An excerpt from the movie 49th Parallel (1941), a dialogue between heroes.

(the bulk of it by an anthropologist (A) writing about Indian tribes of Canada)

  • (A) Yes, I've discovered some rather amusing things during my researches. Blackfoot tribal customs, for instance, closely resemble those of a certain modern European tribe. I'm gonna read you something about that. Where are we? "From the earliest age, their small boys were trained in the arts of war which they considered to be the only pursuit worthy of a man. But they preferred to attack by night, rather than by day and wherever possible, to shoot the enemy in the back. Their smaller neighbors lived in constant danger from them. They also believed in first terrorizing their opponent by covering themselves in war paint and beating loudly on their tribal drums." Well, doesn't that sound familiar to you?
  • (B) Familiar? I don't quite understand.
  • (A) Well, what price Goebbels, eh? And listen to this.. When a tribal leader really desired to drive a point home, he used that most terrible of all public speaker's weapons - repetition, constant and unutterably wearisome repetition. Old man Hitler himself.

It seems that the meaning is

Well, how about Goebbels, eh?

I've read the replies to the question "What does What price X? mean" but the senses listed there seem not to comply with "how about".

Maybe I'm wrong with my reading of the sense as "How about Goebbels?"?

Maybe the meaning is "Why would you need Goebbels then such customs have already existed?", in the sense of "Goebbels's tricks are really worth nothing - because it has been done before"?

P.S.: YouTube link, time is 01:29:38

  • 2
    Might this be unknotted quickly by understanding "What price" as "How do you rate", and therefore "What price Goebbels?" as "Oh? How do you rate Goebbels, then?"
    – Dan Bron
    Nov 16, 2014 at 23:25
  • 1
    The use is somewhat inconsistent with the by then familiar idiom exemplified by "What price glory?" (meaning how much has X cost us). But if you read it as "How much is Goebbels going to cost us?" I suppose it makes sense.
    – Hot Licks
    Nov 23, 2014 at 4:37
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    From the answers given, it seems to me only Robusto and Erik Kowal have watched the actual clip. When the German officer fails to see any familiarity, it's clear that Leslie Howard, who plays the anthropologist, is taken aback, startled, and bemused by his guest's apparent obliviousness and inability to see any parallel. What price will Europe pay for Goebbel's propaganda machine, especially as it seems to be working so efficiently.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Nov 26, 2014 at 1:02
  • 1
    @Mari-LouA: So in your understanding Erik Kowal's answer is the right one? I'm personally at a loss, there's such a variety of answers. Nov 26, 2014 at 5:19

7 Answers 7


I don't think it's about the figure of speech. That is secondary, as I believe the figure is an elaboration on the formula.

Usually, "What price X?" is used to imply that something desired was bought too dear. "What price glory?" calls up the specter of all the soldiers killed to satisfy someone's quest for that quality. It asks the listener to consider the down side of laurels won in battle.

Here, though, the anthropologist appears to be making an ironic joke at the expense of the dogmatic German. The Nazi lieutenant is quite incapable of appreciating the irony, for he cannot see shades of gray, only black and white. So the anthropologist is speaking almost in an aside to the audience. The thrust of what he is saying is: "What a price you have paid (ignorance) for your brainwashing that you can't see the parallels that are obvious to any onlooker (especially to a British audience subjected to the Blitz) between a savage aboriginal tribe and National Socialism."


I don't think it's "how about". A relevant reference from the answer you linked to would be:

What price? Said when the value of the thing referred to is being diminished or ignored.

The comment may be a bit jarring to modern sensibilities. Since this is a wartime (well, pre-war for the U.S.) propaganda film, I think it's intended to be denigrating towards Goebbels and implies that he copied some unpleasant techniques from the (presumed savage) aboriginal peoples of North America, so his value is less than one might think. These days both presumptions are just about reversed- aboriginal peoples are noble stewards of the environment and Goebbels' methods are studied by political operatives.


For me the apparent meaning is much closer to the answer given by F'x in your linked question, from the New Oxford American Dictionary:

what price ——? used to ask what has become of something or to suggest that something has or would become worthless: what price justice if he were allowed to go free?

In this case, the meaning that I see is "How much is Goebbels worth, if all he's really doing is stealing ideas from these Indian tribes?"


I think “A” means:

Well just look how much the world is paying (suffering/sacrificing) for (because of) Goebbels.

and mentions it here (as well as his reference to Hitler) just to remind “B,” who apparently hadn’t recognized anything familiar on “A’s” list, that what he’d just described was currently happening in Europe.

Because I feel that “A” was using “Well, what price Goebbels, eh?” just to jog “B’s” memory with the example of Goebbels, I therefore agree that “A” could have simply said, “Well, how about Goebbels, eh?” to accomplish this. However, I suspect that “A” realized that the gravity of the situation in Europe merited more than a simple “How ‘bout them Dawgs” type of introduction of his sinister example and perhaps “A” was even trying to embarrass “B” a bit, by using a phrase with deeper meaning, for not having recognized the similarities on his own.


What price freedom spiked in the late 1930s (ngram). It was used to ask the rhetorical question, What is the true price of freedom? It could be used to exhort people to pay that price, or to suggest that people are paying a disproportionate price:

What is the value of freedom if we're not willing to sacrifice to preserve it?


What was the value of having preserved freedom (in WWI) if we are sending our sons off to war again in the very short time that it took them to grow from infants into young men?

I think "What price Goebbels, eh?" was a (clumsy) allusion to this slogan from the debate over whether the US should enter the war. If it was intended to demean Goebbels as a mere plagiarist of native tribal tactics (and it may well have been), it would have been at cross-purposes with the director's desire to present the Nazis as a real looming threat.


You are right in saying that the responses to the question "What does What price X? mean" do not answer your own question.

It seems clear to me that in the context of the conversation between the lieutenant and the anthropologist,

"Well, what price Goebbels, eh?"

is a rhetorical question which means in effect

"If that's the price that had to be paid for enduring the tactics of the Blackfoot tribe, what (even worse) price are we now having to pay for the actions of Goebbels?"

Goebbels was Hitler's minister of propaganda. To quote Wikipedia,

"As one of Adolf Hitler's closest associates and most devoted followers, he was known for his zealous orations and deep and virulent antisemitism, which led to him strongly supporting the extermination of the Jews when the Nazi leadership developed their "Final Solution"."

The anthropologist then underscores the point he is making with his explicit reference to Hitler's tactic of persuasion through repetition.


The expression is an idiom of the form, What price [fame/success/victory etc.]?:

something that you say which means it is possible that the fame, success etc. that has been achieved was not worth all the suffering it has caused e.g. "What price victory when so many people have died to make it possible?"

It is used in 49th Parallel to denigrate the effectiveness* of Goebbels as the Minister of Propaganda in a similar but not identical way as, What Price Glory, (film, Raoul Walsh, 1926) a World War One war movie with an anti-war message.

See too Freeman Dyson, What Price Glory?:

A reader who has time for only one piece should read Chapter 12, “What Price Glory?” It goes deeply into the history of military technology, from the twenty-first century all the way back to the eleventh. Weinberg finds in many diverse times and places a common theme. Military leaders and military institutions have a constant tendency to glorify technology that is colorful and spectacular, even when it leads them repeatedly to defeat and disaster.

*In fact, Goebbels' methods were not clumsy nor unsubtle, rather, he was a frighteningly effective propagandist. That was not so apparent in 1940-1941.

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