her name be pronounced with a long 'e', more like Gee-kill. Since then I have gone along with that -- you really can't ignore the owner's wishes.

From: Carsten Kruse (c-kruse t-online.de)
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--Mutt and Jeff
Def: A pair of people having dramatically different characteristics, such as height.

The corresponding German (and Danish, I suppose) term is Pat und Patachon. See a pic.

Pat and Patachon were characters in (mostly silent) movies between 1921 and 1940. The movies were very successful in Europe. One might find some resemblance between P&P and Laurel & Hardy (called Dick und Doof, for Fat and Dumb, in Germany).

Funny enough, even young people still use this term today (though it is used less often than in the good ol' days). ;-)

From: Henry Willis (hmw ssdslaw.com)
Subject: Mutt and Jeff

It's also a term used in labor negotiations (and probably elsewhere) to describe a way of dodging responsibility for taking a particular position by blaming some other party that isn't at the table for its intransigence. "I'd be willing to agree to xyz, but so-and-so won't let me."

Rickey Henderson's election to the Baseball Hall of Fame prompted a former employee of the Oakland 'A's during the years it was owned by the notoriously cheap Charlie Finley to give a good example of the process. When he went to sign Henderson he offered him a $10,000 bonus. Henderson objected that he was worth $100,000, to which the scout replied, "You're worth $200,000, but all I've got is $10,000." Henderson signed for $10,000.

From: Jim McCormick (jimmc rockisland.com)
Subject: Mutt and Jeff

In the world of pool hustling, the phrase Mutt and Jeff may be used as a verb, as in this sentence, "After spotting a pair of fish, the two hustlers Mutt-and-Jeffed the pair to the tune of ninety dollars."

The expression refers to having one of the hustlers pretend to be an incompetent shooter when all the while his real strategy is to skillfully leave the opponent who follows him such poor position that the hustler's partner will have a good shot when it's his turn.

From: Gary Mason (gmason ntlworld.com)
Subject: Mutt and Jeff

In Cockney rhyming slang 'Mutt and Jeff' means 'Deaf'. However, the rhyming slang is, as usual, contracted and only the first part of the rhyme used.

Thus, whereas 'apples and pears' means 'stairs', this is contracted to 'apples' meaning 'stairs. E.g. "I'm off up the apples to bed."

With the phrase 'Mutt and Jeff' this is contracted to 'Mutton' (i.e. Mutt an') as in , "You'll have to speak up, I'm mutton."

From: Ken Olinsky (shmutz bellsouth.net)
Subject: Eponymous pairs

The term "Mutt & Jeff" immediately brought to mind Click and Clack, The Tappet Brothers of NPR's Car Talk fame. Tom and Ray Magliozzi do the "good cop, bad cop" routine with their callers and throw in a little "Alphonse and Gaston" to each other. It's a timeless formula that works owing to the personalities of Tom and Ray.

From: Rich Ball (RichBall comcast.net)
Subject: Darby and Joan
Def: A devoted old couple leading a quiet, uneventful life.

There is a touching and lovely 1937 Jerome Kern/Oscar Hammerstein II song called The folks who live on the hill. As the folks in the song grow old and their kids leave home, they "sit and look at the same old view, Just we two, Darby and Joan, who used to be called Jack and Jill... the folks who live on the hill." I had never understood the use of those names. Why "Darby and Joan"? Now I know. Thank you.

From: Quiet (via Wordsmith Talk bulletin board)
Subject: Darby and Joan

This fascinating story prompted me to do some further 'net sleuthing and came across the following, attributing the poem "The Happy Old Couple" to a "Lord Wharton": The Lily - A Coloured Annual for 1831 (p. 126).

From: Eric Shackle (eshackle ozemail.com.au)
Refer: Theme, Eponymous Pairs

Famous poet Alfred Lord Tennyson's bicentenary was celebrated worldwide on August 6. The British daily literary web magazine Open Writing published a story about him earlier in the week. The heading was Birthday Benison from Baron Tennyson Those words Benison and Tennyson seem to go together like your horse and carriage. Both have an old-fashioned air (and heir) about them. Ben Ison's favorite breakfast was ten e's on toast (Tennyson toast), e being an abbreviation of egg.

A closed mind is like a closed book: just a block of wood. -Chinese Proverb

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