07 January 2007

Mrs A's Buttons

The Fence Joker (itself a terrribly in joke) touts the Devil’s Dictionary X™ on his blog which gives me the idea to approach messrs Carr and Anastasi about noising abroad news of their splendid collection of Greek sayings, "Your Eyes Fourteen! A Mad Greek Dictionary". ('Ta matia sou dekatessera!' if you want to be terribly swanky and risk a Levantine biff up the hooter).

How I know of this volume is from extracts on the back page of Athens News (after the International Herald Tribune, the only English language paper you really need read over here to stay au fait  with the news).

The more arcane the better, as far as I'm concerned, and I *try* to use them when fellow tongue-tied non-Greeks are around.

Latest one I've been bandying around is "These are Mrs Alexander's Buttons".

Don't ask me whence it derives but it means something like, "Those are the facts" or "That's the truth."

Word has it that it comes from the rag trade. Mrs A must have taken in some costly buttons to be sewn on a création, had them filched and replaced by cheapos.

The proverbial recovery of the "real" buttons must have caused a stir in the biz, coming to stand for revealing the facts of the case.

I use it in Greek as I do "That's all she wrote" in English, itself a phrase with a history.

('Is this another name drop?' - Ed. Yes. How did you know? 'Well make it fast')

Wayy back in 1973, then-unknown-to-the-Brits scribbler Elmore Leonard passed through London and I had to get my skates on and fetch him some publicity.

I whizzed copies out to the Lit Eds of his last two ignored novels (the preferred verb was 'privished') and begged them to at least meet 'Dutch' and feign interest. Not at all to my surprise, once forced to read a page or two (or go without the famous Holmes Christmas backhander), the literati loved them and demanded to know why I hadn't been more forceful in their original promotion.

So there we were in his hotel room, everyone asking respectful questions and lovely Elmore replying with juicy quotes.

Suddenly he came out with the closing phrase, "That's all she wrote."

Everyone looked at each other non-plussed. Lovely line and delivered with impeccable gumshoe precision by our boy, but none of us had the faintest idea what the deuce it meant.

Taking the cue from the others, I asked Dutch to translate. He pondered awhile and then gave a little laugh,

"Ya know, guys, I'm not too sure myself - but I do know I used it right."

Post-script on 14 eyes : Researching this odd phrase, I came across the utterly beguiling Greek-American Girl site that I simply must *speed* to my own Spitfire so that she's 100% clued when next she visits her renegade patera in his Albanian hole-in-the-wall hideout.

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