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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.'
Noisette: a soft hissing sound. Biche: a waitress. Râper le fromage: to defile cheese.
[Part II.] [Part III.]
'I felt very unhappy after you drove off yesterday.'
An illustration by Addie Ledyard from Helen Hunt Jackson's Letters from a Cat (Boston, 1879).
Prunes, prawns, pralines, and prosecco.
'Yesterday pussy killed a rat. To-day she saw Freddie's new white rat and thought it was the ghost of the rat she had killed the day before.'
From Mr Punch's Book for Children (London, 1902), by Charles Pears.