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In "The Light Fantastic", rather early in the book, I was a bit surprised by the phrase

the object of desire did indeed look like a bottle of champagne

to justify claiming that the

beloved having a face that launched a thousand ships.

I don't want to appear macho, but an hourglass figure (90-60-90 metric; 36-24-36 in the US) seems much more likely to launch a thousand ships, like Helen of Troy, than the shape of a bottle of champagne.

An image that compares the hourglass figure of Jessica Rabbit, to the shape of a bottle of champagne.

Is there a hidden joke here? I am a French speaker and my English is adequate, but there are lots of phrases which I miss.

The full quote is:

[. . .] any loose talk about a beloved having a face that launched a thousand ships would have to be backed by evidence that the object of desire did indeed look like a bottle of champagne.

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1 Answer 1

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I think you've understood the joke but missed the reference.

Under Patrician Quimby poetic metaphor was forbidden. The narrator is pointing out that nobody's face literally launched a thousand ships (no matter how good-looking) but that bottles of champagne are regularly smashed onto ships that are being launched.

Hence, anyone whose face is said to have launched a ship needs to look like a bottle of champagne.

An animated GIF depicting the ritual of smashing a bottle of champagne against the departing ship as part of the inauguration. This looks like it was recorded during early 20th century, because it's colorless, the recording contains noises, and there are black "burnt" spots at the edge.

The point is that descriptive writing is very rarely entirely accurate and during the reign of Olaf Quimby II as Patrician of Ankh some legislation was passed in a determined attempt to put a stop to this sort of thing and introduce some honesty into reporting. Thus, if a legend said of a notable hero that 'all men spoke of his prowess' any bard who valued his life would add hastily 'except for a couple of people in his home village who thought he was a liar, and quite a lot of other people who had never really heard of him.' Poetic simile was strictly limited to statements like 'his mighty steed was as fleet as the wind n a fairly calm day, say about Force Three,' and any loose talk about a beloved having a face that launched a thousand ships would have to be backed by evidence that the object of desire did indeed look like a bottle of champagne.

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    Was the object-of-desire more like a bottle of champagne or more like something that smashed face-first into a thousand different ships; ie a boxer or someone who had been struck in the face a lot ? Each bottle of champagne only launches one ship, and after that they get a new bottle.
    – Criggie
    Nov 20, 2023 at 0:55
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    @Criggie: Not always, apparently ;-)
    – psmears
    Nov 20, 2023 at 16:42
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    @Criggie I suspect that's overthinking it.
    – Spencer
    Nov 25, 2023 at 21:33
  • @Spencer this is Terry Pratchett - I suspect there's still layers on layers of stuff noone's picked up on yet.
    – Criggie
    Nov 25, 2023 at 22:16

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