Some watched Perfect Strangers for the zany physical comedy. Some for the equally-zany schemes. Some for the (so they said) attractive leading men (and Bronson Pinchot, who played the Mediterranean cousin Balki, seems to be the more popular one.) Some watched to see goodness, innocence, and integrity triumph.
And then there were the “Balki-isms” – those hilarious language mistakes made by the Myposian who never – even after seven and a half years – fully mastered the English language.
Fan Club President-turned fan-webmistress, Linda Kay- also known as “Shepherdess” and “Sheepherderess” as a nod to Balki’s pre-immigration profession – devotes several pages of her site to the Balki-isms from each season.
Since I’ve always had a thing about whimsical word play, these are at or near the top of my list of reasons for enjoying the show (though the integrity and goodness aspect is up there, too.)
But, as happens too often with the writing of comedies, even Balki-isms ran out of steam, and by the later seasons a few had me saying, “Would even someone who didn’t know the language well really confuse those two words? Of course not, don’t be ridiculous!”
Some of the worst Balki-isms:
Balki-ism: The rest is hysterectomy.
I would buy Balki not knowing what that word means – but he should know the word “history” especially given that he’s studied that subject for his citizenship classes.
Balki-ism: “I rest my face.”
Ok, the words “face” and “case” rhyme but the meanings seem different enough, and both words seem simple enough, to preclude this confusion.
Balki-ism: She’ll be pleased as lunch.
“Pleased as Kool-Aid” or “Pleased as lemonade,” would have worked a lot better, given the common modern understanding of “punch” being a type of a drink. Whatever “punch” means, “lunch” rhymes, but doesn’t mean the same thing.
Balki-ism: “What? You think I’m turning into a couch tomato?”
This was one of the most egregious, considering that Balki actually learned the phrase “coach potato” way back in Season 3 when a whole episode was devoted to the danger of his turning into one.
Balki-ism: “For your infomercial, I am not depressed.”
Really? The word “infomercial,” admittedly derives partly from the word “information,” but Balki really should know the word “information,” by now. This was in Season 7. The reverse, with Balki saying he saw an “information” on TV, would have been slightly better, just because “information” was the original words.
Balki-ism: “Last one up the stairs is a rotten eggbeater!”
Doesn’t he know the difference between eggs and something you use to work them?
Balki-ism: “Cousin, don’t take your shorts out to brunch!”
He was repeating a character’s earlier statement, “Don’t get your shorts in a bunch,” but honestly, he should know the difference between that and going out to brunch.
Balki-ism: “Oh, Cousin, sometimes I can’t see the forest through my knees.”
Seriously? That’s a far cry from “not seeing the forest for the trees.” “Through my knees” and “for the trees” don’t mean remotely the same thing.
Balki-ism: “I don’t think Cousin Larry is playing with a full deck chair.”
He should know a deck of cards from a deck chair. Even the “deck” part doesn’t mean the same thing.
Balki-ism: “Well, why don’t you just burst my baboon?”
This one does make me laugh, but I just can’t believe in someone confusing “balloon” with “baboon,” and actually, I always thought it was “burst my bubble,” not “burst my balloon.”
Balki-ism: “Cousin, I’m not gonna give Marge any more food and that’s vinyl.”
But he knows the word “final,” and it’s an easier word than “vinyl!”
On the flip side, some language mistakes or conflations of idioms are obvious enough that I’m surprised the PS writers didn’t think of them:
- On several occasions, Larry was worried about impressing somebody important, and about Balki embarrassing him. Balki did promise not to embarrass Larry, but I can’t believe he didn’t say, “I’ll put my very best foot in my mouth.”
- Balki used to refer to a good opportunity as “stepping in something good,” but he never did say, “If you put your best foot forward you just might step in something good.”
- On any of MANY occasions when Larry was frantic, Balki could have referred to him as “so worried he’s standing next to himself.”
