“You’re quite breathtaking.”
August 4, 2010

A flat-out put-down (disguised as a flattering observation) to use in lieu of what you really want to say…which would take the listener’s breath away–huffing at the horrible insensitivity of your comment, that is.

Vacationing with friends who had a baby, Jerry, Elaine, and Kramer finally got a good look at that baby and–Gehhh. Evidently the baby (which we never see) would have made some of the world’s ugliest leaders (de Gaulle, Golda Meir, etc.) run up a tree. Enter the handsome family doctor, Ben, who refers to Elaine as “breathtaking” and now she really likes him. When Ben then pays the baby the same compliment–Errr?–confusion builds in Elaine until Ben later explains, “Well, you know, Elaine, sometimes you say a thing like that just to be nice.”

The initial reactions of Jerry, Elaine, and Kramer to the baby–in front of the baby’s parents–said it all, about the predicament most of us face when telling others what we really think about them: Jerry and Elaine masked their repulsion; Kramer’s reaction, witnessed in another episode that included this baby, was to snap his head back as if he’d just been hit, literally, with an ugly stick.

Wish for it though we might, we can’t all be Kramer, whose life was, as George once put it, a “fantasy camp”—weekly activities that included mooching off neighbors, sex without dating…and giving opinions without repercussion. We can’t, for example, tell that micromanaging boss what Kramer once told an actor friend of Elaine’s, “Why don’t you just give up?

Dealing with people’s feelings involves a number of reactions that typically fall between two options: you might suck the air out of the room (e.g., “No soup for you!”) or you might blow smoke into it—using “breathtaking” at will, to describe what you will.

From “The Hamptons”
Episode 21, Season 5
Seinfeld Volume 4, Disc 4
Timecode for the scene: 7:20

“Boutros-Boutros ‘Golly.’”
July 15, 2010

A brilliant observation to express childlike wonderment when you’re faced with something so stunning that coherence escapes you.

When Jerry, Kramer, and Elaine encountered a half-naked woman on the beach where they were vacationing, the first words out of Jerry’s mouth were “Boutros-Boutros Ghali.” (The last word pronounced “golly.”) Momentarily awed, like a schoolboy peeking into a beautiful neighbor’s bedroom window in a 1980s’ movie, Jerry didn’t say, “Wow, look at those….” No “Hubba hubba.” Not even a “Breathtaking.” Just the name of the Egyptian man who served as the sixth Secretary-General of the United Nations from 1992 to 1997.

Golly evokes the younger days of talking for hours on end—“What do you think of this?”; “What about that?!”—but your vocabulary only filled five minutes with original material. Translated from the adolescent tongue, it means “I don’t know what to say but I’m working on it.” Boutros-Boutros “Golly,the adult version of golly, will leave people around you nodding. If they are as smart as you, the name drop will also leave them thinking, “That reminds me of a Trivial Pursuit question I once had….” This is a win-win situation either way.

You don’t know what to say but you’ll come off sounding like you do.

From “The Hamptons”
Episode 21, Season 5
Seinfeld Volume 4, Disc 4
Timecode for the scene: 4:00

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