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Well, [perform some action against me (through which I will be complacent)], and call me a [something humorous which I would then resemble]. [Sincere or feigned exclamation of a recently apparent truth]

I've heard variations of this template phrase through the years, but I've never understood how the parts are supposed to work together.

I believe the structure was often used in the dialog of the television show "Perfect Strangers" by Cousin Balki, but I was very young and couldn't understand it at the time. Regrettably, the show is no longer on the air.

It seems that the first and second sentences should be related somehow. I don't have any examples of a funny complete phrase.

  1. Where did this structure originate?
  2. Does it have a name?
  3. Do you know any good examples?
  4. In which humorous situations would it be appropriate to use such a phrase?
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Paint me green and call me Gumby seems to be a pretty popular example, for if you like green paint. – Daniel Aug 31 '11 at 20:59
    
Also, here are some of the referenced Cousin Balki quotes, one of which is paint me green and call me Gumby. – Daniel Aug 31 '11 at 21:04
    
Butter my rump and call me toast or butter my butt and call me a biscuit – user65357 Feb 11 '14 at 1:46
    
Funny. And (serious question) in what circumstance would you use this? Like, what is the phrase comically communicating? I could see "Butter my rump and call me toast; I'm in so much trouble!". The cuteness of a "biscuit" is canceled out by self-awareness of being one. – Jason Kleban Feb 11 '14 at 12:52
    
Well slap me around and call me Suzy, I never would have guessed this form of humor had broader applications than the original idiom in which I heard it expressed! – Patrick M Sep 5 '14 at 17:11
up vote 6 down vote accepted

Although Eric Partridge wasn't always of the best reliability, it's worth noting that in this "Dictionary of Catch Phrases," he has an entry for a common version of this snowclone (as they've recently begun to be called by linguists), "cut off my legs and call me shorty." He quotes a source who suggests it was popularized by Phil Harris, who these days is mainly remembered as the jazz-loving, slang-throwing, skirt-chasing bandleader from Jack Benny's radio show.

A quick search of periodicals and structure dates that particular form of the expression to at least 1941, when it appeared in an article about teen slang in LIFE magazine.

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Someone seems to have coined a term "Balk-isms" when referring to this. Yes, it seems to have come from Cousin Balki, who is an immigrant to Chicago in the TV show, and he often missaid things. Some of the things he said (missaid) included:

"Cuzzin, are you going to have a nervous break dance?"
"If everyone knew how to herd sheep, there would be no one left to write poetry."
"Patience is a virgin."

And the one that's relevant:

"Paint me green and call me Gumby."

It seems that this type of punchline first came out with "Balki", who also coined several others:

"Well bang my bongos and call me Desi"
"Well feed me garlic and call me stinky."
"Well, rope my feet and call me Dodi!"
"Well rub my chest and call me Vicks"
"Well, throw acid rain on my parade!"
"Well toss my greens and call me Ceasar."

This doesn't necessarily mean that he started off all these types of jokes, but it's pretty certain he popularized it.

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So did you use my comment to the question, or did you find this by yourself? – Daniel Aug 31 '11 at 21:26
3  
No, actually, I was doing all the reading up and stuff, and then I posted the answer, reloaded the page, and I saw your comments with the same links, and I thought "I'm going to look pretty dodgy here!" – Thursagen Aug 31 '11 at 21:27
2  
Oh dear. Now what? – Daniel Aug 31 '11 at 21:32
6  
@drɱ65 δ You should have write an answer, instead of commenting. :-) – kiamlaluno Sep 1 '11 at 0:12

Early recorded instances of 'well, paint me [a color] and call me [something]'

The earliest instance that a Google Books search finds of a relevant "paint me green" construction is in the title of a book by George Hesselberg, Paint Me Green and Call Me Fern: or, How to Walk With Your Hands in Your Pockets: Collected Columns (1991). One of the columns begins,

Well, paint me green and call me Fern, state government just keeps getting curiouser and curiouser.

