WikEd fancyquotes.pngQuotesBug-silk.pngHeadscratchersIcons-mini-icon extension.gifPlaying WithUseful NotesMagnifier.pngAnalysisPhoto link.pngImage LinksHaiku-wide-icon.pngHaikuLaconic

Also seen as "What Is This X Of Which You Speak?" and "X? What means this X?",

A Stock Phrase that today is used in conversation to express a sarcastic dismissal of a concept that another person takes for granted, or to imply that the topic of the sentence—"X"—is unknown in the context of the discussion. For example:

Cquote1.svg

Alice: Surely the NSA's spying program is limited by the Constitution.
Bob: What is this Constitution of which you speak?

Cquote2.svg

Which implies that NSA is ignoring or ignorant of the Constitution and its limits on government power, at least in Bob's opinion.

The origins of this phrase are obscure; it appears to be rooted in a generalized memory of cliched lines from bad SF movies from the middle of the 20th Century. The prototypical scene involves aliens who speak English perfectly, yet still need a handy Earthman to explain ordinary concepts to them—even concepts one would expect would have obvious counterparts in their own culture or biology. It also seems to be related to the archetypal Jungle Princess's inquiry, "Kiss? What is 'kiss'?" However, examples both sarcastic and serious can be found at least as far back as the 18th Century, making this Older Than Radio, and possibly Older Than Steam.

Since its explosion into the memesphere as a sarcastic Snowclone the phrase can be found just about anywhere—we'd really rather see pre-Internet instances of the phrase and its variants as examples, whether used straight or as sarcasm. (If you've got a particularly good example of modern use that you still want to share, though, put it on the Quotes subpage.)

Super-Trope, at least in structure if not always usage, to What Is This Thing You Call Love?

Not to be confused with "What Is This, X?"

Examples of What Is This X You Speak Of? include:

Literature

Cquote1.svg

"Look, sorry, are we talking about the little white furry things with the cheese fixation and women standing on tables screaming in early sixties sitcoms?"
Slartibartfast coughed politely.
"Earthman," he said, "it is sometimes hard to follow your mode of speech. Remember I have been asleep inside this planet of Magrathea for five million years and know little of these early sixties sitcoms of which you speak."

Cquote2.svg
  • The Monk, by Matthew Lewis, a Gothic Horror novel written in 1794:
Cquote1.svg

"'Father, you amaze me! What is this love of which you speak? I neither know its nature, nor if I felt it, why I should conceal the sentiment.'"

Cquote2.svg
  • The 1943 English translation of The Little Prince by Antione de Saint-Exupery tweaks the original French into this form:
Cquote1.svg

"My little man, where do you come from? What is this 'where I live,' of which you speak?"

Cquote2.svg


Live Action Television

Cquote1.svg

Kara: "Brain" and "brain"! What is "brain"?

Cquote2.svg


New Media

  • The earliest known Internet example of the phrase can be found in a post to net.misc on August 24, 1983:
Cquote1.svg

There has been a lot of net discussion about "toilet paper" recently. Just what is this "toilet paper" of which you speak? Where can I find it?

Cquote2.svg
It is less the Snowclone, though, than an echo of the older usage.


Web Comics

Cquote1.svg

"What is this 'Japan' you speak of? I have never heard of it before."

Cquote2.svg


Community content is available under CC-BY-SA unless otherwise noted.