Thoughts . . . by Mark Rich

. . . scribbled . . . scrawled . . . trimmed . . . typewritten . . . grubbed up . . . squeezed from circumstance . . .

Saturday, March 20, 2010


Martha, who is reading a P.G. Wodehouse novel, found within a single paragraph the phrases "gave me the pip" and "a bit of all right" -- which were two favored phrases of our friend Roxie Alexander (Associate Professor and then full Professor, Beloit College), whom I knew briefly as advisor/teacher and for many years as a good friend. She and I were drinking buddies, after a fashion. (A rather good fashion, I will say.) She was an Anglophile even if of Scottish-Kansan extraction. The fact that she taught English literature -- especially Chaucer -- and the fact that she was an excellent, conscientious teacher, as opposed to merely a dutifully sound one, may have influenced her tendency to gather, adapt and regularly deploy the colorful or idiosyncratic phrases she came across; but I think most of us who knew her well regarded it as a deeper matter than that. It was a vital part of who she was. She had a respect and love for words and usage.

"Gave me the pip" is used in reference to being somewhat sharply irritated; and it is said of a person and not a thing. The phrase, "That's a bit of all right," is used in reference to a meal -- or at least in my memory the phrase made its appearance exclusively in relation to good cooking. I usually heard it from Roxie's lips in relation to Roxie's own cooking, as it happens. She was not wrong about most things but never wrong in her estimation of her Kansas cooking -- and oh, my, her pot roasts with carrots and potatoes cooked alongside ... In any case, both phrases have their places in Martha's and my roster of phrases because of Roxie, not because of P.G. -- although it is far from impossible that P.G.'s usage lurks behind her use of these phrases.

Part of the reason these phrases seem so natural to us, and ring so true in our internal ears, is that Roxie never tried to adopt or appropriate a foreign accent. She was Kansan and was proud to be Kansan; and she kept to her Kansas roots to such an extent that her roots spread their tips to other countries. So her phrase, "Gave me the pip," went something like, "And she did This and That and she GAVE ME the PIP." You never needed to know what a pip was, to know what she meant. (I asked her once what the pip was, in that phrase. I believe we ended up talking about seeds.) Similarly, there was nothing of pseudo-British poise, gentility and dryly self-possessed demeanor in her use of the phrase, "That's a bit of all right," which she usually said as, "WELL-LL, That was a bit of ALL-LL RIGHT." "A bit of all right" may seem like a tentative and not-quite-approving phrase, on the face of it. Roxie could render the most shy and reticent phrase of English hidden-in-closet indecisiveness into an expression of radiantly triumphant fact. She was brilliant in that way.

Anyway, Roxie gave us "the pip" while never giving us the.

Cheers ...

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