P G Wodehouse
Literary and Cultural References
In A Wodehouse Handbook (Popgood & Groolley, London, 2006) Norman Murphy quotes Alan Judd in a 1997 review from the Daily Telegraph: “Every generation. . . is doomed to be a sort of secret society, with special thoughts and interests which, like passwords, are well known to its contemporaries but cannot be communicated to its descendants.” Murphy continues: “Very many of Wodehouse’s references and quotations were topical, and the first readers of his books appreciated them more than we do today. He worked for over seventy years and his stories reflect the background, social standards, and events of his time.”
Murphy’s point about first readers of the books appreciating the topical references more so than a reader of today is well taken. Wodehouse referred to real people and events of his day, and he used jargon that was well-known when he wrote it, but much of which has since faded from the language and is now just a quaint echo of the past. Most of his slang is British and may not be familiar to all readers. But his gift of ‘timeless’ prose allows readers of any time to know what he meant by it, even though we may not grasp the specific reference he’s using.
Still, there is a need to annotate Wodehouse for the benefit of those readers who want to peel back the layers of time to see exactly what he was referring to, and even more so for those generations of readers yet to come. Many terms and phrases that Wodehouse used that we understand today will be obscure by the time our great-grandchildren pick up a copy of Laughing Gas; For one example from another book, his use of “Beatle, Beatle and Beatle of Liverpool” from 1966 is clear to us today, but will it be to the 2066 reader, any more than the entertainers of Wodehouse’s own day are to us?
I depart from the usual practice of Wodehouse annotators and aim for a comprehensive inclusion of all of the slang, vernacular, and other obscurities found in Laughing Gas - rather than limit it to quotations, biblical references, etc., which is the usual custom. Thus, you will find words and phrases that are well-known to you — but may not be so well-known to foreign-born readers or to generations to come. In essence, I’m writing it for not only a reader of today who wants to dig deeper, but also for those who aren’t entirely familiar with American and English culture and language, as well as a readers yet to come.
I owe a huge debt of gratitude to Norman Murphy; first, for his indispensable A Wodehouse Handbook, but also for being kind enough to review this text. The value of his corrections and clarifications, as well as providing me with encouragement and advice, and my appreciation thereof, cannot be overstated.
For the man who always gave Bertie Wooster the mot juste, it is only fitting that Wodehouse’s language is precise and nuanced. When he used a word, an adage, a quotation, a reference, an allusion, a bit of vernacular, whether he fractured a figure of speech or mangled a metaphor, he always found that mot juste. He wrote, rewrote, edited and polished; and as he wished to be remembered — he did take care.
John Dawson 2008
A few notes:
- I’ve used the Herbert Jenkins first edition of Laughing Gas, published September 25, 1936
- In addition to well-known quotations, I’ve also included where I feel appropriate other examples from both expected and unexpected sources. Some of these are unquestionably the exact source; others are not, but in any event serve to illustrate and explain their place in Wodehouse’s world and by providing them I hope to achieve historical context and to make the meanings clearer.
- Some of the quotes and songs have been abridged for brevity and clarity to make the precise meaning clear.
- There are too many sources to credit each of them. But foremost, I’ve referred to Norman Murphy’s books for a starting point and inspiration. When I’ve quoted or paraphrased from them, I’ve appended a [NM] at the end. Other PGW scholars are credited when quoted. Terry Mordue has once again rescued me in more places than one. Many of the simple definitions come from the Random House Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary, Second ed., 2001 or the OED.
- This work can be freely photocopied, quoted, transmitted, or, if need be, used to line the parrot’s cage. It cannot, however, be used for commercial purposes. It’s for private, non-commercial use only.
- Comment, clarifications and corrections are welcome: Johndawsonkc@msn.com
requiring careful treatment; awkwardly difficult or unfortunate, unpleasant, nasty [1910-15]
association of writers in founded London in 1921 to promote friendship and intellectual co-operation among writers; “Poets, Essayists and Novelists;" Its first members included Joseph Conrad, George Bernard Shaw, and H.G. Wells. Not to be confused with PGW’s fictional Pen and Ink Club of London, to which his female novelists Julia Ukridge, Leila Yorke, and Rosie M. Banks belonged.
Bicarbonate of soda
sodium bicarbonate; used as an antacid [1880-85]
to appraise, verify, or check for accuracy [1860-65]
(d) to bungle or play clumsily [1825-35]
(my) tee shot
opening drive in golf
Anecdote about Scotsmen, Irishmen and Jews
Nineteenth and early twentieth century ethnic humor generally depicted Scotsmen as stubborn, Irishmen as drunks, and Jews as cheap; In a typical joke, two or three of them would be faced with a common situation and react according to stereotype. In Right Ho, Jeeves from 1934, Bertie relates a similar experience: I remember once detaining a dentist with the drill at one of my lower bicuspids and holding him up for nearly ten minutes with a story about a Scotchman, an Irishman, and a Jew.
PGW’s fictional young gentlemen’s club in Dover Street, Mayfair, which Wodehouse based on Buck’s Club at 18 Clifford Street in London; the origin of the name lies in a speech made by Joseph Chamberlain in the 1880s. Chamberlain, a renowned orator, in attacking the House of Lords, declared them to be ‘drones of the hive.” The phrase stuck in the public and (Wodehouse’s) consciousness. [NM] Geoffrey Jaggard estimates 173 Drones Club members, of which fifty-three are named in the course of the books and stories, including its most prominent member, Bertie Wooster
a room set apart for smoking in a hotel or clubhouse [1680-90]
persons who have superior knowledge and understanding of a particular field, esp. in fine arts, literature, and fashion; from Lt. conoscere, to know [1770-80]
Br. used to express understanding or assent [1895-1900]
Br. slang, Odd, peculiar; also rum [1820-30] Swift speaks of ‘a rabble of tenants and rusty dull rums’ (country parsons). As these “rusty dull rums” were old-fashioned and quaint, a “rum fellow” came to signify one as odd as a “rusty dull rum.”
National Geographic Magazine
illustrated monthly journal of the National Geographic Society, begun in 1888 and known for its colorful photojournalism
Foolish, worthless or offensive talk or ideas; nonsense [1700-10]
a morally reprehensible person; a bounder Br. Au. Slang; an annoying person, esp. a naughty child Look at that frightful ass Spode swanking about in footer bags! Did you ever in your puff see such a perfect perisher? Code of the Woosters, 1938
Located in the northwestern part of Los Angeles, center of the American motion picture industry:
Wodehouse liked retaining the initial letters and rhythm of original names for his fictional characters; Norman Murphy writes that Joey is based on Jackie Coogan (1914-84) who became world-famous at the age of six when he played opposite Charlie Chaplin in The Kid (1920). But in 1934-35, when PGW wrote the prototype novelette for Laughing Gas, Coogan was no longer a child star — indeed, in 1937, her married Betty Grable. I think Joey is actually based on Jackie Cooper, born in 1922, who appeared in the early “Our Gang” shorts and emerged as a major child star in 1931 with “Skippy.” Wodehouse named the character Joey Cooley, but in the 1935 novelette of the same title, he’s Tommy Flower.
Idol of American Motherhood
PGW’s take on the sobriquets assigned by studios and fan magazines to movie stars; In Wodehouse’s short story The Nodder from 1933, child star Little Johnny Bingley — actually a 40-year old midget - is referred to as “The Idol of American Motherhood” and “The Child With the Tear Behind the Smile.”
Outside of the physical description, background, and presence of Jeeves, Wodehouse has entirely appropriated his Bertie Wooster character to use as Reggie. There are dozens of points of similarity, from the way Reggie thinks and talks (in the otherwise-rare first person) to his quotations, his fractured and inane metaphors and similes, his self-deprecation/braggadocio, his appropriation of Bertie’s signature Gothic-Victorian musings: Hideous privations - A sort of hideous tenseness - Sheer horror - I reeled again - Hideous errand - I stood aghast - my blood froze - my soul recoiled in horror - Icy horror - hideous truth — a cold hand seemed to clutch my vitals - A fate. . . worse than death, and so on. Those familiar with the Bertie/Jeeves books and stories will immediately see that Reggie is cloned from Bertie — in a way that may be discomfiting to fans. In my opinion, Wodehouse, in adapting and expanding the original novelette, had to add material and more “personality” to Reggie, and chose Bertie as a convenient source. At any rate, almost the entirety of Reggie’s sentences and thoughts could be interpolated into a Bertie/Jeeves story and be entirely congruent to the Wooster character. If one had never read the Wooster/Jeeves output, Reggie would be an original, charming character — but since Wodehousians know and love Bertie, his appearance in someone else’s skin may leave some fans discombobulated.
return to a previous subject or point; foxhunting, to return to a course for the hounds to regain the scent [1175-1225]
setting to work with vigor and concentration [1300-1350]
Third Earl of Havershot
An Earl is a member of the British peerage, ranking below a marquess and above a viscount; an Earl has the title “Earl of” when the title originates from a place name; Havershot is fictional; but given Wodehouse’s propensity for using bits and pieces of real English towns for his own fictional names and places, it may be likely a compound of Havant (next door to Emsworth) and Aldershot, where public schools boxing competitions were held.
to catch, nab; to steal or filch; [1695-1705] the
. . . title
Gambling term indicating a chance of eight in one hundred to win; a long shot
Field was full of seasoned performers
Refers to other family members higher in succession order to the title; seasoned performer is usually used to describe a mature actor, actress, or athlete or someone who has long experience in his or her chosen field
Who could give me a couple of stone
boxing, refers to a heavier, larger opponent who would ostensibly be favored in a match. A stone is equivalent to fourteen pounds or 6.4 kg.
Uncles call it a day and hand in their spades and buckets
We try to take off the tension of death with a lighter cliché: "kicked the bucket," "cashed in his chips," and in a common Wodehouse usage, “handed in his dinner pail.” “I’m taking my spade and bucket and going home” is a pout spoken by a child playing at the seashore who feels he or she is no longer wanted. Although today the word order is usually reversed to “buckets and spades,” Wodehouse’s use was common in the late nineteenth century. He had used it in the 1928 story Fixing it for Freddie
Boxing Blue at Cambridge
An competitor who has represented Cambridge is permitted to wear a light blue blazer and an Oxford athlete a dark blue one. To earn a Blue, one has to have participated in an Oxford vs. Cambridge Varsity match. To be a boxing blue for either of these universities is a great honor.
Bill(s) of replevin
a court order for the purpose of recovering property in the wrongful possession of others
Give(ing) (me) the eye
To look fixedly at
(Isn’t it a) scream
something that is hilariously funny [1905-10]
Lt., Nobility obliges; the moral obligation of those of high birth or powerful social position to act with honor, kindness, generosity, etc. “Nobility has its obligations” [1830-40]
The act of asking someone for money as a loan or gift
Relatives descended from the same stock, but in a different line; not lineal; cousins, in-laws, etc
dip into the till
to help oneself to cash from a drawer, box or the like, as in a shop or bank, in which money or valuables are kept [1425-75]
Notice of Distraint
a legal filing to be served upon one in possession of assets belonging to a third party; a “padlock” or retainer action.
Be still; hush; an exclamation used for checking or rebuking.
Tut, never fear me: I am as vigilant as a cat to steal cream; Tut, tut, thou art all ice, thy kindness freezeth
Grew to Man’s estate
attained majority; reached a required age to inherit property and assume legal responsibilities
When I am grown to man's estate, I shall be very proud and great, And tell the other girls and boys Not to meddle with my toys.
R L Stevenson in "A Child's Garden of Verses"
London W. 1
London’s most fashionable district, encompassing Mayfair
Stubborn and persistent; tenacious, ready to fight for one’s beliefs or wants [1490-1500]
If therefore that it is possible that the abolition of prize fighting may be prejudicial to that sort of bull-dog spirit of an Englishman, which is to be found in no other nation, we should pause before we attempt to effect it
Sporting Magazine, London 1823
Boat Race night
Gentlemen. If you ever find yourself in England on Boat Race night there are some things which it is absolutely necessary that you understand, if you mean to survive. Boat Race night is that night of nights when Oxford rows against Cambridge. What is important is the adherence to certain cultural protocols. For example, you must be well dressed. If your tailor is anything other than special you may as well not annoy the ancient day with your presence. Once you have succeeded in adding to the beauty of the landscape, you must find yourself a couple of equally well dressed chaps and plunge out in search of one of those most blessed merchants who deal strictly in the wines and spirits. You must be merry. However, there is a line you must not cross. Yes, you must be somewhat floating in potent fluid, but you cannot impair your mental or physical abilities. You need to be able to walk, and more importantly . . . run. Now remember, this is still before the actual race. You will have ample time to imbibe after the race as well, so pace yourselves. If you drink too much before, then you will have to turn down drinks afterward. I recommend drinking to that perfect equilibrium, where one decides to eschew the consequences and knuckle down to spreading sweetness and light. You now attend the race. Yell and holler until your throat needs a second moistening, and then unaware of the victor, return to the beverages. It is important that you have removed all means of identification from your person before this phase. It is also crucial that you not be arrested for disturbing the peace just yet, as you will be called upon by others to enact the most ancient and honored tradition the island kingdom has to offer. You will be told to pinch a policeman’s helmet. Now some might have ethical qualms about such a deed. Put these aside, if the alcohol has not already done it for you, and move on like a man. If policemen didn’t want their helmets stolen, then why, I ask you, would they wear them on Boat Race night? Approach the policeman from the rear. You will of course have to rob whatever policeman the boys have selected but remember that the bigger he is the slower he probably is. The smallish ones can be a bit tricky because they are generally able to run one down after the removal of the helmet. Do your best to disappear. This of course means that you must stop laughing. After assuming a position to the rear of your quarry,, remember above all things not to simply grab the helmet and pull straight back. In such a case the policeman comes with it. One must always pinch the helmet and never the policeman. As for the helmet, when successfully purloined, it will be an heirloom of your family’s for generations to come. So remember, thrust forward on the helmet first, for this disengages the strap from the chin, and then pull back. At this point you run away. But as is normally the case, you will more likely find yourself in a cell for the rest of the night and standing before the local magistrate in the morning. When in the courtroom remember what name you gave the constable when you checked into the facilities the night before. I suggest that you have a name in readiness before the day begins so you are less likely to make one up off the cuff and forget it in the morning. You must now plead guilty as charged and settle for whatever the magistrate imposes. Some will settle for a mere reprimand which is quite reasonable for a night’s entertainment, accommodation, and breakfast in the morning. A most unreasonable fellow will send you up the river for three days, or soak you for five pounds. Upon exiting the courtroom, you are a free man. You may return from whence you came with one Boat Race beneath your belt. Stand tall.
