A Dictionary of Catch Phrases: British and American, from the Sixteenth Century to the Present Day

By Eric Partridge; Paul Beale | Go to book overview

V

VR, VR, VR

was, at the time of Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee, June 1897, a Cockney c.p. It punned on ve are, ve are, ve are, we are (thrice), and VR, Victoria Regina. Ware.


vain.

See: who's that.


valuable.

See: this is not only.


valve.

See: you'll bust.


van.

See: another one; coming up; send for the green.


vanilla.

See: I'll take v.


vas you dere, Sharlie?

'A radio comedian who called himself Baron Munchausen told tall stories to a “straight man” (Charlie), who expressed doubt. This was the gag line. It became popular for a while-if anyone expressed any doubt or scepticism, you said “Vas you dere, Sharlie?” in the 1930s' (Professor Emeritus F.E. L. Priestley, concerning its Can. usage). Berrey records its US usage.

'Jack Pearl created the character of Baron Munchausen in US radio, 1940s. He spoke with a pidgin German accent' (A.B., 1979)-so, understandably, there are var. spellings, vass or wass, and dare. Cf how's the mommah?


Vaseline.

See: black cat.


ve get too soon old and too late s(ch)mart

occurs in Glendon Swartout, The Tin Lizzie Group, a novel that, pub'd in 1972, is valid for the US of 1916-and perhaps as far back as 1900. R.C., 1977, supplied the likely source: 'This and its occasional variant vy do ve get so soon old and so late schmart? are still sometimes seen, e.g. as a plaque on a bar-room wall. Dating probably from c. 1870, when German dialect comedy was in its heyday, due to heavy German immigration following the 1848 revolution. See, e.g., Charles Godfrey Leland's The Breitmann Ballads, 1871'. Cf Si jeunesse savait, si vieillesse pouvait (Henri Estienne, 1531-98), which might be rendered, 'If youth but knew, if old age but could!'


ve haf vays and means to make you talk,

sometimes 'anglicized'-somewhat stupidly-we have ways and means to make you talk. 'Said always in a sinister mock-German accent to represent all the Gestapo films, Colditz, TV Series, etc. It gets misapplied and it is quite general and popular' (P.B., 1975). As a c.p. from (say) 1950 onwards. But note that 'it is also featured in the TV comedy show “Laugh-In”-as famous there [the US] as very interesting' (Patricia Newnham, 1976). In gen. use the and means is often omitted.


veal will be cheap: calves fall.

A jeering ref. to a spindle-legged person: mid C16-18. Ray, 1678; Apperson.


veddy, veddy English.

Obtrusively or conspicuously or unmis¬ takably English: US: since late 1940s. Paul Janssen, 1978, cites Etienne & Simone's Grand Dictionnaire d'América¬ nismes (5 edd. 1956-73) listing it. He adds, 'Jocular or derisive of the way Englishmen are supposed to pronounce the letter r'. Largely a myth. P.B.: but listen to some of our politicians!


venture it as Johnson did his wife.

See: I'll venture it.


venture.

See: I'll venture.


Venus.

See: one night.


vergin' on the ridiculous.

Usu. prec. by yes, and following any mention of the word virgin, esp. when a girl's virginity is in question: Services' and raffish: later C20. Cf Virgin for short. (P.B.)


very funny!

(With the first syllable always stressed heavily and long, and the phrase often prec. by oh!). 'Not funny at all' or 'very far from being at all funny': Brit, and US: since c. 1950. (A reminder from R.C., 1978.) P.B.: cf the Brit, later C20 use of charming! to mean its exact opposite, and stressed in the same way. This is presumably the same process that turned the C16-17 use of rum, meaning 'good', into its later meaning of 'strange, suspect, odd'.


very good question-a:

See that's a good question, but add that in The American Dream, 1961, Edward Albee wrote thus:

MOMMY: Are you in the habit of receiving boxes?

DADDY: A very good question.


very how!

A not infrequent answer to the Aus. greeting 'ow yer going, mate?, q.v. (Mrs Camilla Raab.)


very identical thing-the!

Just what I needed; exactly what I wanted; yes, that's what I asked for, or sought: c. 1830-90. J. E. Carpenter, Love and Honour, or, Soldiers at Home-Heroes Abroad; an Original Domestic Drama, performed in 1855, has at I, i:

BOLUS: This, gentlemen, I assure you is-

BRIEF: [Drinking.] The very identical thing!

This c.p. occurs many times in the play; always used by lawyer Briefwit. To me, it sounds like an echo of Dickens-? Sam Weller.


very interesting!

'A few years ago, ' wrote Vernon Noble in a letter, 1974,

an American comedy show-very successful on TV in the States-was shown weekly by BBC. It was called 'Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In'. A character in it, Arte Johnson (usually dressed incongruously as a German soldier) would exclaim 'ver-rr-y interesting!' This became [in UK] a catch-phrase introduced inconsequently and [it] lingered for a few months after the series ended.

The pron. was vairee-with a Ger. accent.

P.B.: the phrase in full is very interesting…but stupid!, and that was the title chosen by Nigel Rees for his 'book of catchphrases from the world of entertainment', 1980, a compilation and commentary that has been of considerable help to me in the preparation of the second ed. of this present collection.


very like a whale!

was, in mid C19-early C20, applied to a very improbable, esp. to a preposterous, statement. Hotten recorded it in 1859 and, in his 2nd ed., 1860, noted the var. very like a whale in a tea-cup, which seems to have lasted for no more than a decade. From Polonius's phrase uttered while doing his best (Hamlet, III, ii, lines 392-8) to show a

-326-

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A Dictionary of Catch Phrases: British and American, from the Sixteenth Century to the Present Day
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Preface to the First Edition ix
  • Introduction to the First Edition x
  • Modifications of the Original Introduction xii
  • Acknowledgments to the First Edition xiv
  • Preface to the Second Edition xvi
  • Acknowledgments to the Second Edition xix
  • Abbreviations xxi
  • A 1
  • B 25
  • C 42
  • D 60
  • E 79
  • F 85
  • G 96
  • H 114
  • I 136
  • J 178
  • K 181
  • L 186
  • M 200
  • N 212
  • O 228
  • P 240
  • Q 251
  • R 253
  • S 261
  • T 289
  • U 323
  • V 326
  • W 328
  • X 360
  • Y 361
  • Z 384
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