Reading that classic of children's literature, Tiptoes the Mischievous Kitten (a Ladybird book from 1949), I started wondering about the phrase "of course."

Here's an example of what I think of as the typical use of "of course": after getting covered in starch, Tiptoes runs out into the sun where "of course her fur dried in little stiff points... ." If you get mixed up in starch, then it's gonna dry your fur in stiff points -- here, of course "acknowledges the validity of the associated phrase."

But here's another example of "of course" that I think of as less typical and this is the one I'm asking about. Tiptoes's owner carefully closes a door, but, the latch being loose, it swings open again. At this point in the narrative, my two young children know that the very worst thing that could happen is that the mischievous kitten comes along, but "Just then, of course, Tiptoes came silently up the stairs" (and then all hell breaks loose).

This use of "of course" does not acknowledge the validity of the associated phrase: it does not follow from the door swinging open that Tiptoes should happen up the stairs. She could just as well be sleeping in the rocking chair or hunting mice.

It seems instead to mean "as luck would have it," or acts perhaps an idiomatic affirmation of Murphy's law.

I can remember my English grandmother using the phrase "of course" in a similar way, usually in humorous or ironic stories. She'd use an "of course" to introduce that the worst/silliest/funniest possible turn of events was about to happen.

Is this usage mainly mid-20th-century English? Is it any accident that an English book of 1949 reminds me of something my English grandmother (born in 1916) might have said? I don't think I've heard it used amongst my Canadian contemporaries. Do we still hear it today, or has it been replaced by other idioms or even tones of voice? Do we hear it in North America, in Australia, NZ, South Africa, India? Is its use limited to the British Isles, or even to certain regions of the UK?

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    It seems to me that this Tiptoes the Mischievous Kitten is the obverse of T. S. Eliot's Macavity: the Mystery Cat "Macavity’s a Mystery Cat: he’s called the Hidden Paw—//For he’s the master criminal who can defy the Law.//He’s the bafflement of Scotland Yard, the Flying Squad’s despair: //For when they reach the scene of crime—Macavity’s not there!" Tiptoes, on the other hand, is always there. For both cats, it's merely a matter of course – user21497 Jan 6 '13 at 4:03
  • Of course, there's another way to look at it - it's General Reference. The expression always means as expected, but expectations are based on context - sometimes it means "As you would expect, I agree completely with you/will do whatever you want/etc." – FumbleFingers Jan 7 '13 at 4:15
  • Hi @FumbleFingers, I was thinking about the usage part of ELU :) – JAM Jan 7 '13 at 4:45
  • @JAM: Yes, well I still think this usage of of course is no different to "He finally asked me out for a date - but it would have to be on Friday, when I always stay in and wash my hair." Like Mynamite, I'm surprised you think this type of irony is unusual - (Do Canadians have a sense of humor? :) – FumbleFingers Jan 7 '13 at 14:16
  • @FumbleFingers you're a funny guy... (or possibly gal) – JAM Jan 7 '13 at 14:36

Here in North America, I'm pretty sure I've heard such usages.

NOAD defines the idiom of course as:

used to introduce an idea or turn of events as being obvious or to be expected

Contextually, that fits with the meaning you describe.

For example, someone might be talking about a chain of unfortunant events, and then insert of course:

I was already running late, and of course I hit every red light on the boulevard.

In this example, it's not so much that hitting every red light would be obvious or expected per se, but, in the context of the conversation (perhaps cued by a vexed tone of voice), one might use of course in the same sense as naturally, particularly with Murphy in mind. In other words, things were already going wrong – what else would you expect?

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    Or, more literally, that this turn of events was expected because there would be no other reason to tell the story. The expectation arises not from Murphy but from the conventions of narrative; i.e. that one does not tell a story in which nothing interesting happens. This use of "of course" acknowledges that the story went where you expected it to go. – Cory Jan 7 '13 at 3:20

Given that the title is 'Tiptoes the Mischievous Kitten' the of course refers to the fact that Tiptoes will always be involved in whatever mischief is happening. It is not acknowledging the validity of the sentence on the page, it is acknowledging the fact that you, the reader, with your knowledge of plots and Murphy's Law, will fully expect Tiptoes to turn up and mayhem will follow. In fact you would feel very short-changed, in narrative terms, if Tiptoes slept the afternoon away and nothing happened.

I would use 'of course' in this way all the time (UK), in a humorous/sarcastic/ironic way, so I'm very surprised to hear you do not use it in Canada. :)

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