To pull or crush a person’s hat over their eyes, thus temporarily blinding them [1900-30’s]
Throwing soft-boiled eggs at the electric fan
Sport engaged in by the more inebriated Drones Club members and others on celebratory occasions; I believe the first appearance to be in Wodehouse’s 1916 Jeeves and the Unbidden Guest.
I have one friend, a most intelligent chap that writes sober, scientific books, and he's always aching to throw an egg into an electric fan to see what will happen.
Jack London, The Valley of the Moon 1917
Just north of Oxford Street, the home of London’s most prestigious doctors for over a century [NM] home to Sir Roderick Glossop in Thank You, Jeeves, and to E. Jimpson Murgatroyd in Full Moon and Aunt’s Aren’t Gentlemen
Chiefly Br. Wireless telegraphy [1890-95]
Drinking like the stag at eve
Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832) The Lady of the Lake: The stag at eve had drunk his fill, etc. Wodehouse uses it in The Story of Webster and The Old Reliable, among others
(s) something or someone wonderful; an excellent or remarkable thing; Br. slang Used to describe an exceptionally attractive young woman.
Br. slang; a person, usually one who is odd or has some peculiarity
Chiefly Br. Euphemism for damned [1790-1800] arose from the printers' convention of rendering "damned" with dashes as "d---d"
causing great horror; repugnant; distressing; reverence: a feeling attitude of deep respect tinged with awe
High priest sicking the young chief
misprint/error for “siccing.” Probably inspired by a boy’s adventure story Wodehouse read at school. I haven’t been able to find an exact attribution. Ancient Aztec and Indian literature both could be sources as well, but more likely Wodehouse remembered the Kiplingesque adventure tales from his youth.
to meddle in the affairs of others
Put a stopper on
finish up, cause to end; as in corking a bottle
Fr. love affair
Live and let live
to tolerate other people’s actions and expect them to tolerate one’s own; “They thought differently about most things but worked together on a principle of live and let live” Dutch proverb, one of many versions of the theme
joined together or united [1515-25]. Br. slang, Married
Twentieth Century Limited
express passenger train operated by the New York Central Railroad 1902-1967, it became one of the most famous trains in the world; Known for its style as well as for its speed, passengers walked to and from the train on a plush, crimson carpet which was rolled out in New York and Chicago, thus the "red carpet treatment" was born.
Heavyweight championship of the world
Coincidentally, on June 22, 1937, Joe Louis defeated James J. Braddock in Chicago to win the heavyweight championship. In Over Seventy Wodehouse wrote: This yearning I had to visit America. . . was due principally, I think, to the fact that I was an enthusiastic amateur boxer in those days and had a boyish reverence for America’s pugilists — James J. Corbett, James J. Jeffries, Tom Sharkey, Kid McCoy and the rest of them. I particularly wanted to meet Corbett and shake the hand that had kayoed John L. Sullivan.”
An accompaniment or garnish to the main dish [1510-1520] Reggie is referring to the money and property he inherited
A state of wealth, financial independence, or ease [1900-05]; also the title of a 1917 Charlie Chaplin movie
He determined to wait until the memory of his crime was forgotten, and then he would return, uncache his wealth, and live on Easy Street for the remainder of his days.
Bret Harte, Overland Monthly 1868
Application for soccage (socage) in fief
pro. SOAK-age; During the feudal period a person might hold land of a lord by knight service, which meant that he owed a certain number of days in service to his lord for the privilege of living on and cultivating it. But as the modern state arose, the concept of knight service waned and socage arose to fill in the gap. It entails the payment of a sort of annual tax to live on the land.
an heir whose right is indefeasible provided he or she survives the ancestor [1325-75]
(Your) heart(s) rule your head(s)
To let impulse, esp. in romance, outweigh practicality. Origin unclear, very old.
“I suppose an affair of the heart to be such a situation of the feelings that the heart rules the head. The prime essence of love is that it should be complete, making no reservations and of allowing no checks from the reason.”
Doctor Claudius, 1883, Francis Marion Crawford.
Verbum sapienti satis
Lt. proverb “A word to the wise is sufficient.”
Legend has it that the detachable collar was invented in 1827 by a housewife who was having difficulties with her husband's "ring-around-the-collar." The most popular style of collar in 1900 was the "high-band,” a turndown collar with a height of from 2 to 3 inches that encased the whole neck in a smooth glossy cylinder of starched linen. Uncomfortable as these are, they made up over 60% of the collar trade in the summer of 1900. Hard collars continued to be popular through WW I, but the comfortable soft collared shirts worn in the trenches permanently impressed their wearers, so through the twenties the public slowly went back to spread collars, and discarded the detachables. By the 1930's the hard collar was only the preserve of older men and conservative dressers, except for the wing collar for formal and evening wear.
A railroad passenger car having a lounge or platform from which the passing scenery can be viewed. [1870-75]
Known as sixpence; American equivalent in 1936 would be about thirty cents.
Guard’s van on an English train
located at the end of the train (caboose)
You just go on and on
The rail distance between Chicago and Los Angeles is about 2000 miles, or four days and three nights
Lt. videlicet; that is to say
First crack out of the box
Instantly; in a crack (snap of the fingers) Also first rattle out of the box
By the 1920’s the African-American railroad attendant's presence on the train was a tradition within the American scene. Over twenty-thousand blacks were working as Pullman Porters and train personnel, at the time the largest category of black labor in the United States and Canada.
Made my toes curl up inside my shoes
A reaction to tense excitement
(Perfectly modeled) chassis
slang, the body of a well-sculpted woman [1920-25]
My knuckles stood out white
Reaction caused by grasping something very tightly; used metaphorically to describe a tense, anxiety-laden situation
Moustache had been long enough to twirl
the mustache was thought to be a symbol of masculinity, and debonair men and dandies seeking to attract a woman’s attention would twirl (twist the ends of) it to call attention to themselves. [1890-1895] He drew himself up with an air and began to twirl his gray mustache, for, relying on their innocence and his own impressive manner, he hoped to force an acquaintance - one of those chance acquaintances that are the absolute bete noir of those mothers who have not been able to teach their young daughters to distinguish between a very courteous reserve and freedom of speech with amiable men. A Pasteboard Crown, Clara Morris 1902
(Coloured brother) popped off
Left the car
Sadness was beginning to come over me like a fog
To become enveloped, permeated with; But when Pierre found himself in the street again, a fresh sadness seized him, settling round him like a fog from the sea, Guy de Maupassant; Pierre and Jean, 1888
That of inferior grade, quality or character
A partially or mostly burned piece of coal, wood, etc; a residue of combustion; Reggie and April are in the observation car, which is a partially open car at the end of the train, in which passengers would sit and watch the scenery go by. Presumably, the cinder had come from the engine room of the train. In 1939, coal and wood began to be replaced by diesel fuel on American trains and observation cars were eventually replaced by fully-enclosed, air-conditioned “dome cars.”
(Couple of) tick(s)
Br. informal, a moment or instant [1400-50]
Shoving the handkerchief up the sleeve
From the 16th century, the handkerchief of finest white linen found safe harbor up the left sleeve of the gentleman of quality. Officers returning from the First World War reverted for a while to placing the handkerchief up a sleeve, which is where they had been obliged to stow it when in buttoned-down uniform, but soon it was restored to the breast pocket
It's easy to tell that you've been accustomed to wear a uniform, Watson; you'll never pass as a pure-bred civilian as long as you keep that habit of carrying your handkerchief in your sleeve
Doyle, The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes, 1894
Manchuria is a vast geographic region in northeast Asia, bordering Mongolia in the west, Siberia in the north, China proper to the south and North Korea in the southeast. Between World War I and World War II, Manchuria became a political and military battleground. Manchurian bandits, notorious for their ferocity and bravery, freely roamed the countryside, taking advantage of the political turmoil and attacking and robbing natives and foreigners both.
Br. slang, the face; OED cites two examples from Wodehouse, this instance and one from The Luck of the Bodkins
Chiefly Br. Informal man, fellow [1850-55]
Motion pictures, coined by the show business paper Variety in 1932
In his 1935 novelette of the same name from which he adapted Laughing Gas, this character is called Hazel June; Norman Murphy postulates that Wodehouse named her after one of Guy Bolton’s British actress girlfriends, June Tripp (1901-1985). Could be, but since the character is a very unsympathetic one, I doubt that Wodehouse did so. April was not a common name for women in the 1930’s, and “April June” is clearly a stage name, much like “Lotus Blossom” in Luck of the Bodkins. Some attribute April June’s naming to American actress Mae Marsh but I’m not so sure. I think April June is more glamorous than she was. My guess is that Wodehouse was slyly hoping his readers would realize that her full name would have been April Mae June.
a threadlike leafless growth of plants [1530-40]
Chiefly Br. drafty; breezy [1150-1200]
In a railroad car, a private room for two or three passengers
Slang, To go, to leave, as a bee (?)
There are five ranks of hereditary peerage: Duke, Marquess, Earl, Viscount and Baron.
A British nobleman of a rank below that of marquis and above that of viscount
A British nobleman holding the highest hereditary title outside of the royal family, ranking immediately below a prince
a nobleman next below an Earl and next above a Baron
A person in unfortunate or pitiable circumstance; an unlucky, unhappy person;
Chiefly Br. a place to sleep, esp. in a cheap lodging house [1775-85]
The 1868 National Gazeteer describes Biddlesford as “a hamlet in the parish of Arreton, liberty of East Medina, in the Isle of Wight, county of Southampton, 2 miles from Newport." in Norfolk
a county in East England
rather good, fairly good; in this case, Reggie is intimating that the residence is very large
A parapet on a castle or other structure, originally defensive but later ornamental [1275-1325]
Slang, a quick drink of liquor; shot [1325-75]
A person who prefers pleasures and activities that center around the home [1815-1825]
a plain-weave cotton fabric, usually striped or checked [1605-15]
A long, loose outer garment, a loose bathrobe
a dish of melted cheese, usually mixed with ale or beer, milk and spices, served over toast; also called Welsh Rabbit [1815-25]
A sufficient amount of liquor to cause intoxication [1860-65]
Angel in human shape
In many religions such as Judaism, Christianity and Islam, it is believed that between God and mankind there are intermediary beings called angels, bodiless entities that perform certain tasks for God and are commonly thought of as the messengers of God. Angels are good spirits, unlike their counterparts the demons. They are usually portrayed as having a human form, being dressed in long, white clothes, surrounded by a bright light and with long, swanlike wings. They were portrayed thus by artists, often on Church command, to alert the faithful that angels are more than human.
The beauty, and seeming virtues of this apparent angel in human form, caught the young eye of thy father, and, in defiance of arts and schemes, before the long-expected title and fortune came, they were wedded
James Fenimore Cooper, 1892
Decayed or worn out; out of fashion, antiquated [1350-1400]
One of the ruins that Cromwell knocked about
Oliver Cromwell (1599—1658) was an English military and political leader best known for his involvement in making England into a republican Commonwealth and for his later role as Lord Protector of England, Scotland and Ireland. He was one of the commanders of the New Model Army, which defeated the royalists in the English Civil War in 1642, which is what Reggie is referring to.
Crudely or tastelessly colorful, showy, or elaborate [1535-45]
a bit, as in a splash of water, cologne, etc. [1705-15]
A stupid, stubborn, or foolish person
Creating much excitement, demand, or discussion; characterized by intense excitement, enthusiasm or passion; [1325-75]
slang, a sexually attractive, usually mature woman; Sophie Tucker, American entertainer [1884-1966] popularized the phrase in the 1930s, billing herself as "The Last of the Red Hot Mamas", as her brazenly sexual and teasing persona were a frequent subject of her songs. A 1934 Betty Boop cartoon was titled “Red Hot Mamma.”
Spanner be bunged into the works; Spanner(s)
Br.a wrench, esp. one with fixed jaws; ‘Put (or throw) a spanner in the works’ refers to the calamitous effects of dropping a spanner into the machinery of an operating engine. The American equivalent is to “throw a monkey wrench into the works” Refers to someone or something causing an upset in or destroying one’s plans; PGW’s first recorded use was in Right Ho, Jeeves (1934)
Killing two birds with one stone
Resolving two difficulties with a single action; It would be remarkable to sling a stone at a bird and hit one bird, let alone two. Ovid had a similar expression in Latin nearly 2,000 years ago. Related phrases were in English and French literature by the 16th century. Thomas Hobbes used the modern version in a work on liberty in 1656: I think to kill two birds with one stone, and satisfy two arguments with one answer
Someone or something that is astonishing or excellent [1715-25]
To mash or push down and compress [1910-15]
A tropical American plant, mimosa pudica, cultivated in greenhouses and very sensitive to touch; Popularized by a 1820 poem of the same name by Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822): A Sensitive Plant in a garden grew, And the young winds fed it with silver dew, And it opened its fan-like leaves to the light And closed them beneath the kisses of Night, etc. The personification of the plant as a sensitive, timid person who is overly responsive to external conditions or stimulation, i.e., April June’s “fainting spell,” came into use in the early-to-mid nineteenth century
Best way of bringing around a swooned subject is to bite the ear
I can find only one reference to support Reggie’s cure for swooning: He bite my ear, he pull my nose, but I not stir; Picked Up In the streets, or Struggles For Life Amongst the London poor by Richard Rowe, 1880; To bite the ear was, in ancient times, an expression of endearment
Hit soundly; on the button: in boxing, the point of the chin
Day’s work was done
Norman Murphy traces a 1903 song called “His Days Work Is Done,” but there are many earlier uses: In America, we hurry -which is well; but when the day's work is done, we go on thinking of losses and gains, we plan for the morrow, we even carry our business cares to bed with us. Mark Twain, Innocents Abroad 1869;
A stupid person, a dolt; [1695-1705]
Steak and fried
My first thought was that this dish would have been a steak with a fried egg on top, a stable of American breakfasts and brunches. But Norman Murphy states “Impossible to be certain on his one but, in the UK, we would take this to be steak with fried potatoes.” But “steak and fried” is not in common parlance in America — I’ve never heard the phrase, outside of Wodehouse - and it seems unlikely that it would be a dish on an American train of the 1930’s. Perhaps Wodehouse didn’t know — although he should have, he was familiar enough with America by this time — that the term was purely English and not likely to be used in America. Of course, Reggie could have special-ordered it specifically! But I do think Wodehouse meant steak and fried potatoes. In Laughing Gas, there are several instances of Wodehouse using purely British terms in an American context, and my guess is that his editors overlooked the anachronism.
