Etymology: What is This * You Speak Of?

_aka What is this * of which you speak?_

For many months or years or decades- I am not sure- I have used to the phrase “What is this * you speak of?” to great humorous (my opinion) effect. It has usually been greeted with chuckles and makes me feel all warm and superior on the inside.

Maybe you don’t understand the context in which you would use this phrase; let me illustrate. Let us say people are talking about the NSA wiretaps. Someone says that they think it might be legal to which someone else replies that it is not in-keeping with the constitution. At this point, I will interject with the classic line, “Constitution? What is this constitution you speak of?” and will be treated by chuckles all around. If you don’t get the joke- and I’m sure it loses some luster in written text- it means that people at the NSA or in government seem to not be aware of the existence of the constitution. Ha ha, funny, right?

Maybe not. I like to make myself laugh more than I do others, so I succeed. It is a low bar I set for myself.

The trouble, however, is that I do not like to use lines without knowing their roots. Where does this phrase come from? Surely, it is not my own creation- though I may admit as much in lesser company- so where does it come from? I hate using quotes or phrases that are in common use without knowing the source- you know those people who spout lines from Monty Python or SNL or Abe Lincoln without knowing where they came from? They irritate me. So what are the origins of my pet line? Off to the all-knowing search engines for that answer… Read the rest of this entry »