“My friends, you got trouble right here in River City!”

Lately, having someone address his or her audience as “my friends” has been bugging me.  I mean, who are they to call me a friend?  They don’t even know me!  Silly, I know. Language changes and I’ve got to go with it.  (I’m still trying to come to terms with “yummy,” a word I associate with mummy at age three.)  Still, I was interested to read Paul Collins’ Slate piece, “Why McCain can’t stop saying ‘my friends.'”

What happened to change the phrase’s status in our language after Eisenhower’s 1956 speech? I have my own unprovable pet theory: It’s because the following year saw The Music Man debut on Broadway. Ever since, the phrase has been irrevocably associated with old-timey con men in straw boaters: “My friends, you got trouble right here in River City!”

When McCain invokes “my friends,” he’s making an appeal to the old days—the really old days.

I don’t necessarily think everyone who uses the phrase is doing this  (evoking the really old days, that is), but it is an interesting theory, you’ve got to admit.


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2 responses to ““My friends, you got trouble right here in River City!”

  1. Anne Quirk lent me an audiobook about opera from The Learning Company that would be fine if the professor did not keep referring to us listeners as “my friends.” John McCain ruins everything.


  2. I’ve been using “my friends” to address my preschool storytelling audiences. I’ve noticed that when I use “friends” with young children, they are more responsive than with other forms of address. Then again, Ella Jenkins uses “boys and girls” with success. However, if McCain starts addressing his audience as “boys and girls,” that will be too much.


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