I accidentally got into a very interesting conversation today about the qualities and etymology of the phrase 'easy, tiger' after expressing admiration at its concise encapsulation of a certain level of sordid flirtation.
I've done a little digging, and from internet sources can't discover any details about the etymology of the word. The period it seems most associated with in my mind is the sixties, the words tripping along with a raised eyebrow and a faked concern that rampant passions be reined in. That need not be the case though. The tiger ceased to be a creature of special fokloric weight for us long before the sixties, when its territory stopped being a place where you might aspire to go and live for the advancement of your career.
Do children today still have nightmares about tigers the way they once did? Is the scale of the beast still something that amazes the young, or have they moved on to others in the menagerie? I'd imagine that Spielberg has done more than anyone to oust the tiger as man's most feared enemy - the Jungle is a distant dream for most, but as the BBC recently reminded us, you're never further than around 70 miles from the sea in England. Sure the waters off the British coast are too cold to harbor a Great White, but you can never really know what's patrolling beneath the turbulent grey surface.
Perhaps it's the experience of seeing them immobile in palatial expanses of tended zoo enclosure that has robbed them of a bit of their mystery. On the few occasions I've seen a tiger, it's been a few stripes of fur glimpsed between fans of undergrowth; a huge paw resting on a log, the rest of the giant head and coiled body totally hidden. They've become pretty lazy. The stars of the show. What was once a creature so awe inspiring that Blake could only blame and congratulate God, is now a cause of mild disappointment for visitors to Marwell hoping to find out what a nightmare looks like. Or perhaps too many appearances bounding through river-spray in Athena posters have turned them noble and cuddly where once they were feared
What though, makes the tiger an appropriate subject for the innuendo? Is it a hangover from a time when anyone could have appreciated the droll futility of trying to calm a tiger? The conjuring of animal urges is obvious enough, but if they fuck as slowly as they do everything else, the tiger is hardly a candidate for pest of the animal kingdom, though the gentle purring undulation of the word is appealing, breaking as it does from that initial gasp of a consonant.
Then, the question of the comma.
I favour the latter. It would be wrong to underestimate the effect of that elliptical 'easy'... not a demand for a pause, just difference. The punctuation gives the sentiment room, forces you to consider exactly what easiness must entail. Easy. Tiger.