A while back, I was watching an episode of George Gently on Netflix or perhaps Acorn TV and George’s young apprentice or helper who always comes across as, perhaps a little insensitive made reference to a suspect having a little ‘How’s your father?’ on the side. It was obviously a euphemism for sexual intercourse and I put the memory aside.
On another British show that I was watching recently, the euphemism came up, so to speak, again.
I decided to go seek more information and lo and behold, the Interweb’s Urban Dictionary had a definition written by a New Zealander named Michael Kelly.
His wit parallels mine, but his writing skills are enormously better. He wrote:
“the origin of the expression ‘how’s your father’ can be traced back to Victorian times. In those days any man with a daughter was so protective of her virtue that he would take extraordinary measures to safeguard it. Unmarried girls would be kept within the bosom of their family as much as possible, chaperoned on excursions, and on those occasions when they were let out of bounds for social events, their fathers would often accompany them discreetly by hiding underneath their voluminous skirts ready to pounce on any man who transgressed the bounds of propriety.
However, a father with more than one daughter couldn’t be everywhere at once. Thus, a suitor having a discreet vis-a-vis with his beloved would cautiously ascertain her father’s whereabouts by asking, ‘And how is your father?’ If her father was currently under her skirts, she would glance downwards and reply, ‘My father is very well, thank you, and as alert and vigorous as ever, and maintains his interest in rusty castrating implements.’ Her beau would then say, ‘I have always had the greatest respect for your father, and of course for you. Let us hold hands and think about the Queen for a while.’ If, on the other hand, her father was elsewhere, she would reply, ‘The mad old bastard is currently stationed between my sister Constance’s thighs. Let us go into the garden and rut like stoats.’
Hence, ‘How’s your father’ became a euphemism for you-know-what.”
I found this enlightenment quite enlightening.
Incidentally, the term ‘euphemism’ itself can sometimes be misconstrued. I’m sure that many of you will remember Woody, the bartender on Cheers.
One of the funniest scenes went something like this:
Frasier: “I am going to go to the little boy’s room.”
Lilith: (after Frasier leaves) “Why must men euphemize so much?”
Woody: “Well he had three beers!”