Reggie is metaphorically referring to a bubbling over, a spewing of emotions
(Heart go) pit-a-pat
with a quick succession of beats or taps [1515-25]
(Love had wound its silken) fetter(s)
a chain or shackle usually placed on the feet, but also referring to anything else that confines or restrains; The earliest use I can find is early 18th century; the term came into common use in the early Victorian era, used metaphorically to describe the tie or attachment one may have to someone or something having an significant element of desirability, such as a king may be “tied to the throne by silken fetters” or that two lovers may be bound by them; It was Freeman, whose heart was no longer free: he that ridiculed love as a mean, selfish, interested passion, was now the humblest slave that ever willingly wore the silken fetters of Cupid. Wanderings of Childe Harolde John Herman Bedford 1825; Think of this, ye who regard palaces as symbols of true enjoyment! and ye who imprison yourselves in overgrown cities, and wear the silken fetters of wealth and pride!--an aristocrat eclipses all your splendour, and a poor Swiss cottager in his humble chalet, is richer than the wealthiest of you--for he is content The Mirror of Literature, Amusement, and Instruction, 1829
Persons who have a strong affinity for each other; [1815-25]
That had got in amongst me
Had affected strongly; had stirred deeply
brawny, having muscular strength or power
Poesy, a small flower, blossom, a floret; Clearly here meaning diminutive, beautiful and delicate, but I can find no other personification of the word as such; perhaps a Wodehouse coinage
Apple pie with a bit of cheese on the side
There was an old English rhyme popular about 1750 that went: An apple-pie without some cheese is like a kiss without a squeeze.
This was not an end but a beginning
Many literary and proverbial references; Skepticism is not an end but a beginning, it is the decay of old ways of believing Thomas Carlyle 1831
Banns (were ever to be put up)
Eccles. Notice of an intended marriage, given three times in the parish church of each of the betrothed; any public announcement of a proposed marriage [1540-50]
Wilt thou, Reginald
. . . (From the Book of Common Prayer 1549) Dearly beloved friends, we are gathered together here in the sight of God, . . . to join together this man and this woman on holy matrmony. . . Wilt thou have this woman to thy wedded wife, to live together after God’s order in the holy estate of matrimony? Wilt thou love her, comfort her, honor, and keep her in sickness and in health? And forsaking all other keep thee only to her, so long as you both shall live? Etc.
To the taste of all people; a way of saying that a person “not everybody’s money” has faults or characteristics that may not meet universal acceptance
a person or thing who moves with great speed; a trapeze artist or aerialist
Lt., Br. informal, father; [1300-50] specifically public school slang; also 'mater'
Consul the Almost Human
was a debonair chimpanzee who became a popular attraction at the Hippodrome Theater in 1900. Dressed in man’s clothes, he pedaled a car around the stage, smoked a cigar, played the accordion and did other tricks which made him famous. He was a hit at Coney Island in 1904 and was the best known chimp in show business until Cheetah appeared in the Tarzan films [NM] The Folies Bergère of 1903 in Paris had a popular performing chimpanzee named Consul, and so did the Belle Vue Zoo in Manchester, England, in 1894, but it is not clear whether this was the same animal, or two with the same name. On Consul’s death in that year Ben Brierley wrote a commemorative poem wondering where the "Missing Link" between chimpanzees and men was. Proconsul was an early genus of primates that existed from 27 to 17 million years ago during the Miocene epoch, first in Kenya, and restricted to Africa. Wodehouse also uses the name to describe one of “The Wrecking Crew” in several of his golf stories.
I haven’t got such a bad soul
Very Woosterish, as in I don’t say I’ve got much of a soul, but, such as it is, I’m perfectly satisfied with the little chap. Joy in the Morning 1946
Matey: Chiefly Br., Sociable, friendly [1910-15]
Br. informal, the act of bathing esp. in the sea, a lake, or river; a swimming bath
many references, esp. mid-to-late 1800’s, used almost exclusively in terms of lovers walking in; This is one Wodehouse was most likely to have seen: For was he not to pass the whole remainder of that blissful day in Sylvia Futvoye's society ? Were they not to cycle together over to Veulettes, to picnic there under the cliff, and ride back—always together—in the sweet-scented dusk, over the slopes, between the poplars or the cornfields glowing golden against a sky of warm purple? F. Anstey, The Brass Bottle 1900
How Countesses were presented at court
During Victoria’s reign, the Court Drawing Rooms were held in Buckingham Palace at four stated periods every year. The lady to be presented is announced before she enters the Drawing Rooms; she must then curtsey before the Queen, so low as to almost kneel, and while doing such, she will kiss the royal hand extended to her, underneath which she has placed her own, ungloved right hand. After passing Her Majesty, she curtsies to any of the Princesses near her and retires backwards in a succession of curtsies until she reaches the threshold of the doorway. The official in attendance replaces her train upon her arm and the presentation is complete. Under King Edward, the kissing of the hand was eliminated.
Royal Enclosure at Ascot
has a strict dress code. Male attendees must wear full morning dress including a top hat, while ladies must not show their shoulders and must wear hats. Traditionally to be admitted to the Royal Enclosure for the first time one must either be a guest of a member or be sponsored for membership by a member who has attended at least four times. Norman Murphy adds that “divorcees were not allowed in the Enclosure until 1955.”
Whipsnade Zoo, founded in 1926, is a zoo located at Whipsnade, near Dunstable Bedfordshire, England.
Chance my arm
ca. 1870; military usage, to chance one’s arm would be to take a risk when failure is probable, in the hope of achieving something worthwhile, the implication being the loss of one’s stripes; to tempt fortune, take a chance
a residential street in Beverly Hills, California. Wodehouse lived at 724 Linden Drive in 1930 in the former home of movie star Norma Shearer. Linden Drive’s residents have included Errol Flynn, David Niven, Charles Boyer, William Holden, Dorothy Malone, Ray Charles and Bill Cosby. In 1947 the gangster Bugsy Siegel was killed at his mistress Virginia Hill’s home at 810 Linden Drive. Wodehouse wrote the short story masterpiece The Story of Webster while living at 724 Linden
Squash (in anywhere)
To squeeze into a crowd
Paper lanterns come in various shapes and sizes; The easiest form is simply a paper bag with a candle placed inside, although more complicated lanterns consist of a collapsible bamboo or metal frame of hoops, covered with tough paper. Often associated with parties, paper lanterns are common in China and Japan, and similarly, in Chinatowns, where they are often hung outside of businesses to attract attention
to summon one’s courage, to become resolute
consuming alcohol in order to lessen inhibitions or attain bravery
Rooted sort of way
as in rooted to the spot; standing still with purpose
(To take a lot of) shifting
regular patronage of a particular shop, restaurant, etc.
Foxhunting, View-halloa, the shout made by a hunter on seeing the fox break cover [1755-65]
interj. Used as an exclamation to express disgust, exhaustion, surprise, impatience, relief, etc. [1595-1605]
(Like a) ruddy
Br. Slang, damned, a euphemism for the more impolite “bloody”. . . banshee Irish folklore; a spirit in the form of a wailing woman who appears as a sign that someone is to die [1765-75]
the name of a football club in the English Football League formed in the Yorkshire city Sheffield in 1867. The club was initially a cricket club named The Wednesday Cricket Club, after the day of the week when they played their matches. Murphy says: “American readers may need an explanation of Eggy’s little play on words. . . (he) was simply indulging in topical badinage as to how long it had been since he had seen Reggie.”
Slang, drunk, inebriated [1875-80]
Day by day in every way
Emil Coue (1857-1926), a French doctor, convinced millions that constant repetition of the words “Every day in every way I am getting better and better” could keep them in good health. In the 1920’s the whole world seemed to be saying it itself. [NM]
Squawk from the old liver
An adverse physical reaction to excessive alcohol consumption, such as coughing up bile, etc.
A one story cottage; In India, a one-storied thatched or tiled house, usually surrounded by a veranda; In the US, a derivative of the house type, esp. popular during the first quarter of the twentieth century, usually having one and one half stories, a widely bracketed gable roof, and a multi-windowed dormer
Garden of the Hesperides
Hesperides was an ancient Greek city; in mythology; the Hesperides are nymphs who tend an Arcadian garden in a far western corner of the world, a blessed island at the edge of the encircling Oceanus, the world-ocean. Murphy says: “I have been unable to trace this. . . I have assumed it was Wodehouse’s memory of the once-famous Garden of Allah at 8152 Sunset Boulevard at the bottom of Laurel Canyon. . . the home of the notorious Russian actress Alla Nazimova. . . after she sold it, it opened as a smart hotel in 1927; residents included Scott Fitzgerald, Dorothy Parker, Alexander Wolcott and John O’Hara and others of the New York Algonquin crowd. . . ” It was originally known as the Garden of Alla; Nazimova (who acted in Camille with Rudolf Valentino) added twenty-five villas to the grounds. It became notorious for the wild parties allegedly held there by the openly lesbian Nazimova. Residents at one time or another included Ernest Hemingway, Greta Garbo, Gloria Swanson, Errol Flynn, Buster Keaton, and other top stars of Hollywood.
Eggy is referring to a stock of liquor; after wine cellar [1325-75]
Oasis: Something serving as a refuge, relief, or pleasant change from what is usual, annoying, difficult, etc. [1605-15]
Drink heartily and have another
Be not shy; do not suspect our welcome, nor be afraid of being troublesome, but eat and drink heartily such things as they give; Luke 10:7,8 Let us drink heartily, and while we do so, tell me a little of what is going on in the world yonder. Dumas The Three Musketeers 1845
one who takes part in boisterous merrymaking or noisy festivity with dancing, singing, etc.;
(in a) comic opera
light opera, a sung dramatic work of a light or comic nature, usually with a happy ending; first developed in 18th-century Italy as opera buffa
Didn’t know me from Adam
is not acquainted with; to not know someone from Adam is to not know or recognize him at all; first recorded around 1784
attending or entering a social function without an invitation, a theater without a ticket, etc. [1925-30]
I spoke pretty crisply
(Worried herself) pallid
Pale, faint or deficient in color [1580-90] The result is that he becomes as pallid and worried as a pessimist; the world to him is not only an elephant, but a white elephant G. K. Chesterton 1923 Fancies vs. Fads
What the devil
What the hell
Mopping up the stuff like a vacuum cleaner
Drinking alcohol to excess; A clever simile containing a double pun; “Mopping up” as in cleaning up spilled liquid; like a vacuum cleaner, to inhale or suck in;
Chiefly Br. to scold severely
A bit mid-Victorian
Having the characteristics usually attributed to the Victorian era (1855-80), esp. prudishness and observance of the conventionalities
Café de l’Europe
Victorian bistro upstairs in the hotel of the same name in London adjoining the Haymarket Theater. Wodehouse readers may remember it as the place young Greg Parsloe got thrown out of for trying to raise the price of a bottle of champagne by raffling his trousers at the bar, according to Gally Threepwood in Summer Lightning
Cut him off
(without a) shilling
To toss, to throw with a quick movement, usually a short distance; to eject a person from a public place [1575-85]
Drunk, inebriated [1880-85]
And not only that, but also [1125-75]
The cut of my jib
Naut. Jib, a triangular sail; One’s general appearance, mien, or manner [1555-65] originally a sailor’s phrase, meaning the expression on a person’s face. Sailors recognize vessels at sea by the cut of their jibs.
Your brain is like a razor
sharp, clear; Ann is telling Eggy not to come back until he is sober
cheer and vigor; Br. Informal, to be bucked is to be happy, elated; [1905-1910] (and) ginger: having piquancy or spirit; lively
Like a lamb
docilely; as in meek as a lamb;
In his not-to-reason-why-manner
Was there a man dismay'd? Not tho' the soldier knew; Some one had blunder’d; Theirs not to make reply, Theirs not to reason why, Theirs but to do and die, Into the valley of Death Rode the six hundred; Tennyson, Charge of the Light Brigade 1880
resort city in Europe at the south eastern extremity of France, at the crossroads between the Alps, Provence, Monaco and Italy. One of the best-known cities of the French Riviera, famous for glitzy hotels and beaches, Cannes has long been a vacation destination among the wealthy, including Bertie Wooster, and famous celebrities.
Friendly, intimate, sociable [1825-35]
Buzzing along like a two-year old
Horseracing, referring to a young race horse, also known as a juvenile
Gas and gaiters
A gaiter is a covering of cloth or leather for the ankle and instep, worn over the shoe or boot [1765-75]. An expression of contentment and jollity; Norman Murphy attributes the coinage to Charles Dickens in Nicholas Nickelby (1839), theorizing gaslit dancing halls where the participants would be wearing formal dress. i.e. knee breeches and gaiters. I believe Murphy has the source right, but the meaning wrong. In the book, a mad old gentleman who has been paying his addresses to Mrs. Nickleby arrives down the chimney of an upstairs chamber dressed only in his underwear. Then Miss La Creevy comes into the room. “Aha!” cried the old gentleman, folding his hands, and squeezing them with great force against each other. “I see her now; I see her now! My love, my life, my bride, my peerless beauty. She is come at last — at last — and all is gas and gaiters!” This must have been incomprehensible to Dickens’s readers, who will have wondered what gas and protective leg coverings had to do with the matter in hand. But when you consider what the old man said next, incomprehensibility comes as no surprise: “Very good,” said the old gentleman, raising his voice, “then bring in the bottled lightning, a clean tumbler, and a corkscrew.” Nobody executing this order, the old gentleman, after a short pause, raised his voice again and demanded a thunder sandwich. This article not being forthcoming either, he requested to be served with a fricassee of boot-tops and goldfish sauce, and then laughing heartily, gratified his hearers with a very long, very loud, and most melodious bellow. Despite its being nonsense (or possibly because it was), “all is gas and gaiters” became a well-known interjection. The original sense was of a most satisfactory state of affairs. This is how nineteenth-century speakers used it and also clearly what Wodehouse meant by it. Another sense grew up in the twentieth century in which gaiters referred to the senior clergy such as bishops and archbishops because of their traditional dress that included those garments, and gas alluded to their supposedly meaningless eloquence. So all gas and gaiters has a meaning as “hot air from a clergyman”, as well as a state of “happy enjoyment” as Murphy calls it, and which is clearly Wodehouse’s intent here.
