The MetaCat

From various friends on Facebook who know that I’m interested in meta-comics, this 4/21/17 Imbattable strip by Pascal Jousselin, in an English translation:

(#1) Imbattable (‘Unbeatable’) is a bandit superhero in a yellow and black costume

Among Imbattable’s superpowers is his ability to break the walls of the cartoon’s panels and freely move between them. With the result that temporarily, in the fourth panel, the cat is in two places at once — a phenomenon that unsettles both the cat and the old lady.

Here’s the French original, with a bit of information about the strip:


The cover of the first Imbattable comic book:

(#3) He might be a superhero and a bandit, but he shops just like everyone else

Linguistic notes. About the old lady’s initial exclamation in the last panel:

(French) Ah oui, tiens.

(English) Well, I’ll be!

French exclamatory tiens has an extraordinarily wide range of effects in context; here it conveys something like ‘well well; how about that’. Bemused surprise. (The etymology is convoluted and surprising, ultimately involving the verb tenir ‘to hold’.)

The English translation uses the exclamatory idiom I’ll be!, often paired with initial well — so often that OED3 (Dec. 2014) takes the well to be part of the idiom:

well, adv. and n.4.[phrases] P6. colloq.
a. well, I’ll be damned (also blowed, jiggered, etc.) and variants: used to express surprise, amazement, disbelief, etc. [cites from 1830 on]
b. In shortened form well, I’ll be. Often representing the speech of children, and probably reflecting avoidance of damned or other words regarded as impolite or obscene; cf. quot. 1887. (1887 C. Miesse Points on Coal iv. ii. 420 Another man..exclaiming in loud laughter, ‘Well, I’ll be ——, I’ll be ——, well, I’ll be ——, etc.’) [then 1903 in Pedagogical Seminary, a list of slang expressions; 1937 in Boys’ Life; 1994 in P. Baker Blood Posse … ‘It was me and Dave Green who saved your cousin in the hospital when the gangs tried to shoot him.’ ‘Well I’ll be. Whatever happened to the footballer?’; 2001 Charles Schultz in a Peanuts cartoon: I was right? Well, I’ll be!]

Entirely fitting in the mouth of an old lady.

A different site of citations in GDoS, with no attempt to capture the social contexts of its use (and with two cites without the well):

excl. I’ll be!: abbr. of I’ll be damned! 1929 J.B. Priestley Good Companions: Well, I’ll be –; Joe did not say what he would be, but simply blew out his breath. 1970 A. Young Snakes: I’ll be! You mean that band you all got? Well, I’ll just be! 1972 G. Swarthout Tin Lizzie Troop: ‘Well, I’ll be,’ said Carberry. 2000 C. Cook Robbers: That brake fluid done stained my pants. The Ranger took a look. I’ll be, it sure nuff did.

It seems clear that for many speakers the source of the idiom as a euphemistic truncation is now muted or lost completely; for them, it just is. (That was certainy the case for me; I had no idea of its historical source until I looked it up for this posting.)

Presumably, it began life as a nonce truncation (as in the Miesse quote in OED3). From my 3/7/10 posting “Nonce truncations”, about:

truncations that are deployed by individual speakers/writers “for the nonce”, for the sake of brevity, in contexts where the omitted material can be supplied by hearers/readers — notably in fixed expressions.

A favorite example of mine comes from the British detective series Midsomer Murders (S14 E4 “The Oblong Murder”)”, DCI (Detective Chief Inspector) John Barnaby to his DS (Detective Sergeant) Benjamin Jones, urging Jones to take on a task:

England expects, Jones. [supply: that every man will do his duty]

Exquisitely dependent on context and shared background knowledge (in this case, of Admiral Nelson’s signal to his troops at Trafalgar in 1805).

Later in my 2010 posting:

these individual innovations can then spread to a larger community of speakers, perhaps becoming an in-group usage, so that people in that group can use the expressions without necessarily appreciating their historical origins. And then they can spread to more general use, as widely used — even, in some cases, standard — conventionalized expressions on their own.

So we get I’ll be!, which I associate with somewhat old-fashioned and fussy speakers — like the old lady in Jousellin’s cartoon.

One Response to “The MetaCat”

  1. Robert Coren Says:

    French exclamatory tiens has an extraordinarily wide range of effects in context

    Including the last word sung by Carmen (in the eponymous opera, and her last word in life), as she flings the ring given her fy Don José at his feet.

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