Here is a quote from Groucho Marx:

Here's to our wives and girlfriends! May they never meet!

What does he mean by this? And what is the function of the modal verb 'may'?

Thank you!

closed as off-topic by FumbleFingers, Drew, user140086, Mari-Lou A, anongoodnurse Jan 17 '16 at 22:47

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  • 2
    It's wordplay based on the natural assumption that each of "us" has either a wife or a girlfriend - but Groucho's May they never meet! forces to realize he's implying we have both (and that in the interests of marital harmony, it's best that one's wife doesn't meet one's girlfriend). The word may is an "invocative", meaning something like let it be the case that. – FumbleFingers Jan 16 '16 at 15:19
  • 1
    "Outside of a dog, a book is man's best friend. Inside of a dog, it's too dark to read." - Groucho Marx – Mark Hubbard Jan 16 '16 at 16:17
  • A similar joke came out in the Playboy magazine a long time ago: to be a very happy man, you must get a dedicated, caring and loving woman; a gorgeous, sexy and horny kind of woman. And you make sure they never meet. – Centaurus Jan 16 '16 at 16:27
  • It is instructive to note that Groucho was married and divorced three times. – Hot Licks Jan 16 '16 at 19:45

This toast is a joke. When he says, "Here's to our wives and girlfriends," it's supposed to sound like he's being all inclusive of the people present, like he's giving a toast on behalf of those there who are married, who have wives, and those there who are single, who have girlfriends.

Then he says, "May they never meet." This turn of phrase suddenly changes the meaning. He's now saying that all of the men in the room have wives AND girlfriends. He's insinuating the married men have mistresses, have girlfriends. That's the joke. He went from saying something relatively benign and innocent to saying something a bit scandalous and raunchy.

As for his usage of "may," he is employing it to express a wish or a prayer (may: def. 4).


The word "girlfriends" here is a euphemism of sorts. He really meant "mistresses":


a woman who has a continuing, extramarital sexual relationship with one man

When one's wife meets one's mistress, things become contentious.

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