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The World’s Wit and Humor: An Encyclopedia in 15 Volumes. 1906.

Honoré de Balzac (1799–1850)

The Suffix ‘Rama’

From “Father Goriot”

THE BOARDERS, including those who dined at Mme. Vauquer’s table, but did not live in the house, now began to drop in one by one, and exchanged greetings. They also exchanged a great many of those verbal nothings that pass, among a certain class of Parisians, for the tokens of a humorous spirit—observations of which stupidity is the backbone, and whose effect depends on a gesture or a freak in pronunciation. This kind of jargon is always changing. There is always a conventional principle in the prevailing form of jest, and this principle seldom lasts a month. It may refer to an occurrence in political life, or a case in the police courts, or a street song, or the gag of a comedian—anything will serve to keep going this game of wit that consists in playing at battledore and shuttlecock with the words and ideas that happen to be in the air. At the date of which we write, the diorama, in which optical illusion was carried a stage further than in the panorama, had just been invented, and the studios of Paris had accordingly set the fashion of talking of everything in terms of rama. The fashion, or the infection, had been brought to the Vauquer establishment by a young painter who dined there.

“Well, M. Poiret,” said the lively official from the museum, “how is your healthoromo?” Then, without waiting for Poiret’s reply, “Ladies,” he said to Mme. Couture and Victorine, “you look sad.”

“Are we going to dine?” cried Horace Bianchon, a medical student, and friend of Rastignac; “my little stomach is gradually sinking down to my heels.”

“It’s a rare old frizzorama!” said Vautrin. “Now, then, Father Goriot, move round a bit— Ye gods! your feet stop up the mouth of the stove.”

“Illustrious M. Vautrin,” said Bianchon, “why do you say frizzorama? It is a mistake; you should say freezorama.”

“No!” interposed the museum official. “It is frizzorama; according to the rule you should say: my feet are frizzen.”

“Ha, ha!”

“Here is his excellency the Marquis of Rastignac, Doctor of Right-About!” cried Bianchon, seizing Eugene by the neck, as if to strangle him. “Hi there! Help! Help!”

Mlle. Michonneau entered quietly, bowed to the company without speaking, and went and sat beside the other three women.

“That old bat always makes me shiver,” said Bianchon to Vautrin, indicating Mlle. Michonneau. “I have studied Gall’s system, and I find she has the bumps of Judas.”

“Did you know Judas?” asked Vautrin.

“Who hasn’t known him?” answered Bianchon. “Upon my word, that white-faced old maid affects me like one of those long worms which will gnaw their way through the length of a beam if you give them time enough!”

“That is it,” said the man of forty, drawing a comb through his whiskers—

  • “And Rose, she has lived the life of a rose,
  • One morning, and no more.”
  • “Ha-ha! here is a rare old souporama,” said Poiret, as Christophe entered with the tureen, looking very respectful.

    “Excuse me, sir,” said Mme. Vauquer, “it is cabbage soup.”

    All the young men burst into laughter.

    “Done, Poiret!”

    “Poiret is done!”

    “Mark two points to Mama Vauquer,” said Vautrin.

    “Did anybody notice the fog this morning?” said the official.

    “It was, indeed,” said Bianchon, “a frantic and unparalleled fog, doleful, melancholy green fog, a broken-winded fog, a Goriot fog.”

    “A Goriorama,” said the painter; “for you could see nothing in it.”

    “Hi! Lord Goriot, they’re talking about you!”

    Father Goriot was seated at the lower end of the table, near the door through which the servant brought the food. He raised his head, and at the same moment sniffed at a piece of bread which he lifted from beside his dinner napkin—an old trick, acquired in his business, which sometimes reasserted itself.

    “Well?” cried Mme. Vauquer snappishly, in a voice that rose above the clatter of spoons and plates and the babble of voices, “isn’t the bread good enough for you?”

    “On the contrary, it is made from Étampes flour—flour of the best quality.”

    “How do you know that?” asked Eugène.

    “By the whiteness, by the taste.”

    “By the taste of the nose, since you have to smell it,” said Mme. Vauquer. “You are getting so economical, that by and by you may find out a way of living on the vapors from the kitchen.”

    “Be sure you patent the invention,” said the official from the museum. “You will make a fortune out of it.”

    “Nonsense; he only does it to make us believe that he was a vermicelli-maker,” said the painter.

    “Then your nose is a corn-tester!” exclaimed the man from the museum.

    “Corn what?” asked Bianchon.









    Those replies came rattling like musketry from every part of the room. They provoked the more laughter because poor Father Goriot stared at his companions with the puzzled look of a man who is trying to make out the meaning of something said to him in a foreign language.

    “Corn—?” he said to Vautrin, who sat beside him.

    “Corny feet, old boy!” answered Vautrin, bringing his hand down on Father Goriot’s head so heavily that he drove his hat down over his eyes.