Catchphrases · Home life

“Alright, I was only asking …”

Here’s a conversational game that I have been playing since I was a teenager. Maybe you do something similar. You ask a question, the answer you receive sounds like it might be an insult, and you act offended and say, “Alright, I was only asking …”

For example, you might be struggling to remember the full name of one of the many current Hollywood actors called Chris or Ryan. The surnames Hemsworth, Pine, Pratt, Gosling and Reynolds all come to mind. You ask, “What’s the name of that actor, the one who was in “Guardians of the Galaxy”, and some of the recent “Jurassic World” films, Chris … ?”


“Alright, I was only asking …”

My wife and I have been playing this game for most of our married life. Around 15 years ago a Japanese restaurant called Tosa opened in Hammersmith. It looks like it should be pronounced with a long “O” and a soft “S” (“Tozer”, like the surname of Faye, singer from Steps and 2018 “Strictly Come Dancing” contestant). But we pronounce it with a short “O” and a hard “S”, so it rhymes with “Jossa” (the surname of Jacqueline, 2019 winner of “I’m Celebrity Get Me Out of Here”). Maybe that’s closer to how it’s pronounced in Japanese. Either way, a typical exchange would be something like this:

“What’s the name of that Japanese restaurant on King Street?”


“Alright, I was only asking.”

Our children are now aware of this catchphrase too. Their knowledge of swear words has, inevitably, increased since I wrote this piece in December 2016. Back then, when my daughter was still 10, she used the phrase “the c word” to refer to the word “crap”, not to the one that begins with “c” and rhymes with “hunt”. Since starting senior school she has become aware of the more adult version of “the c word”, though we still avoid using it at home.

A year or two back, walking through Soho as a family on our way to Chinatown, we passed a restaurant called, would you believe, Flavour Bastard. I pointed to it and asked my daughter,

“What’s the name of that place over there?”

“Flavour Bastard.”

This gave me the opportunity to act offended, to say, “Alright, I was only asking …”, and to explain why.

During the Christmas holidays I was able to make further use of this long-standing catchphrase. My daughter was reading “Sophie’s World” by Jostein Gaarder (she finished it on New Year’s Eve). We had discussed some of the philosophers whose ideas she has encountered for the first time, from Plato and Aristotle through to George Berkeley. One morning, just after breakfast, she closed the book over, put it on the kitchen table, and told me that she had just finished another chapter.

“Which philosopher was it this time?” I asked


“Alright, I was only asking …”


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