This afternoon, I offered assistance to a fine old gentleman who was looking for the Social Security offices at the Post Office. I pointed him in the right direction, and he shook my hand and called me a "gentleman and a scholar". I thanked him, feeling good for being helpful and glad for the compliment, and although I was familiar with the phrase I thought it best to look it up. The phrase is from the Robert Burns poem Two Dogs: A Fable, and then later it appeared in Catcher in the Rye. In neither place is it truly a compliment; Burns muses on how more worthy the workingman is than the elite, and Holden Caufield uses it as a sarcastic insult. As I was leaving the post office, I saw the same man helping his wife struggle up the curb and to the sidewalk, now that he'd properly scouted their destination and confident that she wouldn't need to exert herself too much to get to where she needed to be. There's no doubt he meant it complimentary, and knowing I was helpful brightened my day.
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