Origin of "Wanna come up and see my etchings?"

There’s a pop-cultural cliche I’ve sometimes encountered in sources dating from the 1950s or '60s such as Mad magazine: The cad trying to seduce a chick comes out with the line, “Wanna come up to my place and see my etchings?” Where did that come from? Did this really work? Did bachelors actually used to keep collections of lithographs in their apartments? And were young women actually interested in looking at them? Or was the whole thing just an overused gag, never encountered in real life, like “If I said you had a beautiful body, would you hold it against me?”

In Raymond Chandler’s novels Philip Marlowe (who is a very good man who needs to pretend to be hard) uses the phrase ironically all the time. That’d be '40’s and '50’s (and even the late '30’s, although I don’t recall him using it until later in the oeuvre). I don’t know if the phrase came from Chandler, but he may have helped popularize it.


I remember seeing a reference to an 18th century play (possibly French) that used this line.

Most likely, it comes from French. The expression “Veux-tu monter voir mes estampes japonaises?” (Do you want to come up and see my collection of Japanese stamps?) Is a commonly understood French phrase. It is, however, mostly used as a gag, but it is founded in something.

In the second half of the 19th century Japanese woodblock prints (not lithographs) of the Ukiyo-e style were hugely popular in Europe and especially in France. See this 1867 painting by Manet and notice the props in the background.

The phrase in question is an example of what is known in French as a “litote”, a statement that insinuates much more than it actually says. In 19th century France, owning a collection of Japanese prints would be a sign of good taste and erudition. It appears to be an appeal to the person’s good character. A seemingly “safe” invitation. However, it’s also a veiled reference to a sub-genre of Japanese prints known as Shunga. I won’t post links here, but if you’re not at work, try a Google image search for “shunga”.

Unfortunately, I can’t seem to find when the phrase originated in French. However, by the early 1960s at least, it was already quoted as a joke old-fashioned come-on.

“Litote” is also used in English {from the Greek litotes, meaning “plain” or “simple”} to refer to deliberate understatement {the opposite of hyperbole, really}. To quote fromA Glossary Of Literary Terms {5th Edition}, by M. H. Abrams, ‘A special form of understatement is litotes…which is the assertion of an affirmative by negating its contrary: “He’s not the brightest man in the world” meaning “He is stupid.”’

Or, as Tom Jones sings, “It’s not unusual…”

I read a 1938 newspaper column by Mary Gordon(kinda a Dear Abby type), asking about the new woman. At one point Mary replies, “But, although his methods may be direct, his speech isn’t. Few men resort to the old ‘Come up and see my etchings’ line:”

Barry Popik found a 1936 cite that almost certainly has the same meaning.

The thinking among researchers is that it MAY have been popularized by Mae West’s line—“Why don’t you come up and see me.” But it almost certainly existed before these dates.

The trouble is, to invite someone up to see your etchings in the late 1800’s-very early 1900’s was, as jovan discusses earlier in this thread, a sign that you were a “with it” type, and a young batchelor would invite his male friends up just to show off his art.

Well… I think mine is pretty too but I wouldn’t go so far as to call it art…

Will you walk into my parlour?" said the Spider to the Fly,
'Tis the prettiest little parlour that ever you did spy;
The way into my parlour is up a winding stair,
And I’ve a many curious things to shew when you are there.

Even in 1821 it was An Old Story

In Heinlein’s last novel, based very loosely on his parents’ courtship and married life around the turn of the 20th century, the young married couple is looking through her physician father’s “sex education” aids, of which a major element is Forberg’s Figuris Veneris, a series of etchings based on classical pornographic art. My immediate reaction was, “Oh, so that’s what the ‘come up and see my etchings’ line was referrring to!”

A cartoon by James Thurber, probably dating from the late forties, shows a man speaking to a woman with the caption (IIRC) “You wait here - I’ll bring the etchings down.”

In Wycherley’s Country Wife , 1675, the rake Horner invites other mens’ wives to his chambers to inspect his fine collection of china; all the wives understand the sexual reference, although their cuckolded husbands remain blissfully ignorant. In fact one of the scenes of the play is known to critics as ‘the China scene’. It was one of the most popular plays of its period and has retained its popularity ever since. A possible inspiration for the etchings phrase?

A very old Chinese book of prophecy and aphorism. "Wanna come up and see my I Ching ? :dubious:

I seem to recall a humorous postcard from around the Edwardian era popularized that exact phrase in English, but it appears similar ones which let to it were around much earlier.

led to it