Come a stinker
The occurrence of an unpleasant fuss or scandal
Palm Beach Casino
one of Cannes’ most famous casinos, located at Pointe de la Croisette
A hard, glossy smoothed leather used esp. in formal dress shoes [1820-30]
Leaping like a scalded kitten
One by one the pictures fade and grow and I bid them all farewell; Ah, the kettle’s boiling over now and the scalded kitten gives a yell! Heinrich Heine 1878; Wodehouse also used the phrase in The Amazing Hat Mystery 1933
Am. Slang, a ruffian, rowdy, or tough [1855-60] The Plug Uglies were an Irish street gang that operated in the westside of Baltimore, Maryland from 1854 to 1860. They wore hob-nailed boots and carried clubs, knives, pistols and axes. Plug Ugly Henry Gambrill was implicated in the murder of a Baltimore police officer in September 1858. Gambrill's trial, and the subsequent deadly violence relating to it, made the crime one of the most sensational of the era and the term plugugly became synonymous with complete thuggery.
Fr. Face to face [1745-55]
Cheerful, lively, gay [1830-40]
Br. Slang, Gloomy, depressed; from Fr. moulde to grow moldy (c.1225)
Br. Slang, man, fellow; The term is the inverse of “happy as a clam at high tide” or “happy as a clam at high water.” Clam digging has to be done at low tide, when you stand a chance of finding them and extracting them. At high water, clams are comfortably covered in water and so able to feed, comparatively at ease and free of the risk that some hunter will rip them untimely from their beds. The saying in its shortened form is first recorded in the 1830s, though it is almost certainly a lot older.
An old and frequently used joke, saying, story, etc. [1425-75]
not easily understood, mysterious, unfathomable
faces you read about in books
The first reference I can find is from 1866, “Napoleon passed seven days of indescribable mental anguish at Fontainebleau. Adversity had befallen him, but he bore it with the semblance of calmness, uttering no complaint. His was still the cold, inscrutable face of the emperor, such as it had been on his triumphal entrance into Berlin. Napoleon and Blucher by L Muhlbach 1898; A likely source is Fu Manchu, created in 1913 by Sax Rohmer. Fu Manchu was characterized by a long, black mustache, long, flowing Chinese-style robes, and a “heartless, inscrutable face.” He was “immensely, coldly intelligent yet seemingly possessed no soul or emotion.”
(In the) scheme of things
The course of events; a system of correlated things;
The dead past is the dead past
Trust no future, however pleasant! Let the dead past bury its dead! Act, - act in the living Present! Etc... Longfellow
An iron hook with a handle used for spearing fish [1275-1325]
(Three) square (meal)
A nourishing or filling meal [1830-40]
Caught in the machinery
Unpleasantly ensnared in uncontrollable events; with the dawn of the industrial age, one being “caught in the machinery” and injured was a not- uncommon occurrence in a factory, and led to safety reforms; Charlie Chaplin’s 1936 film Modern Times illustrated the metaphor in a famous scene by having Chaplin’s befuddled character, the Little Tramp, become caught up and manipulated by a large piece of machinery, representing a world he could not control
Portugese love sonnets
Sonnets from the Portuguese, written ca. 1845—1846, a collection of forty-four love sonnets written by Elizabeth Barrett Browning, the most famous of which begins: How do I love thee? Let me count the ways. I love thee to the depth and breadth and height etc.
American physical fitness enthusiast and football pioneer Walter Camp (1855-1925) developed this series of exercises around 1918. His 1919 book, Keeping Fit All The Way, which contain the Daily Dozen, is holistic in the sense that he devotes as much space to diet and frame of mind as he does to the exercises themselves. He also strongly recommends a walk of at least one half-hour every day — which Wodehouse clearly agreed with. From the book, which is illustrated with photographs of the exercises being performed and precise instructions on their execution: The “Daily Dozen” consists of twelve exercises which, for ease in memorizing, are divided into four groups of three exercises each. Each exercise or movement is given a name, and the names of all the movements of a group commence with the same letter, thus:
GROUP I GROUP II GROUP III GROUP IV
1. Hands 4. Grind 7. Crawl 10. Wave
2. Hips 5. Grate 8. Curl 11. Weave
3. Head 6. Grasp 9. Crouch 12. Wing
These exercises are not difficult nor exhausting, and do not demand great strength for their proper execution. They are designed, both from a scientific and a practical point of view, to give exactly the right amount of exercise to every muscle of the body. They are intended to promote suppleness, and especially to strengthen those muscles which are seldom brought into play in ordinary daily life. A conscientious fifteen minutes a day with the "Daily Dozen" will soon do more for a man than any amount of skilled physical feats or "strong-man stunts."
Love him like a brother
Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves Romans 12:10
a position of duty, trust, or responsibility
one of the traditional characters in American minstrel shows (1830’s- 1900] The two “endmen,” Mr. Bones and Mr. Tambo, were comedians and stars of the show. They usually represented the stereotypical country bumpkin and urban black dandy. One would ask a set-up question of the other, which led to the punch line. When Ann asks “How so, Mister Bones?” she’s mimicking a Minstrel show exchange. A show Wodehouse was sure to have seen, Ziegfeld Follies of 1919 (starring Marilyn Miller — of PGW musicals Rosalie and Sally fame), Eddie Cantor and Bert Williams, featured this Irving Berlin tune:
Mister Bones, Mister Bones, How do you feel, Mister Bones?
(Mister Bones): Rattling.
(Company): Tell us a little story, Mister Bones.
(Mister Bones): How can you keep an angry dog from biting you on Monday?
(Company) How, Mister Bones?
(Mister Bones): The answer is to kill the dog on Sunday!
Job had had him as well as boils
So went Satan forth from the presence of the Lord, and smote Job with sore boils from the sole of his foot unto his crown Job 2:7
Like lions to the drinking hole
A lion moaned and coughed as it strode through the jungle toward water. It was approaching the drinking hole. Tarzan grinned sleepily, changed his position and fell asleep again.
Jungle Tales of Tarzan, Edgar Rice Burroughs 1919
A person employed to promote the interests of an individual, organization, etc., by obtaining favorable publicity through advertisements, mentions in columns, and the like [1880-85]
(Sign on the) dotted line
Place for signature on a contract
The depression (had upset everything)
The Great Depression is the period of history that followed "Black Thursday", the stock market crash of October 24, 1929. The events in the United States triggered a world-wide depression, which led to deflation and a great increase in unemployment.
Working as a writer, designer, performer, or the like, selling work or services by the hour or by the job, rather than working on a regular salary basis for one employer
To dwell on persistently or tediously
Br, slang . Hassle, bother
Rising on stepping-stones
“Truth with him who sings to one clear harp in divers tones that men may rise on stepping stones of their dead selves to higher things.” Tennyson, In Memoriam [NM]
Br. Slang, something sweet or desirable
Slang, a woman given to spiteful or malicious gossip
A word that would describe her even better
Clearly, Ann means “bitch.”
(Shuddered from) stem
the forefront of a vessel; legs of a person
the back or rear part of a vessel; the pressure of the wind down on her decks was so great that she shuddered from stem to stern, and he feared she would shake to pieces, for she was old and not very seaworthy; Among the Isles of Shoals, Celia Thaxter, 1873
bulky in figure; heavily built
A sailing vessel having three or more masts
(do when) buffeted
battered, thrown about; as by waves at sea
You could shake a stick at
you could find or choose;
We have in Lancaster as many Taverns as you can shake a stick at
Lancaster Journal (Pennsylvania) 1818
The roistering fellow swore he was equal to any man you could shake a stick at.
James K Paulding, A Book of Vagaries (1868)
in a month of Sundays
A month of Sundays, meaning "a long time," was a common expression in England 50 years ago. Reggie’s fractured combination of two idiomatic phrases is pure Bertie Wooster.
She’s the top
“You’re the top!
You’re the Colosseum, You’re the top!
You’re the Louvre Museum,
You’re a melody from a symphony by Strauss,
You’re a Bendel bonnet,
A Shakespeare sonnet,
You’re Mickey Mouse,
You’re the Nile,
You’re the Tower of Pisa,
You’re the smile on the Mona Lisa,
You’re the top!”
Song, You’re the Top (1934) by Cole Porter, from Anything Goes
Wodehouse and Guy Bolton had just finished their preliminary script for Anything Goes in July 1936, and later Wodehouse revised the lyrics of the song for its production in London
Worship the ground she treads on
You swore to me that you adored my young lady. She’s an angel, and I worship the ground she treads on.
Henry James, Daisy Miller 1883
Well, for crying in the soup
I haven’t been able to trace this phrase except for a few examples of contemporary usage. By context, similar to “for crying out loud,” i.e. to express impatience at a person or situation; it may also mean acting against one’s own interests
A powerful convulsion shook me from base to apex
Br. slang: a person; Reggie is saying “That’s a good thing!”
Bread and butter
a basic means of support; source of livelihood, sustenance [1620-30]
Hard as nails
Having little respect for the feelings of others; Unyielding, callous, unsympathetic, unsentimental, showing no sympathy; In the 14th century, the equivalent phrase was “as hard as flint stone.”
Uttering the cry of a sheep; to babble, prate; Ann is suggesting that Reggie follows April around like a docile lamb
To cease or quit
Speaking lightly of a woman’s name
Bandy a woman’s name; to exchange, to toss to and fro, as in this case details concerning a woman’s reputation. Strictly against the code.
I bowed stiffly
In the manner of formally acknowledging an uncomfortable disagreement without further discussion; Many references, late 18th century forward
Chiefly Br. To move quickly, scurry
Lock up the house and put the cat out
to conclude an evening; go to bed; Wodehouse used the phrase often
an utterance or saying, usually meant in a jocular vein, such as a wise-crack
Collar(ed a table)
to arrest, or harness; to seize or obtain
Steak and kidney pie
a typical British dish with a filling of diced beef steak and beef (ox), lamb's or pig's kidneys in a thick sauce. It is often, but not always, a one-crust pie, which means that the filling is covered but not completely enclosed by the pastry. Rather anachronistic of Wodehouse to have this dish served at a Hollywood party
Nonsense, used to express disagreement, distaste, or disgust
Steeled, prepared; (myself for the) kick-off: onset; Sports, beginning of the game when the ball is kicked to put it into play
a picture, scene or sequence that has to be photographed or filmed again
(A spot of) silver-lining (pointing)
A sign of hope in an unfortunate or gloomy situation; came into common usage 1870-75; From a proverb "Every cloud has a silver lining," which refers to storm clouds which are often dark and threatening but which often may have a silver gleam of sunlight along one edge. John Milton's masque Comus  gave rise to the current proverb with the lines, Was I deceiv'd, or did a sable cloud turn forth her silver lining on the night? Charles Dickens, in Bleak House  recalled the proverb with “I turn my silver lining outward like Milton's cloud” and the American impresario P. T. Barnum first recorded the wording of the modern saying in Struggles and Triumphs  with Every cloud, says the proverb, has a silver lining. PGW’s lyrics to the song Look for the Silver Lining from Sally  contain this chorus: Look for the silver lining, When e’er a cloud appears in the blue, Remember somewhere the sun is shining, And so the right thing to do is make it shine for you. A heart full of joy and gladness, will always banish sadness and strife, So always look for the silver lining, and try to find the sunny side of life.
doing arduous or unpleasant work; associated with ‘drudging peasants,’ ‘the bent backs of laboring slaves picking cotton,’ ‘toiling coal miners in the black deeps;’
The earliest reference I can find is from 1817; Generally refers to the anonymous laborers of the world; used esp. in Marxist, socialist, Communist, or organized labor screeds; World imperialism is in decline. The condition of all imperialist nations daily becomes more difficult while the contradictions between them become more and more aggravated. The imperialists can no longer make serious concessions to their own toiling masses. Leon Trotsky 1939
Greetings, hello; Probably originated 1860’s as a lower-class greeting to call attention to something (NM); equivalent to “Hi there!” a call to excite attention or to give notice of approach. "What noise there, ho?" and. "Ho! who's within?" [Shakespeare]
Bring a little sunshine into
To spread cheer; (their) drab: dull, cheerless, lacking in spirit round: a recurring period of time, succession of events, duties, etc.;
(They) eat (me in Pittsburgh)
to show enthusiasm for, to take pleasure in
about $329,000 in 2007 dollars
Suffering the tortures of the damned
The agonies of those relegated to Hell; In order that nothing may be wanting to the felicity of the blessed spirits in heaven, a perfect view is granted to them of the tortures of the damned. St. Thomas Aquinas
The ignition of a substance or body from the oxidation of its own constituents without heat from any external source [1800-10]
Teeth; probably a Knut term
Chiefly Br. Pal, chum
A title of respect in addressing or referring to an eminent composer, teacher or conductor, usually of music [1790-1800]
Br. a druggist
A large, posh hotel at 9500 Wilshire Boulevard in Beverly Hills, California. Constructed in 1928 and then known as the "Beverly Wilshire Apartment Hotel" it is listed on the U.S. National Register of Historical Places
An instrument, as pincers or tongs, for seizing and holding objects, as in surgical procedures [1625-35]
Little Lord Fauntleroy (type)
The story of the angelic boy by Mrs. Hodgson Burnett first appeared in St. Nicholas Magazine in 1885. The character is noted for wearing a velvet suit with a lace collar and having long hair curled in ringlets. The stereotype came to be associated with sissiness or effeminacy in a male child.
Speak in riddles
With him I speak face to face, clearly and not in riddles Numbers 12:8
Sourness; harshness or severity of temper [1565-75]
Alabaster is a white, translucent variety of high-purity gypsum used for ornamental objects or work, such as lamp bases, figurines, etc; Towards the end of the eighteenth century British artists in particular represented their female sitters with pale, white skin which purported to represent innocence or purity
It was if a great light had shone upon him
The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined Isaiah 9:2
Dentist. Probably an original coinage.
