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I was reading following text from a blog post and I experienced difficulty understanding the phrase - "Pat came the reply". I've searched enough (limited to internet search engine) but I didn't find the standard or proper meaning (Suppose, I guess) of this phrase - Pat came the reply.

Emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar asked him:

"Mirza, kitne rozey rakhkhey?" ("Mirza, how many days did you fast?")

Pat came the reply: "Bas huzoor, ek nahin rakhkha" ("Sir, I did not fast for one day")

I've also found the use of the same phrase in a book authored by noted Indian author and journalist Khushwant Singh - K. Singh Best Indian Short Stories-Vol.II.

'No, bothersome. One can't spit.'

Pat came the reply from Namu: 'Right under the chair. Maaro pichkri!'

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IMHO, this pat could mean "in a pat manner". From the Merriam-Webster dictionary:

pat: in a pat manner : aptly, perfectly
'She has her part down pat'

To paraphrase,

Mirza replied aptly: "Bas huzoor, ek nahin rakhkha" ("Sir, I did not fast for one day")

Or

Mirza came up with a pat reply: "Bas huzoor, ek nahin rakhkha" ("Sir, I did not fast for one day")


Alternatively, it could be an onomatopoeic "pat". It's as if the reply fell with a sound that could be reproduced as "pat!" Compare: "plop!"; "bam!"; "cling!"; "clang!", etc.


I favor the first version: I googled for "came the reply", and found sentences where the word preceding "came the reply" is clearly an adjective, not an onomatopoeic word:

Speaking about the lessons he learnt from the event in Bangkok, prompt came the reply, "I learnt never to be overconfident at any point." (Deccan Chronicle)


P.S.

From the grammar standpoint, the word pat in your sentences could be analyzed as an adverb. Alternatively, it could be analyzed as an adjective that is part of a secondary predicate. That's my guess. I could be wrong. I'm not sure on this count.

  • Looks like a pat answer. – macraf Dec 25 '15 at 11:00
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It helps if you're familiar with the expression pat answer. According to TFD, a pat answer is one that is quick, easy, simplified, or evasive. NOAD defines it as simple and somewhat glib or unconvincing.

So, while it could mean the answer was apt and perfectly timed (as others have suggested), it could just as well mean the answer was simple, and didn't provide a lot of extra information.

Either way, pat came the reply is a very unusual way to phrase it. Normally, I think you'd find something like: He gave a pat reply: "Sir, I did not fast for one day."

It may be worth noting that "I did not fast for one day" could be interpreted in two ways:

  • I fasted for more than one day.
  • I fasted for zero days.

Because the answer is ambiguous, it could be considered a pat answer, in that it is both simple and evasive.

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    I think this is the correct answer. OED agrees: "to be able to recite or perform readily and faultlessly from memory; (also, depreciatively) to repeat glibly, to parrot" and "Hence: (with negative connotation) glib, facile, unconsidered." Not so much that the replies are well-rehearsed or convenient, but more that they were glib, as in without thought. – Roaring Fish Dec 25 '15 at 14:07
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Pat as an adverb means:

At exactly the right moment or in the right way; very conveniently or opportunely:

[Oxford Online Dictionary]

In your examples, the adverb opportunely or conveniently is the closest adverb to the meaning of pat.

Emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar asked him:

"Mirza, kitne rozey rakhkhey?" ("Mirza, how many days did you fast?")

Opportunely or conveniently (as if he/she were waiting for this question or he/she knew the Emperor would ask this question) came the reply : "Bas huzoor, ek nahin rakhkha" ("Sir, I did not fast for one day")

According to Online Etymology Dictionary, the word started to be used as an adverb before it was used as an adjective meaning:

"aptly, suitably, at the right time," 1570s, perhaps from pat (adj.) in sense of "that which hits the mark," a special use from pat (n.) in sense of "a hitting" of the mark. The modern adjective is 1630s, from the adverb.

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