Charmed, I’m sure

The Bizarro/Wayno from the 18th, another exercise in understanding cartoons:

   (#1) (If you’re puzzled by the odd symbols in the cartoon — Dan Piraro says there are 5 in this strip — see this Page.)

Three things to recognize: the figure of Medusa, the figure of the (Indian) snake handler, and the politeness formula charmed. And then, of course, you need to know that such snake handlers are conventionally known as snake charmers in English and that  the politeness formula is part of the social ritual of introduction, where it serves as an alternative to Pleased / Pleasure / Nice to meet you, formal How do you do?, and the like.

Then you can recognize the joke, which turns on the ambiguity of charmed. From NOAD, the source verb and the derived adjective:

verb charm: [with object] 1 [a] delight greatly: the books have charmed children the world over. [b] gain or influence by charm: you’re not going to charm me into changing my mind. 2 control or achieve by or as if by magic: pretending to charm a cobra | [with adverbial] : she will charm your warts away.

adj. charmed: 1 (of a person’s life) unusually lucky or happy as though protected by magic: I felt that I had a charmed life. 2 Physics (of a particle) possessing the property charm: a charmed quark.

[adj. used as] exclamation charmeddated expressing polite pleasure at an introduction: charmed, I’m sure.

About Medusa, from Wikipedia:

   (#2) Perseus with the head of Medusa, by Benvenuto Cellini (1554)

In Greek mythology, Medusa (Μέδουσα “guardian, protectress”) was a monster, a Gorgon, generally described as a winged human female with living venomous snakes in place of hair. Gazers upon her face would turn to stone.

… Medusa was beheaded by the hero Perseus, who thereafter used her head, which retained its ability to turn onlookers to stone, as a weapon until he gave it to the goddess Athena to place on her shield. In classical antiquity the image of the head of Medusa appeared in the evil-averting device known as the Gorgoneion.

   (#3) Uma Thurman as Medusa in Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief

And on snake charming, from Wikipedia:

Snake charming is the practice of appearing to hypnotize a snake by playing and waving around an instrument called a pungi. A typical performance may also include handling the snakes or performing other seemingly dangerous acts, as well as other street performance staples, like juggling and sleight of hand. The practice is most common in India, though other Asian nations such as Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and Malaysia are also home to performers, as are the North African countries of Egypt, Morocco and Tunisia.

… Although snakes are able to sense sound, they lack the outer ear that would enable them to hear the music. They follow the pungi that the “snake charmer” holds with their hands. The snake considers the person and pungi a threat and responds to it as if it were a predator.

Image #4 in my 10/21/16 posting “Pingu watches over the gay boys”:

   (#4) A street charmer playing a pungi for two baby cobras

The pungi in #1 is a styized version of the folk woodwind instrument. But you’re expected to recognize it for what it is, and to understand that the man holding it is an Indian, in fact a snake charmer.

Medusa you recognize by her snake-hair.

Now, both Medusa and snake charmers are quite remote from the everyday experience of most readers of Bizarro cartoons. We’re not immersed in Greek myth as a literature, much less as a system of beliefs, and we have no first-hand experience of Indian street culture. Instead, we know about these things as objects — bits and pieces — from a form of popular culture.

Much the same is true of the politeness formula Charmed and its extended variant Charmed, I’m sure, which we’re likely to know from old movies and radio and tv shows, rather than from real life. From the Cladrite Radio site on “Cinematic slang: Charmed, I’m sure”:

Anyone who’s ever watched more than a handful of classic movies has very likely heard a character, usually a female and most often one with a thick outer-borough accent, say something along the lines of, “Charmed, I’m sure” when being introduced to someone for the first time.

This usage is clearly meant as something of a gentle laugh line; it nearly always indicates a character who is unsophisticated but would have us believe otherwise.

It’s depicted as an overreach, taking polite speech and giving it an inadvertent twist toward the uncultivated.

Less often, it is used as a chilly form of greeting, the “I’m sure” giving the lie to the “Charmed,” when a character is anything but happy to be encountering in public the person in question.

Originally, the expression must have been a literal expression of pleasure, but then became a marker of social overreach, and also was available for sarcasm. From the public radio program A Way with Words, by (lexicographer) Grant Barrett on 12/1/12:

It’s tough to say what generation was best at sarcasm and snark, but the 50s made a good case with I Love Lucy. Charmed, I’m sure, one of those sugarcoated jabs used when meeting someone you’re dubious about, was one of [Lucy’s friend] Ethel [Merz]’s hallmark lines. Of course, the phrase goes back to the 1850s. Long live sarcasm.

A final note on conversational formulas, a topic that comes up on this blog every now and again. These include openings and closings (Hello, Good morning, See you later), a large collection of interactional politeness formulas (Please, Thank you, No thanks, You’re welcome / No problem, Pleased to meet you), and what we might call conventional pieties: sorry for your loss (as comfort to the grieving), offers of thoughts and prayers (in moments of misfortune or calamity — very much in the news these days), and the like. Conventional pieties are of special interest because though they have literal uses, they are so easily deployed insincerely.


2 Responses to “Charmed, I’m sure”

  1. John Baker Says:

    An effective cartoon, especially since Medusa really does seem to be charmed, in the social sense. But why is the snake charmer not turned into stone?

    • arnold zwicky Says:

      Yes, I noticed that; why, in fact, isn’t *everybody* turned into stone? This might just be one of those cases where the logic of cartoon worlds doesn’t bear close examination.

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