Reference is made in the recent issue of the Savings Banks Journal to "The Killer Phrase". (To those of my faithful followers who may have doubted that I ever read that admirable publication, may I point out that we have recently had the decorators at the Branch, and when that happens, one tends to read anything).
I was immediately taken with the expression. What a glorious picture it conjures up! The heated argument with voices raised, arms waved, and that steady empurpling of the neck and cheeks which accompany such exercise when one is over 50. The flow of rhetoric and the piling of argument upon argument to build an unassailable case. And then suddenly in the inevitable pause for breath, the riposte: the one sentence delivered with the expertise of a fencing master which rips through the tangled verbiage and reduces the speaker and his argument to nothing.
Do you, like myself, find that this one precious sentence comes to mind half an hour or so after the gathering has dispersed? That the fatal thrust is wasted on empty air, while you can only picture the effect it would have had if you could have fired the charge at the right moment? There may be other reasons for non-delivery of course. It may well be that the company you are in will not appreciate the sally. (Most of my most treasured "Killer Phrases", while they would have gone down extremely well at the club, would have reduced the audience to shocked disapproval if given an airing at the appointed place and time. A reflection on my type of thinking no doubt).
It may also happen that the proposed victim has been deflated before and always quits when he is ahead. A difficult quarry this, to be stalked with some cunning and manoeuvred into a corner of no escape. Worst of all, it may very well happen - and often does - that someone else utters the killer phrase just as it is about to roll from your tongue. No contempt is too great for these poachers: avoid their company like the plague. They will either tell the story you have been husbanding for days some thirty seconds before you deem the time ripe, or they will let you embark thereon, either to take over half-way through or wait till you have almost finished and then supply the ending. They will probably end up trying the same trick on Ananias: and serve them right.
There are, of course, all types of killer phrases, but for my part the one I like the best is based on ridicule. Few pleasures in life can compare with the stone-faced courteous phrase which acts like a pin in a balloon, and however insensitive your victim the atmosphere will tell him that the game is up, and he will slink away to lick his wounds in a quiet corner while you gaze at the ceiling and pretend that you can finish the rapier of your wit at the drop of a hat.
It would be the height of vanity to suggest that these phrases can only be used in the company of a number of admirers. Your true expert will derive as much pleasure from the conge administered in the ear of his victim alone as he would from the public performance. For example, an excessively irritable (to my way of thinking) gentleman at the bus stop the other morning fulminated at the errors of commission and omission of the Transport Department. In many respects I agree with him in toto, but he obviously regarded the efforts of the Corporation Staff with such contempt that I felt some rebuke was necessary. I listened, therefore, in rapt silence to his tirade for some minutes and then, as the 'bus finally came into view (leading the convoy in traditional style) took his arm and hissed into his ear the telling phrase "It's all due to the seamen's strike of course".
My journey to the office was rendered all the sweeter by the thoughts which I felt would be surging through his mind. Had there been some truth in what I had said? Some point he had overlooked? Some link in the chain of cause and effect which had escaped his notice? Or was I an amiable lunatic, probably of foreign extraction? Doubt and perplexity would rend his mind for hours afterwards if I read my man aright and it would only be at some totally unexpected moment that he would realise that his leg had been given a sharp tug - clumsily maybe - but tugged nevertheless.
That effort, of course, is not fit to be ranked with the great ones of the past. But alas! the pages of this sober journal are not for the majority of the ones I have heard and remembered, though they may be obtained on receipt of a suitable remittance accompanied by a stamped addressed envelope.
Whilst it has always been a hobby of mine it is one which I seem unwittingly to have passed on to my daughter. My son, who is by way of becoming an expert on amateur radio, approached me the other day in the faint hope that I could elucidate some problem regarding Sound Waves and the IONISPHERE which was causing him some concern. I know nothing about the subject whatsoever but, like all parents (of the male line that is), I was anxious not to lose faith, and gave my considered opinion which, as soon as I had given it, I realised was a farrago of nonsense. By the look on my son's face, where loyalty and knowledge were in conflict, so did he. My daughter was present at the time and could not forbear to comment like all women. "Never mind Dad, "she said, "I expect you're quite a good Bank Manager".