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Similar, sir? 
Posted: 11 June 2014 10:35 AM   [ Ignore ]
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In the 1968 novel Enderby Outside by Anthony Burgess, Enderby attempts suicide, is cured of writing poetry by a trick cyclist and finds work as a barman in a trendy London pub where affected types say ja instead of yes (I knew someone in 1979 who did this). He is told to say Similar, sir? instead of Same again, sir?  It sounds plausible but could well be a joke by Burgess or an unlikely reference to the distinction made in philosophy between specific and numeric identity.

Has anyone heard this? I’d use it with my friends when it was my shout (they’d all read the novel) but when I tried saying Similar, please a couple of times seated at the bar the barkeeps assumed I meant another kind of bitter even though they were classy joints (but in the north 10 years after the novel was published).

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Posted: 11 June 2014 12:44 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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Well, it seems to me your barkeeps had right on their side. After all, similar and same again don’t mean the same thing to most people, do they (certainly not to me)?  Why not try your logical-minded barkeeps with, say, “replicate, please”?  (Aside: I don’t care for “barkeep” --- sounds as though one had developed hiccups in the middle of trying to say “barman”. “Bartender” is good enough for me, if one’s looking for a gender-neutral term).

(edited to correct typo)

[ Edited: 11 June 2014 12:51 PM by lionello ]
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Posted: 12 June 2014 12:57 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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In polite society, so I was told, the host does not ask if the guest wants another or one of the same because this would refer boorishly to the quantity of alcohol which a person is drinking. Instead one asks if the valued guest cares for anything or would like a refreshment.

Is that ja a Germanic one as in ya?

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Posted: 12 June 2014 01:27 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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Iron Pyrite - 12 June 2014 12:57 AM

In polite society, so I was told, the host does not ask if the guest wants another or one of the same because this would refer boorishly to the quantity of alcohol which a person is drinking. Instead one asks if the valued guest cares for anything or would like a refreshment.

Not sure whether a typical English pub counts as polite society…

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Posted: 21 June 2014 07:50 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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I used American barkeep and joint jokingly with American posters and usage in mind. It seems no Brits here ever encountered Similar, sir? so Burgess probably made it up.

Ya, I meant ya/yah by ja. I can’t remeber which spelling Burgess used.

If you finish your pint it can never exist again specifically but you can order another numerically identical one as when you take a hammer to the Rolex your ex-wife gave you and then replace it.

[ Edited: 21 June 2014 07:55 AM by venomousbede ]
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Posted: 21 June 2014 08:57 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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venomousbede - 21 June 2014 07:50 AM

If you finish your pint it can never exist again specifically but you can order another numerically identical one as when you take a hammer to the Rolex your ex-wife gave you and then replace it.

I think historian Hericlitus made a similar point about rivers.

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Posted: 21 June 2014 03:06 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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venomousbede - 11 June 2014 10:35 AM

Has anyone heard this?

I seem to recall it as being something some people behind the bar (in the UK) will say to be cute, virtually begging to be asked about it so that they can launch into a condescending explanation of the difference between the meanings of the two words.

But I tried to google – not easy – to find some confirmation, and came up with nothing. And as I have read the Enderby books, I may be suffering from false memory.

[ Edited: 21 June 2014 03:08 PM by kurwamac ]
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Posted: 21 June 2014 10:47 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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In polite society, so I was told, the host does not ask if the guest wants another or one of the same because this would refer boorishly to the quantity of alcohol which a person is drinking. Instead one asks if the valued guest cares for anything or would like a refreshment.

As OP said, a pub (although pubs have a code of etiquette all their own, and pub drinkers who observe it are being polite in the appropriate way) is not ‘polite society’. But I have to say I’ve never encountered that notion. All the polite people I know offer another drink without feeling the need any kind of fig-leaf. (I suspect this rule was dreamed up by the same people who coined ‘Horses sweat, gentlemen perspire, but ladies gently glow’.) In the code I was brought up to observe, using a euphemism for ‘a drink’ or trying to pretend this is isn’t really a ‘refill’ at all but the first one, would be bad manners in and of itself.

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Posted: 22 June 2014 03:29 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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‘Horses sweat, gentlemen perspire, but ladies gently glow’.)

That sentence appeared in a New Statesman competition, in the weekly’s palmy days about 60 years ago (dunno if that was the source, though—it may have been the model for the contest).  The object was to present any state, or condition, in three increasing degrees of extremity.  Other entries I recall were:

I am Oxford, you are Cambridge, he is London School of Economics.

I like boys, you are a scoutmaster, he is in prison.

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Posted: 22 June 2014 07:19 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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Syntinen Laulu - 21 June 2014 10:47 PM

In polite society, so I was told, the host does not ask if the guest wants another or one of the same because this would refer boorishly to the quantity of alcohol which a person is drinking. Instead one asks if the valued guest cares for anything or would like a refreshment.

As OP said, a pub (although pubs have a code of etiquette all their own, and pub drinkers who observe it are being polite in the appropriate way) is not ‘polite society’. But I have to say I’ve never encountered that notion. All the polite people I know offer another drink without feeling the need any kind of fig-leaf. (I suspect this rule was dreamed up by the same people who coined ‘Horses sweat, gentlemen perspire, but ladies gently glow’.) In the code I was brought up to observe, using a euphemism for ‘a drink’ or trying to pretend this is isn’t really a ‘refill’ at all but the first one, would be bad manners in and of itself.

Oddly enough, the very same person who told me about drinking etiquette also spake the line about horses, men, and women. She was the daughter of a diplomat and found both concepts funny. She could also drink strong men under the table.