Jump his claim
To seize another’s claim of land or property for the value contained therein, esp. in mineral rights [1825-35]
Try or attempt at something
Br. slang, interj. Used to express surprise or amazement [1910-1915] Probably derived from “Cor lummy,” British cockney dialect; “Cor” as in God (Gor’blimey — God blind me) ‘lummy’ is a way of saying 'love me;’ The use of this interjection here seems anachronistic, an American child of the time would have said “Gee Whiz” or something similar
It rocked civilization
To describe monumental events that have altered the course of history
I’m some shucks
be something, carry weight, I'd say that feller's some shucks himself: whatever he does I'll bet he does big. Walt Whitman
A youth [1350-1400]
Someone or something that is astonishing or excellent [1715-25]
A person or thing that is especially attractive, liked, or enjoyed
(The) crust (of that) dame
Unabashed self-assertiveness; nerve, gall
slang, sometimes offensive, for a female
Wrestling with some powerful emotion
To grapple with, to attempt to come to terms with something deeply affecting
Slang, a tiresomely disagreeable person
It was my turn to quiver and I did like a jelly
The fear of death held him as in a vice His heart seemed to stop beating; his feet and hands to grow cold as ice; his very soul to quiver like jelly. Maelcho: A Sixteenth Century Narrative Emily Lawless 1895
Slice her where you like she’s still baloney
Joey is paraphrasing a statement made by American politician Al Smith who in 1930 said of a policy of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s: Slice it where you like, it’s still baloney
Slang, foolishness, nonsense [1895-1900]
The olive branch
to offer an olive branch is to reach out, as in a peace offering; Also he sent forth a dove from him to see if the waters were abated from off the face of the ground. . . And the dove came in to him in the evening; and, lo, in her mouth was an olive leaf pluckt off; so Noah knew that the waters were abated from off the earth Genesis 9:8-11
a city in Ross County, Ohio. The name is Shawnee for “principal town” NM postulates that PGW’s use of the name is some sort of an inside joke; Wodehouse, an avid reader of mystery thrillers, enjoyed Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe books, which began in 1934 and featured an investigator named Archie Goodwin, who was from Chillicothe; the use may have been a nod to Stout
a standard spelling for a nonstandard usage. The closest any other spelling comes is "bet ya," which would be pronounced differently. The OED has it under "bet": (I, you, etc.) betcha, betcher, colloq. pronunciation of bet you or your (life) they cite it to 1936 as "you betcher", 1940 as "you betcha", and 1922 as "you betcher life". "You bet you" is first cited to 1872, in Twain's Roughing It: I'll get you there on time and you bet you he did, too
a group of hardened convicts chained together, usually when working outside [1825-35]
Notorious French prison colony off French Guiana [NM] Ile du Diable, the smallest (less than 2 sq km in area) and most isolated of three islands off the coast of French Guiana collectively known as the Iles du Salut (the "Salvation Islands"). Between 1852 and 1951, the three islands served as a French penal colony. The largest, Ile Royale, housed the administrative centre and less dangerous criminals while dangerous criminals were held on Ile St Joseph. Ile du Diable was used for political prisoners, most famously Captain Alfred Dreyfus, who was confined there in terrible conditions from 1895-99. Devil's Island achieved greater notoriety following the 1973 film Papillon, in which Steve McQueen portrayed Henri Charriere, said to be the only prisoner to escape successfully from the island.
The French Foreign Legion is a unique elite unit within the French Army established in 1831. It was created as a unit for foreign volunteers, because foreigners were forbidden to enlist in the French Army after the July Revolution in 1830. The purpose of the Legion was to remove disruptive elements from society and put them to use fighting the enemies of France. Recruits included failed revolutionaries from the rest of Europe, soldiers from the disbanded foreign regiments, and troublemakers in general, both foreign and French. The existence of the French Foreign Legion has led to a romantic view that it is a place for a wronged man to leave behind his old life to start a new one, but also that it is full of scoundrels and men escaping justice. This view of the legion is common in literature, and has been used for dramatic effect in many films, not the least of which are the several versions of Beau Geste, based on P.C. Wren’s 1924 novel, which was a best-seller in the U.K. [NM]
A corpse; a formal or priggish person
probably based on Louis B. Mayer (1884-1957) co-founder of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) Studios. Under Mayer, MGM produced many successful films with high earning stars including Greta Garbo, Clark Gable, Spencer Tracy, Katharine Hepburn, Lon Chaney, Joan Crawford, Jean Harlow, Judy Garland and many others. In May 1930, Wodehouse went to Hollywood to work as a screenwriter for MGM at a salary of $2,000 per week, which is 2007 dollars equates to about $25,000 per week in purchasing power. His experiences there are well-documented. In his discussion of the tyrannical studio heads, Murphy writes of Mayer: “. . . considered the tactics of outrage and reproach equally effective. When Jackie Coogan and his mother came to ask for an increasy in salary, Mayer threw himself on the floor in floods of tears at their ingratitude, at the insult, the shame, they were inflicting on him. When Myrna Loy said she did not want to renew her contract, Mayer collapsed again, this time with a simulated heart attack.” Benny Green erroneously says this story involved another child star, Jackie Cooper, not Jackie Coogan. But stories of Mayer’s ruthlessness and crude manners abound, and if Wodehouse did indeed model Brinkmeyer after him, he was exceptionally kind in doing so, because Brinkmeyer, not a major character in the book, is portrayed not as a tyrant, but as as a frustrated cloak-and-suit merchant who entered the movie business, is unhappy in it, and is hen-pecked by his sister Beulah. In the later Angel Cake (1952) movie star Mervyn Potter says of Mayer: ”. . . Louis B. Mayer suddenly sprang out from the undergrowth. He had somehow managed to escape from the office where they kept him, and I could see from his glaring eyes and slavering jaws that he had already tasted blood.”
the theatrical role of the villain;
The vicious slave dealer and plantation owner from Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe (1852). The name is synonomous with that of a harsh, merciless master
A person in a condition of servitude; a slave [1475-85]
Downtrodden and oppressed
the masses are downtrodden and oppressed by capitalism, V. Lenin, 1921
the dirty end of the stick
Having the disadvantage in a endeavor with others by having to take the most unpleasant part; similar to short end of the stick, being treated unfairly
Twice of chicken
In twofold quality or degree; Joey’s contract stipulates just one helping of chicken
One with a hearty appetite [1580-90] From the archaic trench, the pleasures of good eating [1275-1325]
Another name for a tuck-shop, a small shop in school where boys could buy sweets, buns, ice creams, etc. [NM]
Tie a can to
Get rid of; perhaps from an old childhood game of tying a can to a cat’s tail to make it run; the rattling sound make it run faster:
Fried chicken southern style
From the Fannie Farmer Cookbook, 1918: Clean, singe, and cut in pieces for serving, two young chickens. Plunge in cold water, drain but do not wipe. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, and coat thickly with flour, having as much flour adhere to chicken as possible. Try out one pound fat salt pork cut in pieces, and cook chicken slowly in fat until tender and well browned. Serve with White Sauce made of half milk and half cream.
To be delighted; "A tickled person will often be red in the face from laughing." (Brewer's) “In the pink” signifies a state of well being; good health
From Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1862); a black person considered by other blacks to be subservient to or to curry favor with whites
Slang, the nose [1860-65]
Iron had entered . . . into his soul
Resolve to persevere in something; Whose feet they hurt in the stocks; the iron entered into his soul. Psalms 105.18
A vigorous, emotional talk, as to a person or group, intended to arouse enthusiasm or increase determination to succeed [1920-25]
A soft murmur, a whisper
Br. Slang, a contemptible, worthless person; a scoundrel or rascal [1815-25]
Commended my soul to God
The last act of a condemned man.
His execution was fixed for the 22nd of January, and, accordingly, on that day, was led forth to the scaffold, on Tower Hill. He ascended the fatal stage with a firm step and cheerful countenance, and kneeling down, and lifting up his hands, commended his soul to God.
Literary and Historical Memorials of London, John Heneage Jesse 1847
Chiefly Br., Operating room, A specially equipped room where surgical procedures are performed [1885-90]
Br. slang; a person, fellow [1560-70]
With a secret sorrow
Wodehouse used this phrase with great success, often employing anthropomorphism to great comical effect, such as Uncle Tom always looked a bit like a pterodactyl with a secret sorrow. Right Ho, Jeeves 1934.
Any monarch who has any feeling of humanity in him cannot entirely rejoice in that victory which brought secret sorrow upon all his subjects
Probably another coinage
nitrous oxide, a sweet-smelling gas that produces a feeling of exhilaration when inhaled; used as an anesthetic in dentistry and surgery [1790-1800]
a foolish mistake, blunder [1885-90]
Merry laugh and gay quips
Marry, sir, I have a pretty wit. I can rhyme you extempore; I can convulse you with quip and conundrum; I have the lighter philosophies at my tongue's tip; I can be merry, wise, quaint, grim, and sardonic, one by one, or all at once; I have a pretty turn for anecdote; I know all the jests - ancient and modern - past, present, and to come; I can riddle you from dawn of day to set of sun, and, if that content you not, well on to midnight and the small hours. Oh, sir, a pretty wit, I warrant you - a pretty, pretty wit!
Gilbert and Sullivan, The Yeoman of the Guards
The life and soul of the dentist’s convention
From Life and soul of the party, a person who enjoys social occasions and makes them more enjoyable for other people; the most lively and amusing person present at an event.
a premolar tooth
An allusion to film star Mary Pickford (1892-1979) known as “America’s Sweetheart” and abroad as the “World’s Sweetheart”
Bring the roses back to his cheeks
To cheer up; to impart good news to one who is going through a difficult time
My Lady's hair is threads of beaten gold; Her front the purest crystal eye hath seen; Her eyes the brightest stars the heavens hold; Her cheeks, red roses, such as seld have been
(Recent Discoveries in the) Congo basin
The Congo River is the largest river in Western Central Africa; a basin is a hollow in the earth’s surface next to the river and surrounded by higher land.
Aide-de-camp: a subordinate officer acting as a confidential assistant to a superior officer; in this case, a dental assistant
A bladder for holding gas to be dispensed [1820-30]
Pried asunder by sharks
A delightful bit of Wodehouse imagery — that a dream at a dentist’s office would be populated by sharks
Pertaining to a preeminent performer, athlete, etc. [1650-60]
Chiefly Br. sociable, friendly [1910-15]
Love and affection lingered in her bosom
Common Victorian sentiment; purely Wooster
You will love me always, whatever may happen — his words all came back with a vividness they had never had before. She also remembered her own advice not to marry one man if a spark of affection for another lingered in her bosom
Bad Luck, Albany de Grenier Fonblanque 1877
(My hour of) trial
subjection to suffering of grievous experiences, a distressed or painful state
Offended, sulky [1670-80]
Br. Minced oath, An exclamation used to emphasize an accompanying remark or to register surprise; After the mythological god Jupiter [1325-75]
loose-fitting short trousers gathered at the knee[1880-85] and stockings; knee stockings, worn with the former
Someone as the poet says, had blundered
Was there a man dismay’d? Not tho’ the soldier knew, someone had blundered
Tennyson, The Charge of the Light Brigade
Something beyond the kind of normal human experience that cannot be explained scientifically [1870-75] When Albert Einstein developed his equations for time and space dilation within the context of his special theory of relativity, one of the consequences was to show that the three dimensions of space possessed a very definite relationship with the dimension of time. Newspapers dubbed this postulate as “the fourth dimension.”
A crazy, silly or foolish person; a simpleton [1200-50]
(In full) goggle
a bulging or wide-open look of the eyes; [1350-1400]
Sinister scientist who had messed with test tubes or an Egyptian sorcerer who had cast spells
Harking back to PGW’s school days and reading of boy’s adventure stories
Out of a blue sky
To suddenly appear, as if from nowhere; to come as a complete surprise; Originally, like a bolt of thunder out of the blue sky; or a bolt out of the blue; out of the clear blue sky later came into common use
Bouncer in a waterfront pub
One employed to eject rowdy sailors from a tavern
(Sheer personal) magnetism
Strong, attractive power or charm; charisma; the earliest references I can find are from the 1880’s; In the 1920’s, the phrase came into popular use via the positive thinking books and philosophies of, among others, Norman Vincent Peale
All of a twitter
A trembling, palpitating sort of alarm arising from surprise, suspense, or fear
Why, the very phrase " I'm all of a twitter," signifying an extreme disorganisation of the nervous centres, is what the jelly-fish has been saying since the first one found itself ashore, and exposed to the parasol points and wooden spades of our population.
The Gentleman’s Magazine, London 1878
Just like that! By context, to express the occurrence of a sudden or unexpected event; I can’t find any references at all for this exclamation
Informal, Easily offended; A man who has quickly lost his temper is said to have got his shirt out. A Dictionary of the Sussex Dialect and Provincialisms, 1875; Bad-tempered, irritable, cranky [1840-50]
An exclamation used to express dislike, scorn, contempt, disbelief, etc., equivalent to hold your tongue; [1665-75] variant of pish, pish-tosh, etc.
Stuff and nonsense
Chiefly Br. exclamation expressing disbelief and consternation at something foolish or stupid; It was first recorded in 1749 in Henry Fielding’s novel Tom Jones: Oh! sir," cries Sophia, catching hold of the skirt of his coat, "take pity on me, I beseech you. Don't look and say such cruel--Can you be unmoved while you see your Sophy in this dreadful condition? Can the best of fathers break my heart? Will he kill me by the most painful, cruel, lingering death?"—"Pooh! pooh!" cries the squire; "all stuff and nonsense; all maidenish tricks.
To deal in illicit goods unlawfully and clandestinely; the term originates in the hiding of a bottle of whiskey in one’s book to prevent its discovery [1625-35]
slyly crafty or cunning; skillful or clever in adapting means to ends
as a barrel-load of monkeys
after as much fun as a barrel of monkeys; or barrel-wagon-load of monkeys: late 19th century, a type that is very cunning, mischievous, jolly or disorderly
rapid, unintelligible talk [1570-80]
Put a sock in it
Stop talking; the term relates to the early use of gramophones, invented in 1887; to lower the volume one stuffed a sock in the horn
Rough or boisterous play or pranks [1580-90]
One hundred ninety-six pounds; 89.6 kg
to inflict punishment as a retribution for a wrong; is on your track: The avenger of blood shall put the murderer to death Numbers 35:19
Br. slang, damned; euphemism for bloody [1840-50]
The poet Shakespeare has said that
There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy Hamlet
opened in 1872 and situated in Kensington Gardens, London, directly north of the Royal Albert Hall. It was commissioned by Queen Victoria in memory of her husband, Prince Albert, who died in 1861.
