|b l o g|
This passage about inane conversation, from Balzac's Le Père Goriot (Paris, 1835), as rendered by Ellen Marriage in Saintsbury's edition (London, 1896), probably becomes truer every year. So might say the cynics.
'The boarders dropped in one after another, interchanging greetings and the empty jokes that certain classes of Parisians regard as humorous and witty. Dulness is their prevailing ingredient, and the whole point consists in mispronouncing a word or in a gesture. This kind of argot is always changing. The essence of the jest consists in some catchword suggested by a political event, an incident in the police courts, a street song, or a bit of burlesque at some theatre, and forgotten in a month. Anything and everything serves to keep up a game of battledore and shuttlecock with words and ideas.'