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It doesn't seem to be in current use, but as recently as the 1960's, people would "go for a bit of how's your father" which meant going out in search of casual sex. I get the idea that "How's your father?" itself was used as a euphemistic chat-up line, similar to "Come up and see my etchings," or the current favourite, "Netflix and chill".

I understand the social need to use a harmless pleasantry as a deniable proposition, but why this phrase in particular? What was its origin, and when?

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    I had a feeling I recognized this expression from an installment of Austin Powers. I was right. (I'm in the U.S. I have to get my Britishisms from somewhere.) – Green Grasso Holm Apr 4 '18 at 17:04
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There's an article on the origin of "How's your father?" on the website of The Spectator, which references a listing it has been given in the Oxford English Dictionary. Both sources describe it as a nonsensical catchphrase traced to one music hall performer, Harry Tate. The OED even reports the phrase being used as a synonym for "nonsense" or "meaningless talk or ritual", as in "According to them, the Pope of Rome wore red socks when he was doing his 'how's your father?' stuff up on the High Altar."

The OED's third and final gloss for the phrase is "euphem. Sexual activity; sexual intercourse. Chiefly in a bit of how's your father." So, being an existing nonsense phrase, it presumably came to be used in sexual situations to substitute for more specific wording as to the behavior involved.

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  • Surely in this context it was originally a dramatic change in direction. 'Then I pulled out a gun and Did I ever show you my holiday photographs?' – Edwin Ashworth Apr 4 '18 at 18:10
  • It doesn't take much to sexualize a phrase, does it? Ever see Beavis and Butthead? :-) – Green Grasso Holm Apr 4 '18 at 18:13
  • No. I assume that's not a non-sequitur, though. – Edwin Ashworth Apr 4 '18 at 18:26

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