‘The Catbird Seat’ by James Thurber

Thurber, James 1943

The Catbird Seat by James Thurber, 1942

The magic trick:

The phrases used by Ulgine Barrows

We’ve got another brilliantly written, hopelessly mean-spirited, piece from Thurber. (See also: “A Couple Hamburgers,” or “The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty.”) I’m afraid I don’t find the actual story particularly funny, even as I know “The Catbird Seat” ranks among his most famous pieces. I do, however, love the phrases Ulgine Barrows uses around the office. If you have worked in an office then you’ve almost certainly encountered a co-worker who spews out the same tired catch phrases over and over and over. Here, Mrs. Barrows uses some particularly ridiculous (and annoying) (and hilarious) phrases. And that’s quite a trick on Thurber’s part.

The selection:

In the halls, in the elevator, even in his own office, into which she romped now and then like a circus horse, she was consistently shouting these silly questions at him. “Are you lifting the oxcart out of the ditch? Are you tearing up the pea patch? Are you hollering down the rain barrel? Are you scraping the bottom of the pickle barrel? Are sitting in the catbird seat?”


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