Can I show you my exquisite collection of etchings?
January 21, 2008 11:24 PM   Subscribe

What's the origin of/meaning behind the idiom of inviting a lady to inspect one's collection of etchings as a (euphemized/veiled?) sexual proposition?

I might have the exact formulation wrong, came across kind of vague and inconsistent uses of it in some hard boiled Hammett/Chandler kind of stuff.
posted by juv3nal to Writing & Language (15 answers total) 26 users marked this as a favorite

Best answer: It seems to have originated with Stanford White, who is supposed to have used that invitation to seduce, and, quite probably, rape, many young women. His etching were erotic images of cavorting nudes.

Hitchcock later used the line in Blackmail, which is likely to be the source of its entry into popular culture.
posted by Astro Zombie at 11:50 PM on January 21, 2008 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: You rule, Astro Zombie. I'll will you my brains should I happen to die in space.
posted by juv3nal at 12:15 AM on January 22, 2008

Best answer: Furthering from AZ's answer, it is believed that the phrase developed from a line in Wycherley's The Country Wife (Act IV, scene 3) where a woman protests to her husband that she has merely been showing the lusty Horner her "collection of china". (1675)

Earlier still, from Susannah Centlivre's comedy, 'The Man's Bewitched' (Act III) : "Interrogating! Nay, then 'tis proper to be alone; there is a very pretty Collection of Prints in the next Room, Madam, will you give me leave to explain them to you?" (1610)

The concept of "etchings" certainly has an Edwardian feel, which would place the updated SW version in the right era.
posted by benzo8 at 12:48 AM on January 22, 2008 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: You rule too, benzo8.
posted by juv3nal at 1:22 AM on January 22, 2008

I always wondered what the origin of this was, thanks for asking a great question!
posted by evariste at 3:29 AM on January 22, 2008

New Yorker cartoon from 1939.
posted by JanetLand at 5:36 AM on January 22, 2008 [1 favorite]

Not exactly an answer to your question, but I took a seminar with Steven Pinker who used the example of the "etchings" as an illustration of the significance of game theory/linguistics' concept of 'common knowledge'. It is also referenced in this review of his latest book.

Fascinating yes, but not quite as funny as this cartoon, which has long been one of my Thurber favorites.
posted by prophetsearcher at 5:39 AM on January 22, 2008

janetland beat me to my punch line. janetland gets to see none of my etchings.
posted by prophetsearcher at 5:40 AM on January 22, 2008

I love AskMetaFilter.
posted by languagehat at 7:55 AM on January 22, 2008 [3 favorites]

It's the same as inviting someone in for a cup of coffee. A socially acceptable invitation that leaves two people in a private room, away from prying eyes. Especially important in Victorian and Edwardian times as a young woman being presented socially had to avoid the appearance of improper behavior lest they find themselves rejected socially; meaning they were no longer invited to parties where they could find themselves a suitable husband.
posted by Kioki-Silver at 7:58 AM on January 22, 2008

Kioki, I don't think that's the same at all, or even similar. Inviting someone in for a cup of coffee may be a prelude to a private conversation, but it is not about sex. The posted question is about "etchings" as a wink-wink euphemism for sex.
posted by languagehat at 8:03 AM on January 22, 2008

I think I was 17 or so before I found out that a nightcap was a drink and not sex.
posted by electroboy at 8:08 AM on January 22, 2008

You're right that inviting someone in for a cup of coffee doesn't mean sex. But then it's not about the what, it's about the where.
posted by Kioki-Silver at 8:51 AM on January 22, 2008

I always viewed the invitation for coffee to imply, "I'm not sure what will happen next; I'm not ready for you to leave, but I'm not ready to commit to further action either."

It gave a cushion of time for formulating a decision as to whether to come across or not.

If so, you're there; if not, coffee's gone, see ya!
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 9:52 AM on January 22, 2008

You're right that inviting someone in for a cup of coffee doesn't mean sex.

Thank goodness! "Cream in your coffee?" Uh, sure!
posted by Wet Spot at 9:58 AM on January 22, 2008

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