Forgotten commonplaces

“And the next thing, please?”

The ridiculous phrase came unbidden into Iris’s mind and twisted her lips in a wry smile. The glib shopkeeper’s question seemed to represent so exactly her own carefully directed mental processes.

Extract from Sparkling Cyanide by Agatha Christie, first published 1945.

It’s obvious from this that “And the next thing, please?” was what shopkeepers said in the days when they fetched things for you and you just stood there ticking off your shopping list.

I’m assuming that in the 1940s, “And the next thing, please?” was a phrase that nobody ever thought about, because they heard it so often. It would have been part of the wallpaper, part of a customer-service ritual. Now it’s gone from being spoken thousands of times a day (except for Sundays, of course) to being forgotten completely.

Of course some of these ritual phrases end up being remembered after their lifetime, often through comedy. Think of “Are you being served?” (although “Are you being helped?” was actually a more commonly used phrase). Perhaps today’s equivalent is “Unidentified item in bagging area.”

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