(25 June 1996) I have had a gratifying response to my request for entries for "The Ten Most Annoying Remarks In Daily Life" competition. Gratifying, in that some people actually sent in entries, because if they had not sent them in, I would have had to make them up or even make the whole competition up, as perhaps I may have done.
The idea was to nominate remarks that people make to you in everyday life which drive you round the bend. They don't necessarily have to be made by close relatives, though most of them are, and this is only right and proper, as relatives get more chance (and motive) to annoy us than other people. Was it not Hugh Kingsmill who said: "Friends are God's apology for our relatives"? I think it was.
(Actually, someone did nominate that as a highly annoying remark – that is, any quotation prefaced with the question "Was it not X who said ...?" on the grounds that it is a disguised way of showing off. This particular reader writes "When people say to you, 'Was it not Voltaire who said, "I disagree with what you say but I defend to the death your right to say it?" ', they are not asking you if it was Voltaire who said it – they are showing off the fact that they know the quotation. What makes that particular question a tasty one, is that you can say, 'No, it wasn't Voltaire who said that actually – it was an unknown biographer called S G Tallentyre who put the words in his mouth ..."
One class of annoying remark that seems to annoy a lot of people is the catchphrase used way past its sell-by date. Anyone who still goes round saying things like "Nice to see you – to see you nice!" should be taken out and shot, is the general feeling. A recent example of this is the recurrence of the formula from the TV series in which Ian Richardson's prime minister keeps saying, "You may think that – I couldn't possibly comment," which is still being repeated as if it were still clever. The most ancient example comes from the reader who is driven mad by his father's reiteration of an old Arthur Askey catchphrase, "Give him the money, Barney!"
(Joke formulas also seem to drive some people round the bend, such as "as the bishop said to the actress" or "it's the story of my life", but these don't quite qualify as entire remarks.)
Another class of annoying remark seems to depend entirely on context. A female reader writes to say: "I am gifted with a slightly melancholy or even lugubrious expression, so people are constantly saying to me, 'Cheer up!', which of course only serves to depress me, especially if I am feeling quite cheerful already. There are many dispiritng variations, such as 'Cheer up – it may never happen' and 'Things can't be that bad, can they?' If I am ever sent to jail it will be for murdering someone who has just tried to jolly me out of what he fancies to be a bad mood."
One reader, if she ever murders someone, will be guilty of child murder, as her least favourite phrase is that perennial child's excuse, "I didn't mean to". "Of course the child didn't mean to, when it broke the plate or stepped on my toe!" explodes our reader. "That's what I'm complaining of! That it involves stupidity, carelessness and thoughtlessness! Sometimes I almost wish the child had meant to!"
Here are some of the other top contenders for the Ten Most Annoying Remarks of All Time:
"It was here a moment ago."
"He's somewhere to the right of Genghis Khan."
"It can't have moved by itself."
"Yes, we do keep it, but we haven't got it."
"Some you win, some you lose."
"A bit of how's-your-father."
"I've got to see a man about a dog."
"Wait till your father gets home!"
"Not so as you'd notice."
"A little of what you fancy does you good."
"Could you pull in to the side of the road and switch off the ignition, sir?"
"I think I was in the queue before you ..."
"Warm enough for you?"
"Turned out nice again, then ..."
"I'll believe that when I see it."
"I'll believe you – thousands wouldn't."
"Ten million Frenchmen can't be wrong."
"No pun intended."
"Look what the cat's dragged in!"
All late nominations gratefully received.