- Balki often motivated people -including or especially Larry – to behave with more integrity, often saying he knew they really were that more honest person, but he never did say, “I know you are really an honest and uptight person.” (If you know the show, you know that often, “uptight” was a better description for Larry than “upright.”)
- In the episode in which Balki starts work at the Chicago Chronicle, we are told that the nasty supervisor, Mr. Gorpley, had a nephew he would have preferred to hire. Balki didn’t think to comment that the nephew was probably a chip off the old shoulder!
- When Larry told Balki in the second episode that a certain admired celebrity was staying in a hotel in Chicago to have an affair, I am surprised Balki did ask, “A fair? In a hotel room? How did they fit all of the merry-go-rounds, and the horses, and the cows and the sheep in there?”
- Larry was impatient to climb the professional and social ladders; Balki once told him “Patience is a virgin.” He should have said, “The fruit is always forbidden on the other side of the fence,” or perhaps “The forbidden fruit is always greener on the other side of the fence.”
- If Balki ever tried my favorite Chinese dish, kung pao chicken, he might have mistaken it for kung fu chicken.
- Balki’s attempts to compliment Larry often came out wrong, but he never did say, “You were superfluous!” Nor did he ever confuse “luminous” with “ludicrous.”
- When a nasty coworker got Larry and Balki drunk at a party Balki could have talked about their three sheets blowing in the wind.
- When Larry considered getting a “scoop” based on information he wasn’t supposed to have, that someone had given him in confidence, Balki should have said, “Don’t cut off the nose that feeds you.”
- Or, If he thought Larry was making an unwise purchase for the sake of status, “Don’t pay through the nose to spite your face.”
- The guys’ girlfriends, Jennifer and Mary Anne, were flight attendants, so Balki could have thought they got hung over at the airport.
- Larry was always whining or angsting, assuming his life was over. Balki’s reassurances often failed, but he never said, “Come on co-sin, your world isn’t crumbling around your eyes.”
- Larry often thought his career was going down the tubes, but if he referred to it being “in jeopardy,” Balki could have said, “Co-sin, just yesterday you said your future was with a newspaper. Now you want to go work on a game show?”
- Larry got amnesia in one episode, and Balki tried some things to restore his memory, but never played on the phrase “jog your memory” by asking if Larry’s memory had gone jogging.
- Any of the many times the co-sins wound up in court, or talking to a judge, Balki could have called that member of the bench *“Your Magistrate.”
- We meet Larry’s father and he turned out to be a lot like Larry. I’m surprised Balki didn’t comment that the Appleton didn’t fall far from the tree.
- Perfect Strangers was way before the era when sit-coms included plots about characters’ sexual orientation, but if Balki had been sworn to secrecy about someone’s orientation, and then revealed it accidentally, he would probably apologize for “letting the cat out of the closet.” Or he might say people were “coming out of the closet” when he really meant “coming out of the woodwork.”
- Balki was always cautioning Larry against doing things that Larry thought would advance their careers or financial situations, but which Balki knew to be dishonest or a bad idea for some other reason. And then later, Balki would remind Larry that he had so warned him. Possible Balki-isms for this that were not used include, “The writing on the wall is always 20/20.”A red flag is always 20/20.” “The red flags were on the wall.”
- Images of animals that hate being wet are sometimes invoke to depict anger, as in “mad as a wet hen” or cat. Balki could have said “mad as a wet noodle.”
And imagine if Balki were around for the 2016 election!
- He has been known to say he “didn’t just fall off the turnip train.” (It’s supposed to be “turnip truck.” Now I hear him saying he didn’t just fall off the Trump train!
- Or, I hear Larry using the expression about “having a trump card,” in the sense of having a way to guarantee his latest scheme will work, and Balki saying something like, “You got a card from Donald?” Or “But I thought you voted for Clinton” or, “Is the Donald making greeting cards now?” Anything involving mistaking the word “trump” for the proper name.
- And I am sure that, any time Balki referred to a candidate who was leading in votes in a primary and likely to win, Balki would have called him or her the “presumptuous nominee.” (One of the major candidates actually did say that about another one.)