I didn’t cycle up the Liffey on a bicycle

Edna O’Brien’s book Girl With Green Eyes has a romantic line involving bicycles in Dublin:

Ah, the bloom of you, I love your North-Circular-Road-Bicycle-Riding-Cheeks.

It’s a sweet declaration ending in an impressive hyphenated string (though if I were editing it I would separate cheeks from the compound and reduce the capitalisation: North-Circular-Road-bicycle-riding cheeks).

In a modest correspondence between books decades apart, Declan Hughes’s Irish detective novel The Dying Breed has another elaborate compound phrase constructed with the help of bicycle imagery:

I made a face at that, my d’you-think-I-cycled-up-the-Liffey-on-a-bicycle face.

When I tweeted that sentence I was treated to a few variations on the theme: Belfast’s D’you think I floated down the Lagan in a bubble? (@charlieconnelly), and Glasgow’s D’ye think ah came up the Clyde on a water biscuit/banana boat? (@ozalba; @Yanbustone).

There are many versions of this idiom, often beginning Do you think…, You must think…, or I didn’t… More (or less) familiar lines include: Do you think I came down in the last shower?, You must think I was born yesterday, and I didn’t fall off the turnip truck yesterday.

I love the water biscuit one, but for some reason I relate most strongly to cycling on the Liffey – so long as I steer clear of Gogarty’s swans.

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5 Responses to I didn’t cycle up the Liffey on a bicycle

  1. John Cowan says:

    Is cycling on the river’s surface what is (ironically) meant? I assumed it was a bike path, perhaps a former towpath.

  2. Stan says:

    John: I’m not sure, but my sense of it is that cycling on the surface is meant, because impossibility or high improbability is intrinsic to the expression. (So cycling on ice doesn’t count.)

  3. alexmccrae1546 says:

    Couldn’t resist fashioning my own “Do you think…” turn of phrase.

    Keeping true to my Scottish lineal roots, here’s my admittedly convoluted offering:

    “Hmm… so you think I just sallied forth ‘cross the Moray Firth on this caber-sized chunk of Edinburgh Rock* to garner a paltry fifth of Glenfiddich’s Speyside elixir?”

    *For the uninitiated in the sundry confections of Scotland, “Edinburgh Rock” is a rather chalky, toffee-hard, traditional candy that usually comes in a round, dowel-like configuration, and an array of very light pastel hues.

    My very first Edinburg Rock munching ‘experience’ was likely at one of the many Southern Ontario, Canada-based, summer highland gatherings I participated in as a competitive junior bagpiper in my early teens.

    Let’s just say it’s an acquired taste.

  4. It might be worth trying to articulating why impossibility is intrinsic to the expression.

    As far as I can tell, it’s a reference to some mythological archetype in which only creatures of this world are bound by the rules of this world.

    The expression can be divided into two parts. The reference to the river asks, “Do you think I’m new to this particular locality?”, and the reference to the means of travel asks, “Do you think I’m new to the entire realm of physical reality?”. It does this by implying that I might be from some other realm, in which magic takes precedence over physics, and bicycles and biscuits are perfectly ordinary forms of water transport.

  5. Stan says:

    Alex: Who’s to say it won’t catch on. I don’t think my teeth would survive a caber-sized chunk of Edinburgh Rock, though.

    Adrian: A very interesting analysis, and I’d go along with it for some forms of the expression. For other versions, though, it’s just the newness to a region or situation that’s emphasised, and nothing impossible happens. There’s nothing magical or physically outlandish about falling off a turnip truck, for instance.

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