Postilions and lightning

There’s an urban legend that sometime during the 19th century a phrasebook was published that including the extemely useful phrase “My postilion has been struck by lightning”. There seems to be various theories about the origins of this phrase, and a number versions of the phrase, including “Our postillion has been struck by lightning!”, or “Stop, the postilion has been struck by lightning!”.

According to Nigel Rees on the Quote Unquote website, both postilions and lightning are mentioned in Karl Baedeker’s The Traveller’s Manual of Conversation in Four Languages (1836), in which the phrase: “Postilion, stop; we wish to get down; a spoke of one of the wheels is broken.” appears. In an 1886 edition of this book, there appears the phrase: “Are the postilions insolent?; the lightning has struck; the coachman is drunk.”

Other useful phrases including the the Baedeker book include “Can we get a pony or a donkey for Madame, to mount up that hill?”, “Clean that looking-glass a little, it is quite dull.”, and “Come, make haste. Plait my hair, and make the curls; for I want to go out.”

Do any of you have a copy of Baedeker’s book, or something similar? I’d like to find out how he translated these phrases. Which of the phrases that appear in current phrasebooks do you think people will be laughing about in 100 year’s time?

A postilion or postillion, in case you’re wondering, is one who rides as a guide on the near horse of one of the pairs attached to a coach or post chaise especially without a coachman.

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This entry was posted in English, Language, Words and phrases.

3 Responses to Postilions and lightning

  1. “Ligthning”? I do those typos all the time! :-)

  2. Janet says:

    I have a copy of the 1886 edition. My favorite line is “Have you fresh leeches? These do not bite. Please to change them for others.”

    I can scan some pages for you if you want. Let me know.

  3. Simon says:

    Janet – I certainly would like to see a few pages of that fine publication, thanks.