Br. Slang, c. 1907-23, Goodbye; The OED says it originates with an imitation of the sound of a car horn, or sometimes a bicycle horn.; a couple of quick toots on the horn often are a signal to someone afoot when you see them on the street and wish to signal a sort of automotive "hello."
Children sat on the damp doorsteps to shout 'pip-pip' at the stranger.
1904 R. Kipling Traffics & Discovery
Sarah (touching Lady Britomart's ribs with her finger tips and imitating a bicycle horn) Pip! pip!
1907 G. B. Shaw, Major Barbara.
An odd or eccentric person [1880-85]
Less agreeable qualities of the late Captain Bligh of the Bounty
Vice-Admiral William Bligh (1754-1817) was an officer of the British Royal Navy and a colonial administrator. He is best known as "Captain Bligh" of “Mutiny on the Bounty” fame. To this day, the reasons for the mutiny are a subject of considerable debate. Some believe that Bligh was a cruel tyrant whose abuse of the crew led members to feel that they had no choice but to take the ship from Bligh.
prep. Fr, at or in the home of; with
an arbor formed of trelliswork supported on columns upon which vines or other plants are trained [1645-55].
a variety of shrub bearing small, showy flowers; iron
moveable garden statues of deer mounted on slabs
ping pong porch
presumably a partially enclosed recreation area accommodating a ping pong table
Stuff in sackfu(l)ls
From His nibs: A mock title used to refer to a self-important man, especially one in authority. It is modeled after the pattern of references to the British aristocracy, such as “his lordship.” It is first recorded in print about 1820, but is presumably older. Nib was once used as a slang term for a gentleman.
unimportant persons or objects [1885-1900]
“On our arrival in London, Mr. Bruff was accosted at the terminus by a small boy, dressed in a jacket and trousers of threadbare black cloth, and personally remarkable in virtue of the extraordinary prominence of his eyes. They projected so far, and they rolled about so loosely, that you wondered uneasily why they remained in their sockets. They call the poor little wretch "Gooseberry" at the office."
The Moonstone  Wilkie Collins [1824-1889]
Fallen among savages
Were they lost? Had they fallen among savages? Had they been eaten by cannibals?
Adrift in the Pacific, Jules Verne 1910
A pair of casement windows extending to the floor and serving as portals, i.e. from a room to an outside porch or terrace [1795-1805]
As in a great wave or surge of the sea; swelled out, puffed up [1545-55]
An exclamation of disgust or disbelief [1858-95]
“Pah!” cried Joe, in deep disgust. "Get up, man; you're waited for, outside. Get up, do you hear?
Dickens, Barnaby Rudge 1858
Like a lot of hens
Presumably, mother hens fawning over their chicks
Fr. Frank and simple good-heartedness; a good-natured manner; geniality [1795-1805]
A variety of winter squash having a green or yellow skin and yellow flesh [1865-70]
Avenues would have to be explored
To seek solutions; (and) stones not left unturned: to look everywhere, to do everything in one’s power; Omit no minutiae if you would succeed; After the defeat of Mardonius at Plataea (B.B.477) there was a report that the Persian general had left a great treasure in his tent. The Oracle of Delphi, being consulted, said “leave no stone unturned” and the treasure was discovered.
We Havershots are men of action — Woosterism
Bertie, as an aside, occasionally dips into the third person singular when referring to himself, remarking on his intrepid manner or bravery of his ancestors, etc.
An oily substance used to make the hair lustrous; a pomade (1870-75) from Fr. brillant, sparkling, to sparkle, glitter: A good preparation is the following: Castor oil, 8 parts; Glycerine, 1 part; alcohol, 10 parts; veal fat may be added; American Druggist, 1887
Like the dickens
Like the devil; I cannot tell what the dickens his name is my husband had him of. Shakespeare, The Merry Wives of Windsor; What the dickens! is an oath referring to Satan. "Dickens" probably derives from a common English surname Substituted euphemistically for "devil" in the exclamation "What the devil!;” as with the other devilish substitute "deuce" ("What the deuce!"), the reason almost certainly lies in the sound and in the comic effect of the substitution itself.
In the game of Bingo [1935-40] the winner announces his or her victory by shouting “Bingo!” Seems to me I‘ve read somewhere that Ethel Wodehouse enjoyed playing Bingo.
A slow, stately Spanish dance of the 17th and 18th centuries [1610-20]
Chiefly Br. informal, somewhat hungry [1775-85]
A homeless tapeworm
a parasitic worm [1745-55] Homeless, meaning unattached to a feeding source
On the cards
or in the cards, impending or likely, probable
senselessly foolish [1865-65]
forerunner of refrigerator; an enclosed, insulated cabinet with a partition for ice, used for cooling and preserving foods [1830-40]
improvident. wasteful; [1350-1400] one who never thinks or plans for the morrow
Let the grass grow under (one’s) feet
to delay action, progress, etc.; become slack in one's efforts. Captain Cuddle held on us at a great pace and allowing no grass to grow under his feet Dickens, Dombey and Son
A fat chance
A sardonic expression actually meaning “a slim chance” i.e. little likelihood of happening
a pigeon used to carry messages and equipped by training and breeding to fly home, sometimes from great distances [1885-90]
a gentle splash
A direct route traveled quickly [1820-30], as in made a bee-line for
Naval Treaty in a safe-deposit box at the Admiralty
A reference to mystery thrillers of international intrigue. In Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes story of 1893, The Adventure of the Naval Treaty. Dr. Watson receives a letter from an old schoolmate, now a Foreign Office employee, who has had an important naval treaty stolen from his office.
Someone stood without
Temple of the New Dawn
The temperance movement in the United States, with its stirrings in the first half of the nineteenth century, aimed to reduce the amount of alcohol and liquor consumption and to prohibit its production entirely. While it began by advocating the temperate or moderate use of alcohol, the movement came to insist that no one should be permitted to drink any alcohol in any quantity. It did so with religious fervor and increasing convictions The strong temperance movements of the early 20th century found most support in women who were opposed to the domestic violence associated with alcohol abuse, and the large share of household income it could consume, which was especially burdensome to the low-income working class. Temperance movements were a major factor leading to the establishment of prohibition with passage of the 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which was repealed in 1933. The Women's Christian Temperance Union is a prominent example of a religion-based temperance movement
Sister Lora Luella Stott
Some say that she is modeled after Aimee Semple McPherson (1890-1944). "Sister Aimee” was an evangelist and media sensation in the 1920s and 1930s. She founded of the Foursquare Church, housed in a large, domed 1923 church building in the Echo Park area of Los Angeles named Angelus Temple. The church had a seating capacity of 5,300 people and was filled to capacity three times each day, seven days a week. In the beginning, her sermons attracted people from the entertainment industry, looking to see a "show" that rivaled what Hollywood had to offer. These famous stage productions drew people who would never have thought to enter a church, and then presented them with her message of salvation. “Sister” was a common honorific for female social workers, temperance advocates, and so on; McPherson’s ministry was not a temperance one, however. The character of Reno Sweeney, evangelist turned nightclub singer, in The Cole Porter/Wodehouse/Bolton show “Anything Goes” was based in part on McPherson.
a cocktail consisting of scotch, sweet vermouth and angostura bitters
Slang, drunk [1925-30]
British constitution (etc.)
The Drones Club members’, and particularly Bertie Wooster’s, demonstration that he is not inebriated by being able to speak tongue twisters
is a playground tongue twister, the words usually being spoken three times in quick succession; sometimes A truly rural frugal ruler's mural;
district in and the port of Edinburgh, Scotland. police dismisseth us is a Mother Goose nursery rhyme: The Leith police dismisseth us, I'm thankful, sir, to say; The Leith police dismisseth us, They thought we sought to stay. The Leith police dismisseth us, We both sighed sighs apiece, And the sigh that we sighed as we said goodbye Was the size of the Leith police.
she stood at the door of Burgesses’s fish-sauce shop
Coined by Lord Byron, who claimed it was the best test for sobriety; Burgesses’s Fish Sauce Shop is a venerable institution in London dating from 1788 and still in existence [NM} Ethelbertha: was a character name created by Jerome K. Jerome; Oswaldwhistle: is a town in Lancashire, 3 miles east-south-east of Blackburn
, welcoming him in
She stood on the balcony inexplicably mimicking him hiccupping, and amicably welcoming him home.
A slogan or catchword; a common saying or belief with little current meaning. Originally, a Hebrew word used to distinguish between two tribes (on the basis that members of one tribes couldn't pronounce the ‘sh’)
(Take a) brace
fix firmly, make steady, secure against pressure or impact
Get a hold of yourself
Give heed or attention to; as in mark my words
Necessary or required; usually referring to immediately available cash, but sometimes used it to describe a drink
The prospect whom I was planning to contact
I can’t locate an exact reference; seems to refer to a potential customer of a salesman or drummer (?)
Common in paranormalcy; Marple Hall in Cheshire is said to be haunted by a wailing woman who once lived at the hall — her lover was drowned in the river, and she waits and cries near the spot; the banshee of Irish folklore is another wailing woman
The wings of a dove
And I said, Oh that I had wings like a dove! For then I would fly away and be at rest. Psalms 55.6
Drowning man at a straw
One desperately grabs at the slightest chance when all hope is slipping away
We do not as men redie to be drowned, catch at euery straw.
Prime Fruitful & Brief Discourse, 1583
His gratitude caught at those words, as the drowning man is said to catch at the proverbial straw.
1877 Wilkie Collins My Lady's Money
She looked like a vicar’s daughter
At the back of the Book of Common Prayer is a page titled ‘A Table of Kindred and Affinity, Wherein Whosoever are Related Are Forbidden n Scripture and Our Laws To Marry Together,’ which lists the people one is not allowed to marry under English law. Usually called the Prohibited Degrees of Matrimony, it forbids marriage to one’s mother, grandmother, sister, daughter, etc. In the late nineteen- hundreds, the list was a long one and in 1899 restrictions were lifted on such non-blood relatives are a deceased wife’s sister, etc.[NM]
Cheek by jowl
In close intimacy; side by side; I’ll go with thee, check by jowl; Shakespeare, Midsummer Night’s Dream
An obtrusive, ill-bred man [1535-45]
An ill-bred man, esp. one who behaves in a dishonorable or irresponsible way toward women [1780-90]
a mass of nerve tissue existing outside the central nervous system
The doctrine of the supremacy of the state over the church in ecclesiastical matters [1675-75]
It’s your funeral
what you are about to do is foolish, but you are the only person who will suffer consequences from your actions
the part of the wreckage of a ship and its cargo found floating on the water [1600-10] jetsam: goods cast overboard deliberately to lighten a vessel or improve its stability in an emergency [1560-70]
Br. a type of lamb chop equivalent to rump steak
a dish made by enclosing diced steak and beef, lambs or pigs kidney pieces in gravy in a suet pastry.
The shades of evening fell
The shades of night were falling fast, as through an Alpine village passed, a youth who bore,’ mid snow and ice, a banner with a strange device, Excelsior!
Manna in the wilderness
Who fed thee in the wilderness with manna, which thy fathers knew not, that he might humble thee. . . Deuteronomy 8:16; Your fathers did eat manna in the wilderness, and are dead John 6:49; The people of Israel called the bread manna. It was white like coriander seed and tasted like wafers made with honey Exodus 16:3
Warmed the cockles of the heart
to induce a glow of pleasure, sympathy, affection or delight, cheer, rejoicing, warming, etc. in the depths of one’s emotions or feelings; Cockles (bivalve mollusks) have a heart-shaped shell, and anatomists of the seventeenth century were already likening the human heart to the shape and valves of the mollusk Thus, because the heart was long supposed to be the seat of the affections, men spoke of delighting, of rejoicing, of pleasing, and, more recently, of warming the cockles of one's heart
A child’s tooth
"And his liddley toofy- pegs hurting all-a-time! There-then-there! Did- ums-was?" She swayed gently, with her baby on her bosom. "Cuddley up, and coosha-bye!"
Leonard Merrick, The House of Lynch 1919
(Step into the) breach
a gap made in a fortification or line of soldiers; to advance on the enemy; to stand ready for attack; be ready to do most of the work; (before they tore you) asunder: into separate parts, into pieces
into the breach
is common, including Shakespeare
is an equally common. Gothic/Victorian phrase with hundreds of citations; What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder Matthew 19:6
Mexican horned toad (in her bed)
Phrynosoma orbiculare; erroneously called "horny toads," horned lizards are bizarre, spiny, ant-eating iguanian reptiles.
restless, disordered or turbulent state of affairs; of warring passions: strongly conflicting interests
O Wisdom! if thy soft control Can soothe the sickness of the soul, Can bid the warring passions cease, And breathe the calm of tender peace.
Anna Barbauld 1773
Common use from antiquity, esp. Rome; one who is a danger to the well-being and security of the state or its people; in the nineteenth century, popularized in 1933 by the FBI’s list of “most wanted men;” See Chapter twenty-four.
Prosperity (was) is just around the corner
Campaign slogan of President Herbert Hoover in 1931
Perfecto Prune Corporation
PGW invented many fictional brand names for foods, including Paramount Hams, Potter’s Potted Table Delicacies, Pre-Eminent Breakfast Sausage, Silver Sardines, etc.
No . . . no. . . a thousand times no
Classic demurral by a Victorian melodrama heroine, resisting the advances of the villain, paid tribute to in a song sung by Betty Boop in a 1935 cartoon:
“She was a child of the valley, an innocent maiden was she
He was a desperate Desmond who owned all the town property
He would pursue her through hills and through dells, but she was wise to his game
Each time he threatened ‘You'll wed me or else’ These were the words she'd exclaim
‘No! No! A thousand times no! You cannot buy my caress!
No! No! A thousand times no! I'd rather die than say yes’"
Big white chieftainess
After Big White Chief, supposedly of Native-American origin; an important person, or head of an organization
Rhodes has sent me many emissaries. . . and I want to see the big white chief himself
Charles Dickens, All The Year Round 1893
(To a bath) qua
Lt. as being; in the character or capacity of [1640-50]
Belshazzar the king made a great feast to a thousand of his lords, and drank wine before the thousand. Belshazzar, whiles he tasted the wine, commanded to bring the golden and silver vessels which his father Nebuchadnezzar had taken out of the temple which was in Jerusalem; that the king, and his princes, his wives, and his concubines, might drink therein. Then they brought the golden vessels that were taken out of the temple of the house of God which was at Jerusalem; and the king, and his princes, his wives, and his concubines, drank in them. They drank wine, and praised the gods of gold, and of silver, of brass, of iron, of wood, and of stone” Daniel 5:1-4.