Other "paint me green" Google Books matches include these:

  • "paint me green and call me Kermit" (from 1998)

  • "well, paint me green and call me a Martian" (from 2004)

  • "paint me green and call me pickle" (from 2009)

  • "paint me green and call me stupid all day" (from 2010)

  • "well, paint me green and call me a leprechaun" (from 2011)

  • "well, paint me green and call me a cucumber" (from 2013)

  • "waal, paint me green and call me Gumby" (from 2015)

  • "paint me green and stick me in a trash can" (from 2016)

But of course there is no reason to suppose that this is the actual chronological order in which these various formulations first came into use.

Google Books search results also turn up matches for "paint me yellow..." (starting with "paint me yellow and call me a cab" from 1990), "paint me orange..." (starting with "paint me orange and call me a school bus" from 1997), "paint me blue..." (starting with "paint me blue and call me silly" from 1999), "paint me pink..." (starting with "paint me pink and call me a pig" from 1999), "paint me white..." (starting with "paint me white and call me Frosty" from 2001), "paint me red..." (starting with "well, paint me red and call me Susan" from 2006), "paint me black..." (starting with "well, paint me black and call me a kettle" from 2014), and "paint me purple..." (starting with "well, paint me purple and call me a grape" from 2015).

The earliest of the Google Books "paint me [a color] and call me [something]" constructions is from a 1990 issue of The Comics Journal. This particular example is especially intriguing because the author seems to be attributing it to an era almost fifty years earlier than 1990 [combined snippets]:

"A Nightmare Scare" is six pages of wonderfully bizarre, unapologetic visual and verbal madness. [Basil] Wolverton's harsh, blunt 1940s bigfoot cartoon brushline and crosshatching add an extra layer of lunacy to his sunny suburban surrealism. Dialogue is peppered with rhymes, alliterations, and campy "Paint me yellow and call me a cab" humor.

The comic under discussion is Wolverton's Powerhouse Pepper comic series, which ran from 1942 to 1948. And I'm happy to report that the "well paint me yellow and call me a cab" line is indeed a direct quotation from "A Nightmare Scare" (the next-to-last panel on the final page). The Toon Treasury of Classic Children's Comics (2009) states that this particular six-page strip was published in 1943, which gives us a surprisingly early first recorded occurrence of the "Well, paint me [a color] and call me [something]" formula.


Antecedents of 'well, paint me [a color] and call me [something]'

Although it is cast in past tense, the earliest U.S. instance of "[Do something] and call [pronoun] [something else]" might be the sequence "stuck a feather in his cap and called it macaroni" from "Yankee Doodle." At any rate it has the same format, if you recast it as an imperative:

Stick a feather in your cap and call it macaroni.

Another early exclamation took the form "Well, dog my cats!" From Jack Crawford, The Poet Scout: Being a Selection of Incidental and Illustrative Verses and Songs (1879, recalling a conversation from 1876):

"Well, dog my cats, Jack, I never done that 'afore, but, consarn it, I was tuckered out; but I'll just swaller a drop o' that tea and ye can sleep for the rest o' the day."

Much more closely related to the "well paint me [a color]" exclamations are expressions of the form "Well cut off my legs and call me shorty," also from the early 1940s (or slightly before), cited in Grant Barrett's answer.


Conclusions

The earliest Google Books matches for "paint me [a color] and call me [something]" are from 1990 (for yellow) and 1991 (for green). But further research reveals a much earlier instance of the formulation, from 1943:

"Well paint me yellow and call me a cab."

The Life magazine quotation that Grant Barrett's answer cites offers an example of a closely related joke from the same era: "Well cut off my leg and call me Shorty," suggesting that the general form of the joke branched out in multiple directions aside from the "well paint me [a color]" wording. Plausible antecedents arguably go back to "Yankee Doodle," although the form of the expression in that instance does not by any means provide an exact pattern for the later constructions.

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'Well paint me green' is an expression meaning that you're green with envy over something someone else has or something someone is doing, or going, etc....

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protected by Rathony Mar 11 at 4:35

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