The Worlds Wit and Humor: An Encyclopedia in 15 Volumes. 1906. Vols. XXI: French
The Suffix Rama
By Honoré de Balzac (17991850)
From Father Goriot
THE BOARDERS, including those who dined at Mme. Vauquers table, but did not live in the house, now began to drop in one by one, and exchanged greetings. They also exchanged a great many of those verbal nothings that pass, among a certain class of Parisians, for the tokens of a humorous spiritobservations of which stupidity is the backbone, and whose effect depends on a gesture or a freak in pronunciation. This kind of jargon is always changing. There is always a conventional principle in the prevailing form of jest, and this principle seldom lasts a month. It may refer to an occurrence in political life, or a case in the police courts, or a street song, or the gag of a comediananything will serve to keep going this game of wit that consists in playing at battledore and shuttlecock with the words and ideas that happen to be in the air. At the date of which we write, the diorama, in which optical illusion was carried a stage further than in the panorama, had just been invented, and the studios of Paris had accordingly set the fashion of talking of everything in terms of rama. The fashion, or the infection, had been brought to the Vauquer establishment by a young painter who dined there.
Who hasnt known him? answered Bianchon. Upon my word, that white-faced old maid affects me like one of those long worms which will gnaw their way through the length of a beam if you give them time enough!
Father Goriot was seated at the lower end of the table, near the door through which the servant brought the food. He raised his head, and at the same moment sniffed at a piece of bread which he lifted from beside his dinner napkinan old trick, acquired in his business, which sometimes reasserted itself.
Those replies came rattling like musketry from every part of the room. They provoked the more laughter because poor Father Goriot stared at his companions with the puzzled look of a man who is trying to make out the meaning of something said to him in a foreign language.