Fr. An accomplished fact, a thing already done [1835-45]
Fr., to be well; State which includes the basic aspects of a good life, namely freedom of choice, health and well-being of the body, good social relations, safety, serene spirit and spiritual enhancement.
Defeated by; to lose to
A ministering angel, thou
“O Woman! In our hours of ease,
Uncertain, coy, and hard to please,
and variable as the shade
by the light of the quivering aspen made;
When pain and anguish rack the brow,
A ministering angel thou!”
Marmion by Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832)
Slang, a foolish, silly or eccentric person
Slang, a hard smack, blow or punch, esp. on the face
Strike, inflict a blow with the hand; smite
Informal, a prankster or show-off [1775-85]
Informal, used as an enthusiastic expression of encouragement or approval; reduced from That’s the boy [1905-10]
(In a voice) vibrant
of sounds characterized by perceptible vibration; resonant, resounding [1540-50] with emotion; a literary cliché since the early 1800’s;
Sir Philip Sidney
(1554-1586) statesman, poet and soldier. In 1586 he was given a command in The Netherlands to support the Dutch rebels in their War of Independence against Spain. When he was wounded in action, according to legend, Sir Philip refused to take water, saying of a more seriously wounded soldier, "His need is greater than mine".
Under this Administration
Referring to the Presidency of Franklin D. Roosevelt (1933-45)
an insane asylum [1830-40] Booby, for dunce, nincompoop, is recorded in English as far back as 1599, probably deriving from the Spanish boho, a fool, which in turn, may come from the Lt. balbus, stammering; Booby hatch, for an insane asylum, may have its beginnings in the booby hatch, a police wagon used to carry criminals to jail. This term can be traced back to 1776
the conclusion or result [1525-35]
The portion (of those)
Literary, something that is allotted to a person by God or fate; the lot of
Straightjacket, used to prevent violent mental patients from harming themselves or others
a room in a psychiatric hospital with padding on the walls to prevent violent patients from injuring themselves
From jake, slang, satisfactory, OK, fine; used at least as early as 1914, according to OED. From Gershwin’s Let ‘em Eat Cake: Come the revolution, everything is jake, come the revolution we’ll be eating cake 1935; May be an original coinage, I can’t find any other use of jakesy-jooksey.
Referring the five degrees of nobility (duke, marquess, earl, viscount, baron) in Great Britain [1425-75]
the numerical measure of an amateur golfer's playing ability. It can be used to calculate a net score from the number of strokes actually played, thus allowing players of different proficiency to play against each other on somewhat equal terms. The lower a golfer's handicap, the better the golfer is
England’s most famous and notorious prison, on the moors in the West Country, located in Princetown, in Devon. Constructed between 1806 and 1809 by local labor to hold prisoners of the Napoleonic Wars, it was also used to hold American prisoners from the War of 1812.
Br. slang; To throw or shove carelessly or violently; sling [1815-25]
(Eats a lot of) yeast
Fungi used in brewing and as a leaven in baking breads and as a source of vitamins and proteins; Yeasty, characterized by exuberance, excitement, etc; [1590-1600]
strong dislike or enmity; hostile attitude, animosity [1810-20]
(Hates your) gizzard
Guts; the innards or viscera collectively, esp. the intestine and stomach [1325-75]
Earls, as a Brooklynese pronunciation
Cricket; a style of bowling in which the ball is delivered at high speeds of 80-90 mph
slow, leg theory stuffA variant of leg theory in which balls are bowled at low speed
. . . (Nature’s) long stops
A long stop is the man who stands well behind the wicket-keeper to stop balls the wicket-keeper misses. It is an undemanding role and normally given to unskilled players (NM).
house second eleven
The dregs of a second house eleven refers to the system in most English public (private) schools where the school is divided into Houses. So, while a good player would play for his school, the best a poor player would achieve would be to play in his House’s second eleven. (NM)
city located in western Los Angeles County, California; the city of Malibu is a 21-mile strip of Pacific coastline; a beachfront community famous for its warm, sandy beaches and for being the home of countless movie stars and others associated with the entertainment industries.
a club enthusiastically devoted to a movie star or other celebrity [1925-30]
to go away, to leave quickly [1925-30]
a dull, flat, slightly explosive sound, as of an engine dying; to go out of order; break down
One who deals in hose and stockings or woven and knitted goods [1375-1425]
Patent (health conserving wool)
retaining heat, as in metallurgy
extremely unpleasant or distasteful; after bile, a bitter yellow and greenish liquid secreted by the liver [1535-45]
PGW used the term often to describe someone of burly build. [NM].
Under a spreading chestnut-tree
The village smithy stands;
The smith, a mighty man is he,
With large and sinewy hands;
And the muscles of his brawny arms
Are strong as iron bands.
Longfellow’s The Village Blacksmith
Nasty, unpleasant, disagreeable
Chew(ing) the (bitter) cud
to chew food over again, as a cow; the cud is the portion of a food that a ruminant regurgitates back to the mouth to chew on a second time; metaphorically, to ruminate, ponder, meditate. Chewing the bitter cud would be to dwell on unpleasant memories
Groaning in spirit
When Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jews also weeping which came with her, he groaned in the spirit, and was troubled. John 11:33
podiatrist, a foot doctor
the meat of an animal’s kidney used as food
Suggestive of the ancient Spartans; sternly disciplined and rigorously simple, frugal, or austere
Something of no value; trash; filth, dirt or slime [1200-50]
a pancake made of buckwheat flour [1740-50]
a payment in recognition of acts or professional services for which custom or propriety forbids a price to be set [1650-60]
There is a great deal of sorrow in the world
But really, it seems to me that there is a great deal of sorrow in the world. Grandmother is always talking about it. I hear her say every day of her life, "Man is born unto trouble as the sparks fly upward."
A Winter Wreath of Summer Flowers; Samuel Goodrich l861
(Don’t talk) drip
complaints, grumbling [1930-40]
Heartache of the exile
the very loveliness of a strange land renders but more intense the heartache of the exile
Eliakim Littell, Making of America, 1921
yearning to be away from it all. . . dull despair of living the shallow, glittering life etc.; tragedy lies behind a thousand false smiles. . . Hollywood bright city of sorrows, etc.
Chaffinch’s speech parodies the over-dramatic, clichéd melodramatic movie synopses used by studios to publicize their pictures
(1891-1957) English comedian and actor, who worked in silent films and Edwardian musical comedy and then became a popular music hall comedian; famous for his bulging eyes, malleable face and raspy voice.
Good Time Charley
Informal, an affable, sociable, pleasure-loving man
Brinkmeyer-Magnifico Picture Corporation
Wodehouse’s fictional motion picture studios include Jacob Schellenhamer’s Colossal-Exquisite, Isidore Fishbein’s Perfect-Fishbein, and Ben Zizzbaum’s Zizzbaum-Celluloid. For more on these amalgamated movie studios, see Wodehouse’s The Rise of Minna Nordstrum 1933
A buoyant balloon kept from rising freely by means of a line secured by stakes to the ground
Take heart, Cheer up; in the manner of a dog, when happy, has an upturned tail
A man’s formal daytime coat having the front portion of the skirt cut away from the waist so as to curve or slope the tails at the back [1835-45]
the white, fragrant flower of the gardenia genus, often worn by men on formal occasions such as weddings
a short gaiter or covering worn over the instep and usually fastened under the foot with a strap, worn esp. in the late 19th and early 20th centuries [1795-1805]
Belle of the ball
the most beautiful woman or girl present at a function; the favorite; The subject of everyone's attention or affection.
In mid-Victorian England the custom of sending daintily printed valentines, overflowing with hearts, cupids and poetical posies was generally understood to consist of an exchange of missives between special loving friends. An offshoot of these valentines was the “comic valentine” which featured stereotyped images and unflattering or grotesque depictions of people, such as bitter old maids, married gossips, and jilted dandies. Meant to be humorous, they were often venomous in humor, spiteful and rude, expressing anything but love.
something that is scoured off or disposed of; refuse; a person regarded as fallen from society; an outcast;
(of the) underworld
the criminal elements of society [1600-10]
A small bunch of flowers; bouquet, posy [1375-1425]
Hunted and haggard
In the sense of desperate exhaustion, nervous anxiety
Slang, a dull or stupid person; blockhead [1850-55]
Sweet suffering soup-spoons
Perhaps a Wodehouse coinage (?), I can’t find any other reference to it. PGW uses it in, among others, The Small Bachelor, Angel Cake, and the golf story Keeping In With Vosper
Motion pictures, the order of the director to stop filming
Struck a cord
resonated with memory or thought; reminded one of something else; I first though this was a misprint for chord, but there are numerous mid-19th century references with the same meaning and the cord spelling — but then again, cord is often used when chord is intended; clearly the spellings were interchangeable and have evolved separately
When he spoke of courage, their looks were firm and responsive; when he alluded to their injuries, their eyes kindled with fury; when he mentioned the taunts of the women, they dropped their heads in shame; but when he pointed out their means of vengeance, he struck a cord which never failed to thrill in the breast of an Indian
James Fenimore Cooper, The Last of the Mohicans.
Norman Murphy appends: “ I don’t care what anybody says, this IS another of those infuriating misprints Wodehouse’s publishers let slip by. In English and especially in Wodehouse’s always correct English (unless he deliberately misspelled/ misused it) it is CHORD. And Cooper wrote the book in 1826 and, if you look him up, he was noted for unusual spelling.”
Cosmo Booch and Dikran Marsupial
On his second sojourn to Hollywood, Wodehouse worked with director Pandro Berman, and in all likelihood knew director Ruben Mamoulian, perhaps the inspirations for these Hollywoodites.
As Faust once remarked, there are moments when a fellow needs a fiend
As depicted in Berlioz’ opera, Faust, deploring his unhappy lot decides to take poison, but as he raises the cup to drink the strains of an Easter hymn turn his thoughts toward good. But then the fiend Mephistopheles is at his elbow, tempting him with promises of earthly joys. He succumbs and goes forth with the fiend in search of pleasure. They enter a wine cellar in which a number of spirits are carousing.
In 1899 publisher John Lane advertised his firm as “publishers of the book beautiful” and the usage came into popular use [NM] From the 1920’s until the 1950’s movie magazines enjoyed a wide popularity. They featured human interest stories of the stars (usually placed by press agents) gossip, photographs, and news and publicity of the latest movies. Titles included Motion Picture, Modern Screen, Movie Mirror, Movie Story, Movie Classic, Photoplay, Modern Screen, Screen Romances, Silver Screen, etc.
Half page in the Special Number
a half-page advertisement in a supplemental issue of a magazine, such as a special Christmas issue, etc.
A person who jokes, chitchats, makes wisecracks, etc., esp. while others are trying to work or discuss something seriously [1925-30]
a shield on which a coat of arms is displayed; (would be) blot (ted): a stain on one’s reputation which extends to his entire family, disgrace [1470-80]
Eager hunting noises. . . hulloo hullo
Hullo hullo hullo hullo. . . a hunting we will go: Traditional hunting song, written by Henry Fielding [1707-54] though five more with the same title were published between 1911 and 1937 [NM]
The maddest, merriest day of all the glad new year
You must wake and call me early, call me early, mother dear;
To-morrow 'ill be the happiest time of all the glad New-year;
Of all the glad New-year, mother, the maddest merriest day;
For I'm to be Queen o' the May, mother,
I'm to be Queen o' the May
Tennyson, The May Queen
This appears to be a tip of the hat to PGW’s friend Ira Gershwin, whose 1926 song “Sunny Disposish” abbreviated words for style and rhyming possibilities. Gershwin was a great admirer of PGW’s lyrics. He was generally given credit for inventing this device, but PGW himself used it in Oh Boy in 1917, and again in the song “In Our Little Paradise (Paradise in MO)” from See You Later in 1918: “And I’ve got a hunch I’d be a perfect ray of sunsh, in our little paradise in Mo; Or would it not be, more judish, if we our life began near Kansas City, Kan.” This went on for some fifteen verses!
Fugitive from justice
a person convicted or accused of a crime who hides from law enforcement in the state or flees across state lines to avoid arrest or punishment.
Fr. A police officer [1540-50] chokey: Br. slang prison; From India, where chauki was a watch-house or lock-up.
Slang, a disparaging and offensive term for a person [1905-10]
referring to the German dictator’s mustache, also known as a toothbrush mustache
Victorian melodrama term representing underhanded machinations, clandestine efforts of one to stymie the efforts of another, general skullduggery; Dirty Work at the Crossroads is the title of a famous 1906 melodrama by Walter Melville
carbolic acid; phenol; a poisonous mass derived from coal tar used a disinfectant or antiseptic [1850-55]
Used to maintain bravado and steadfast refusal of responsibility when confronted by facts inferring culpability for one’s actions; Stout denial is the thing. Don't go in for any airy explanations. Simply stick to stout denial. You can't beat it. from Mike 1909
Hell’s foundations will quiver
Onward, Christian Soldiers 1871 English hymn written by Sabine Baring-Gould and Arthur Sullivan. At the sign of triumph Satan's host doth flee; on then, Christian soldiers, on to victory! Hell's foundations quiver at the shout of praise; brothers, lift your voices, loud your anthems raise Etc.
Passive, from indolence or indifference [1490-1500]
The body of tenants on an estate
A sign of expression of dislike or derision; a loud, abrasive spluttering noise made with the lips and tongue to express contempt [1925-30] raspberry
Committee of supply
A committee of a legislative body that meets to discuss the government's budget estimates and allocation of funds.
