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Can "You are an officer and a gentleman" be used to praise a good deed done by a person completely unrelated to armed forces?

I would like to praise a friend of mine for an act of kindness. Is it appropriate to use this phrase for civilian people?

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While it can be used that way, it is typically done on the spur of the moment. If, as it sounds from your question, a friend has done you a kindness and you are now contemplating how to thank him, I would not use the "officer and a gentleman" approach. The nature of the kindness should determine the formality of your thanks. If they've paid for your child's medical treatment without which he may have died then that requires a different level of thanks than if they picked up some papers you dropped while getting onto the elevator. –  Jim Nov 11 '12 at 23:04
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1 Answer

I think OP is getting things confused with...

"You are a scholar and a gentleman" (perhaps popularised for Americans by Catcher in the Rye)

Or the more natural order to my ear...

"You are a gentleman and a scholar" (that's a few C19 citations, showing it's been around a while).

It's probably safe to say it's usually said somewhat facetiously these days (the stereotypical usage is a drunk thanking someone for buying them another drink).

I think even if OP changes it from a scholar to an officer, outside the literal military context, most people would be put in mind of the above, so it probably wouldn't suit his intended contexts.

Eric Partidge's Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English says that dating mostly from C16-C17 there were many variants on ...as I am a gentleman and scholar/officer/etc., used to mean Believe me!. But by later C20 they're all invariably used as "Jocular thanks".

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I had a girlfriend who always said "You are gentleman and a schoolbus" –  StoneyB Nov 12 '12 at 0:54
    
@StoneyB: I guess that one didn't work out then! (did you maybe used to tell her she had a face (or worse, an arse) like the back end of a bus? :) –  FumbleFingers Nov 12 '12 at 0:59
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Certainly not. I was at least a gentleman. –  StoneyB Nov 12 '12 at 1:05
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