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Posted: 22 June 2014 07:36 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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lionello - 22 June 2014 03:29 AM


I like boys, you are a scoutmaster, he is in prison.

Rich, very rich.

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Posted: 23 June 2014 10:27 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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Oddly enough, the very same person who told me about drinking etiquette also spake the line about horses, men, and women. She was the daughter of a diplomat and found both concepts funny. She could also drink strong men under the table.

Is that odd? It sounds as though she was simply mocking that whole kind of nimini-pimini, straining for gentility mindset. Did she imply that that was the kind of etiquette that holds sway in American diplomatic circles, or simply that it was something she had come across?

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Posted: 23 June 2014 05:13 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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I had to look up nimini-pimini. Interesting phrase. I wonder if it has to do with nambi-pambi.

She had that gift of being able to mock something and be part of it as well. As I recall, both sides of her family went back quite a ways in American history from both the South and the North and one could find her surname in the history books. Not highly prominently but there nevertheless. It was what she grew up with and understood to be something of the older generation’s values. This was, after all, a few decades ago. So yes, I got the impression it was a rule in the diplomatic leagues and at home.

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Posted: 24 June 2014 04:29 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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In which case your diplomatic service is a world away from ours, in which the ability to keep knocking back whatever lethal liquor the host nation is proffering as long as they keep offering it until they all collapse insensible, without allowing your diplomatic manner to fray in the slightest, has always been and still is considered a fundamental skill! What has changed, though, it that diplomats are no longer expected to be or at least to sound upper-class. In the olden days, anyone saying a refreshment for a drink or uttering the word perspire at all would probably have failed the selection panel on that score alone.

The OED suggested that nimini pimini was ‘perhaps’ formed after namby pamby; the earliest citation is from the 1786 play The Heiress, by General John Burgoyne (yes, the very same Gentleman Johnny who surrendered at Saratoga) in which the elegant Lady Emily advises the heroine how to be fashionably missish: “You have only, when before your glass, to keep pronouncing to yourself nimini-primini. Miss Alscrip. Nimini-pimini-imini, mimini — oh, it’s delightfully enfantine.” This may have been something actually practised by 1780s ladies, or purely an invention of Burgoyne’s; certainly The Heiress was a big enough hit to have established the phrase in popular speech.

[ Edited: 24 June 2014 04:31 AM by Syntinen Laulu ]
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Posted: 25 June 2014 05:37 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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My father was a (U.S.) diplomat in the ‘50s and ‘60s and I grew up around diplomatic parties and dinners, and never heard of such a “rule.” It sounds like hogwash to me.

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Posted: 26 June 2014 06:12 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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I used “rule” in reply to SL’s post. I think “etiquette” was my first choice of words. Frankly, I think I knew that “refreshment” was wrong when I wrote it. This conversation took place a long time ago, after all. I met the woman’s family and they certainly weren’t shy about mentioning alcohol.

Here’s Emily Post on “Filling Glasses”:

As soon as the guests are seated and the first course put in front of them, the butler goes from guest to guest on the right hand side of each, and asks “Apollinaris or plain water!” and fills the goblet accordingly. In the same way he asks later before pouring wine: “Cider, sir?” “Grape fruit cup, madam?” Or in a house which has the remains of a cellar, “Champagne?” or “Do you care for whiskey and soda, sir?”

But the temperature and service of wines which used to be an essential detail of every dinner have now no place at all. Whether people will offer frappéd cider or some other iced drink in the middle of dinner, and a warmed something else to take the place of claret with the fish, remains to be seen. A water glass standing alone at each place makes such a meager and untrimmed looking table that most people put on at least two wine glasses, sherry and champagne, or claret and sherry, and pour something pinkish or yellowish into them. A rather popular drink at present is an equal mixture of white grape-juice and ginger ale with mint leaves and much ice. Those few who still have cellars, serve wines exactly as they used to, white wine, claret, sherry and Burgundy warm, champagne ice cold; and after dinner, green mint poured over crushed ice in little glasses, and other liqueurs of room temperature. Whiskey is always poured at the table over ice in a tall tumbler, each gentleman “saying when” by putting his hand out. The glass is then filled with soda or Apollinaris.

As soon as soup is served the parlor-maid or a footman passes a dish or a basket of dinner rolls. If rolls are not available, bread cut in about two-inch-thick slices, is cut cross-ways again in three. An old-fashioned silver cake basket makes a perfect modern bread-basket. Or a small wicker basket that is shallow and inconspicuous will do. A guest helps himself with his fingers and lays the roll or bread on the tablecloth, always. No bread plates are ever on a table where there is no butter, and no butter is ever served at a dinner. Whenever there is no bread left at any one’s place at table, more should be passed. The glasses should also be kept filled.

Apollinaris appears to be mineral water. There is no stricture against saying “another” or “more” but it is clear that the guest never has to ask for more. It is also clear that it is the butler’s duty to keep the guest with glasses filled unless he is told not to. In other words, he does not ask if the guest wants “another”.

Emily Post has a section on Never Say versus Correct Form in which she advises against using the term refreshment when you should just say drink. (Partook of liquid refreshment versus Had something to drink) It’s on Gutenberg. Like so many Americans, I tend to forget that it’s non-U to use hyper-urbanisms and other forms of bloated language. EP does use the word refreshment several times unabashedly, however.

Here’s a link to the site: Emily Post, Etiquette.

For the record, I can’t imagine decent bread being served without butter, so there you go.

[ Edited: 26 June 2014 06:15 PM by Iron Pyrite ]
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