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“Eyes, Pansay—all Eyes, Brain, and Stomach. And the greatest of these three is Stomach. You’ve too much conceited Brain, too little Stomach, and thoroughly unhealthy Eyes. Get your Stomach straight and the rest follows. And all that’s French for a liver pill. I’ll take sole medical charge of you from this hour! for you’re too interesting a phenomenon to be passed over.”

This is from "The Phantom Rickshaw" by Rudyard Kipling.

I don't understand the meaning of

And all that’s French for a liver pill.

3 Answers 3

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It's not a common expression in modern English.

"All that" means "all the words that I just spoke". And "French" is used jokingly as "language that isn't understood". So he means:

All this talking about "conceited brain and too little stomach" is hard to understand. But to make it simple for you, it all means that you should take this liver pill.

A "liver pill" is actually a laxative, and were often sold as "cure-alls" by charlatans. The whole monologue is "patter": fast talk to get someone to buy a product.

The first part of the patter is a modification of a line from the Bible "faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity"

Almost any foreign language could be substituted in place of "French" but it would be natural for an English speaker to refer to a language spoken close to England: French or Dutch would be natural, or even "double dutch". "Latin" or particularly "Greek" is also common, from when these were commonly taught to high achieving pupils at school.

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    I couldn't figure out the meaning at all when I first read it. I was thinking that it was a pun on foie gras (french goose liver) as take a pill in place of eating everything that is French but it didn"t make any sense. Thank you for explaining it so well!
    – Mari-Lou A
    Apr 3, 2021 at 8:07
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    References to Greek are much older than the teaching of Greek in elite English schools, which enjoyed a rise in status during the Enlightenment (18th Century) and peaked toward the end of the 19th Century. In Shakespeare's Julius Caesar (1599), Casca says of Cicero's speeches "it was Greek to me".
    – JavaLatte
    Apr 3, 2021 at 8:15
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    The whole monologue is "patter": fast talk to get someone to buy a product. This is a false statement if you read the story. Heatherlegh, the Doctor, kept, in addition to his regular practice, a hospital on his private account Therefore if he was doing pro bono work he is hardly a Charlatan. The doctor has also just diagnosed indigestion "when I’ve cured you, young man, let this be a lesson to you to steer clear of women and indigestible food till the day of your death.”
    – Brad
    Apr 4, 2021 at 3:20
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    @Jivan no, that wouldn't work at all. "and all that French for..." would mean (nonsensically) "all that French (language) was used for..." it doesn't make sense. It is only with the is that it does make sense and can be parsed just as this answer explains. Consider the equivalent "Bonjour is French for good morning", you need the is there.
    – terdon
    Apr 4, 2021 at 23:09
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    @Jivan I think you're not seeing that "all that is French" can be parsed in two different ways, the one you already see ([all] that is French) and the one that was most probably meant ([all that] is French for...).
    – Zachiel
    Apr 4, 2021 at 23:43
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The French language is occasionally used as a symbol for "a language the listener isn't really sure-footed in". That gives the speaker the chance to hide something (because the listener doesn't really understand all the details), or to make something appear different (for example, more valuable) than it actually is.

See for example the phrase "pardon my French" or "excuse my French". This basically means "please excuse me for using language you're uncomfortable with" - be it because the listener doesn't speak the language that good, or (as it is mostly used today), because you're using swear words.

In this case, the "French" is supposedly used to hide the more simple nature of the medicine the doctor applies. So,

And all that’s French for a liver pill.

basically means something like

And all what I just said was just a fancy way to describe a liver pill.

Another example might be

A "number ninja" is just French for an accountant.

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  • As you correctly state the phrase "pardon my French" or "excuse my French" is used or was used when you say something uncouth or worse.
    – Brad
    Apr 4, 2021 at 12:58
  • @Brad - what a way to describe la langue de Voltaire, which is arguably more elegant, precise, and expressive than English. Look at all the things English can't say and and has to borrow. Carte blanche, tout le monde au balcon, jeunesse dorée, épater les bourgeois, etc etc. Apr 5, 2021 at 7:59
  • @MichaelHarvey Languages are influencing each other all the time. I wouldn't take the fact that one language adopts loan words from another as a sign of inferiority. Just look at "le weekend", "le pull", "le parking", "lousse" (from "loose"), "contacter" (from "to contact") and so forth. I know many French are quite defensive of their language, but those quarrels about "keeping the language pure" always seem quite ridiculous to me. Apr 5, 2021 at 9:17
  • @HenningKockerbeck - Not just English. On peut faire le dolce far niente. Maybe it is because I have been a Francophile for approaching 60 years that I perceive English weaknesses that French remedies. Of course it goes the other way. When I go to France there is sometimes a struggle to speak French because younger people want to try out their English, but older people are OK. A nice French lady in a train once thought I was maybe Swiss, which flattered me greatly. Apr 5, 2021 at 10:06
  • @Michael Harvey Just because I am reporting on the use does not say I agree with it. Please do not shoot the messenger :) P.S. Not to keen on the politic (burnt sheep and the fishy stuff) and the fact they declined to join the commonwealth but I have no problem with the language.
    – Brad
    Apr 9, 2021 at 1:45
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It means everything

All that is French means everything from France. Which is used to imply that "everything else in the world" be fine if you take medicine for your liver.

Remember "The Phantom Rickshaw" was first printed in 1888 which coincided with the height of Parisian influence on the world stage. Late in the 19th century, Paris hosted two major international expositions: the 1889 Universal Exposition, was held to mark the centennial of the French Revolution and featured the new Eiffel Tower.

"and all"; and everything else:

"and all that" informal; and everything related to the subject mentioned: C.E.D.

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    I have never heard that expression before, and NGrams hasn't either... books.google.com/ngrams/… Your explanation of "for a liver pill" doesn't seem to fit either: where does "will be fine" come from?
    – JavaLatte
    Apr 3, 2021 at 8:19
  • @JavaLatte "will be fine" come from? - Get your Stomach straight and the rest follows = get your stomach in good order and the rest will follow. Straight; (adjective) in the sense of in order. Definition: in good order "and all that" informal; and everything related to the subject mentioned:
    – Brad
    Apr 3, 2021 at 8:45

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