Storm clouds were gathering
ominous circumstances were brewing and becoming apparent, esp. harbingers of war; common use, late nineteenth century onward
’ere long the lightning must strike
Soon matters will come to a head;
Biting the bullet
Forcing oneself to perform a painful, difficult task or to endure an unpleasant situation; In the days before effective anesthetics soldiers were given bullets to bite on to help them endure pain. Improvements in battlefield medicine has seen the real act of biting bullets migrated into metaphor; first recorded in print in Kipling's Light that Failed, 1891
An annoying experience or circumstance; and obstacle, impediment, difficulty
The highest quality or rank of a product
(Popped up out of a) trap
Theatrical, the trap-door on a stage from which the genie/ devil/ fairy queen appeared in a flash of smoke. (NM)
a device for hurling clay pigeons into the air; This seems to be a Wodehouse coinage as I can find no other references to it except in his other books, such as Adventures of Sally, Much Obliged Jeeves, and Bertie Wooster Sees it through
Aladdin just after rubbing the lamp
The original story of Aladdin is a Middle-Eastern folk tale concerning an impoverished young ne'er-do-well named Aladdin, in a Chinese city, who is recruited by a sorcerer to retrieve a wonderful oil lamp from a magic cave. When his mother tries to clean it, powerful genie appears, who is bound to do the bidding of the person holding the lamp. With the aid of the genie of the lamp, Aladdin becomes rich and powerful and builds a magnificent wonderful palace..
Sucking the knob of his stick
This was an established practice as early as 1814; Wodehouse reserves the trait for his meeker characters, such as Motty in Jeeves and the Unbidden Guest; The other references I’ve found to it nearly all ascribe the practice to a rather shiftless or nervous person; Near her in an easy-chair, with one of his legs over its arm, sat the Crown Prince Constantine, sucking the carved ivory knob of his walking-stick. He had a puffy countenance, a short neck, a low forehead, and bristling hair which had been cut in the German fashion and seemed to grow erect on his head. Not a bad-hearted young man, nor an effeminate one, but incurably idle, careless, and blundering — such was the official view of his character. Love and the Soul Hunters, John Oliver Hobbes 1905 Norman Murphy appends: “It stems from the social custom which went on till certainly 1914 in England of taking your hat, gloves and knob-topped stick into the drawing-room when you paid a visit. If you had nothing to add to the conversation, you sucked the knob of your stick. It was not restricted to shy young men, just gentlemen with little to say.”
Since the talkies came in
The first commercial talking motion picture was The Jazz Singer from 1928, featuring Al Jolson
(Teacher of) elocution
the discipline of training those who want to improve their speaking skills, esp. to neutralize a regional or ethnic accent, help remove slang or ungrammatical tendencies, or to overcome impediments such as a stammer or stutter
Haven’t even got roof(s)
Soft or hard palate; cleft palate
to their mouths:
An affliction shared, of course, by one-time Blandings pig man Edwin Pott in Full Moon.
The autonomous communities of the British Empire and British Commonwealth prior to 1948. These states included, at varying times: the Dominion of Canada, Commonwealth of Australia, Dominion of New Zealand, Dominion of Newfoundland, Union of South Africa, and the Irish Free State
An Ohio accent you could turn handsprings on
Ohioans tend to pronounce a certain "L" sound like a short "O" which is called a "dark L" and is found when Ls precede a vowel or a dominant consonant. Wolf is pronounced "woof," cold is pronounced "code," little is pronounced "litto." They tend to say short "E" sounds like a short "I": friend is pronounced "frind." They tend to say short "I" sounds like a short "E." Milk is pronounced "melk."
(1891-1958) Born in Richmond, Surrey, England, was an Oscar and Golden Globe-winning actor. He became a very popular silent film star in both romantic and adventure films, and successfully made the transition to "talkies" because of his elegant and sonorous speaking voice. His Broadway debut was in Guy Bolton’s and Max Marcin’s collaboration The Night Cap in 1921, and he was a member of the British community in Hollywood, along with Basil Rathbone, Leslie Howard and C. Aubrey Smith, all of whom Wodehouse knew.
British Broadcasting Corporation
a county in northwest England
refers to the vernacular speech as well as pronnciation; The is shortened to t or glottalled. H-dropping — ‘ello for Hello is common, words are shortened such as with to wi, in to i, etc. Words such as face, place, space, etc. are usually said with an /e:/ sound, etc.
(Puts one in the) vein
condition, mood or temper
(Putting the thing) in a nutshell
In a very brief form; in a few words
A city in southwest California, west of Los Angeles
theosophy, a supersensitive substance pervading space and forming the substance of a second body belonging to each individual. It accompanies the individual through life, is able to leave the human body at will, and survives the individual after death. See About Laughing Gas
Fr. An informal preliminary conference
Br. slang, first-rate [1895-1900]
Slang, empty talk
Lt. chiefly law; an object or thing; matter; here, the essence of something, the thing that really matters.
To express sympathy with a person who is suffering sorrow, misfortune, or grief [1580-90]
(Leaving not a) rack (behind)
a cause or state of intense suffering of body or mind; torment
The cloud-capp'd towers, the gorgeous palaces, The solemn temples, the great globe itself, Ye all which it inherit, shall dissolve; And, like this insubstantial pageant faded, Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff As dreams are made on, and our little life Is rounded with a sleep
Shakespeare, The Tempest
An unobstructed passageway; Golf; the area between the tee and the putting green; the navigational portion of a river
Vanished beyond recall like the dew off a rose
Call back the dew that on the rose at morn was lying, Bid the sunbeam stay, call back the wave; e’en while the ebbing tide’s receding; oh all unheeding of they voice are they; when the broken hearted bitter tears let fall; Dew and sunshine, wave and flowers; renewed, returned at destined hour; but never yet was known the power could vanished love recall; Sir Walter Scott, 1810
Secret Society (stuff)
An organization, as a fraternal society, the members of which take secret initiation oaths and share secret passwords and rites [1820-30]
an ornamental trinket or gimcrack; bric-a-brac [1610-20]
A Serbian secret society, implicated in the murder of Archduke Ferdinand in 1914, which led to the first World War [NM]
There’s gold in that thar tooth“
There’s gold in them thar hills,” from the California and Alaska Gold Rush days of the 1840’s.
Puncture my vitals; Stap (my vitals)
OED says it is an affected pronunciation of stop; in the phrase stap my vitals, used as an exclamation of surprise, anger, etc., or as an asseveration; “I am so surprised my heart has stopped;” Much used in Restoration farce and comedy by Congreve and Vanbrugh, and later by Sheridan and others (Byron and Thackeray) Wodehouse uses the phrase “stap my vitals” in, among others, in The Crime Wave at Blandings, Angel Cake, Right Ho Jeeves, The Purloined Paperweight, and Brinkley Manor; I can find no other reference for “puncture my vitals” so I’m assuming this is an original Wodehouse update on stap my vitals.
(1899-1987) was an Academy Award-winning American film and Broadway stage dancer, choreographer, singer and actor. His stage and subsequent film career spanned a total of seventy-six years, during which he made thirty-one musical films, including A Damsel in Distress in 1936, based on Wodehouse’s 1919 book. Astaire and his sister/dancing partner Adele worked in Jerome Kern’s 1922 show The Bunch and Judy; the Bolton/Gerswhin show Lady Be Good in 1924
Backed an outsider
Horseracing, a horse not considered likely to win or succeed [1790-1800]; (in the) Grand National: England’s premier steeplechase race; (skip over the last fence three) lengths: the measure from end to end of a horse, as a unit of distance in racing; (in front of the) field: all the contestants in a competition
(Negotiating for my) commission
A sum or percentage allowed to agents, sales representatives, etc., for their services; Butlers were charged with purchasing supplies for the house, and often used that advantageous position to secure favors from tradesmen; Chaffinch is euphemistically referring to a bribe.
another fictional movie magazine
(1901-1960) iconic American actor nicknamed "The King of Hollywood" in his heyday. In 1999, the American Film Institute named Gable seventh among the Greatest Male Stars of All Time.
Humming a gay air
19th century common usage, including Poe, Dumas, Dickens. The earliest citation I can find is from 1824’s Saratoga: A Tale of the Revolution by Eliza Lanesford Cushing: Footsteps were at this moment heard approaching, and the voice of O'Carroll, humming a gay air, interrupted the tete-a-tete of the lovers.
A recurring subject, theme, or idea, esp. in a literary, artistic or musical work [1840-50]
I felt a new child
Reggie’s take on the metaphor “I felt like a new man.” The earliest reference I can find is by Edward Bulwer Lytton in 1844
A person, i.e. a powerful speaker who captivates an audience [1885-90]
Characterized by a hoarse cough and difficult breathing [1755-65]
There is dark work afoot
Victorian melodrama cliché such as the type used by Sherlock Holmes; The game’s afoot, Shakespeare Henry V
(Speak low for the) walls have ears
This conversation is easily overheard, someone may be listening; This saying may come from a story about Dionysius of Syracuse (430-367 b.c.), who had an ear-shaped cave cut and connected between the rooms of his palace so that he could hear what was being said from another room. Similar listening posts were installed in other palaces over the centuries, including the Louvre in Paris. In English the phrase was first recorded in its present form in 1620; Variations on this proverb recur in the literatures of many peoples, including works by Chaucer, Cervantes and Tennyson.
Bath house, a structure containing dressing rooms for bathers
Wear the mask
To hide one’s feelings; to pretend not to be affected by something; Wodehouse used the phrase often; We wear the mask that grins and lies, It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes This debt we pay to human guile; With torn and bleeding hearts we smile, Etc. Paul Lawrence Dunbar, 1896
The form book
Horseracing: A book recording the result of every horse race under jockey club rules. It shows the weight carried by each horse, the jockey, the draw, the distance between the first six horses, the winner's time, the starting prices and the comments in running. Used by gamblers to make informative wagers
Rubbish, nonsense, bunk; used to express contemptuous rejection [1925-30]; William De Beck, the comic-strip artist of ‘Barney Google,’ assumes credit for the first actual use of the word horsefeathers. A short comedy film in 1928 based on his comic strip had the title Horsefeathers, antedating by five years the Marx Brothers film of the same title. De Beck had something of a reputation for coining words and has also been credited with creating heebie-jeebies, jeepers creepers! and hotsy-totsy. It seems most likely that it began either as a bowdlerized variant of horseshit or as an expression of the view that something is highly unlikely, about as probable as that pigs might fly, or that horses might have feathers
Stung like a serpents tooth
“How sharper than a serpents tooth it is, to have a thankless child.” Shakespeare, King Lear; also, Look now not upon the wine when it is red; when it giveth his colour in the cup, when it moveth itself aright. At the last it biteth like a serpent and stingeth like an adder. Proverbs
Antique vases with handles on each side
An amphora is a Grecian vase with two protruding handles
Tooth and claw
In dead earnest, as in a rat or mouse biting and scratching to get at something; also tooth and nail Man...Who trusted God was love indeed; And love creation’s final law; - Tho' Nature, red in tooth and claw With ravine, shrieked against his creed. Tennyson, In Memoriam
An intense battle fought in close contact by troops arranged in a predetermined formation; A fiercely waged battle or struggle between opposing forces
An effeminate boy or man [1885-90]
a weak or cowardly man
an effeminate lover of ease and pleasure [1920-25]
Barmy Fotheringay Phipps
Drones club member and a pal of Bertie Wooster
(Alexander Charles) Oofy Prosser
The Drones’ richest member, liberally pimpled; “Oofy” is a knut locution for wealthy; “oof,” originally a lower-class Yiddish term for money, this word went up the social scale in usage. (NM)
Having hard protrusions or bumps
Say it with oranges
NM attributes the “Say it with” phrase to the 1917 advertisement of the American Florists Society “Say It With Flowers”
David. . . Goliath
This is the account of the battle between David and Goliath given in 1 Samuel, chapter 17: Saul and the Israelites are facing the Philistines in Judah. Twice a day for forty days Goliath, the champion of the Philistines, comes out between the lines and challenges the Israelites to send out a champion of their own to decide the outcome of the battle in a single combat, but Saul and all the Israelites are afraid. David is present, bringing food for his older brothers. He hears that Saul has promised to reward any man who will defeat the Philistine champion, and declares he is not afraid. Saul hears of David's words and sends for him, and David offers to fight the Philistine. Saul reluctantly agrees and offers his armour, which David declines in favour of his sling and five stones which he takes from the brook. David and Goliath confront each other, Goliath with his armour and shield-bearer, David with his staff and sling. "And the Philistine cursed David by his gods", but David replies: "This day the LORD will deliver you into my hand, and I will strike you down, and cut off your head; and I will give the dead bodies of the host of the Philistines this day to the birds of the air and to the wild beasts of the earth; that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel, and that all this assembly may know that Yahweh saves not with sword and spear; for the battle is Yahweh's, and he will give you into our hand." David then strikes Goliath with a stone from his sling, and the Philistine falls on his face to the ground. David seizes the sword of the giant and kills him, and cuts off his head
The untutored savage
Used in early 19th century descriptions of Native Americans as well as African and South American natives; The wild, untutored savage of South America, who prostrates himself before the SUN, and pays his adoration to that which he believes to be the source of life and light, Travels in Various Countries, Edward Daniel Clarke 1817; The reasons of the war are announced to the assembled tribe, with all the peculiar powers of Indian oratory, and by the most impassioned appeals to the excited feelings of the untutored savage Tour of the American Lakes, and among the Indians 1833, Calvin Colton;
(Whirling in the air like a) trout fly
Angling: A fishhook dressed with feathers, hair, silk, tinsel, etc., so as to resemble an insect or small fish for use as a lure or bait
Dismissal, discharge from employment
A shout or hail, used to attract attention [1350-1400]
Lt. prep. Combined with, along with [1580-90]
Lt. without charge or payment; free
(with no) cover charge
an admission fee charged by a restaurant, nightclub, etc. [1920-25]
Room was empty and bed not slept in
Sheproceeded to her daughter’s room. She entered; it was empty; the bed had not been slept in. A horrible suspicion possessed her and she flew to her husband.
Guy de Maupassant
My niece Mary has deserted me. Deserted you? Yes. Her bed this morning had not been slept in, her room was empty, and a note lay for me upon the hall table.
Doyle, The Adventures and Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes
Beat(ing) around the bush
To avoid coming to the point; delay in approaching a subject directly; the figurative meaning has evolved from the earlier meaning which was more literal. In bird hunting participants roused the birds by beating the bushes while others caught them in nets. So, 'beating about the bush' was the preamble to the actual capture. The phrase is old and first appears in 'Generydes - a romance in seven-line stanzas', circa 1440: "Some bete the bussh and some the byrdes take." But the leap from "beat the bush" to the different meaning of "beat around the bush” isn’t clear.
Japanese, common in 1936, derogatory now
Theatrical: a particular style of character, often stereotypical, offbeat, or humorous, most often in a supporting capacity
an extended operatic vocal solo; a scene [1810-20]
The act or process of choosing actors to play various roles in a theatrical production, moving picture, etc
area dedicated to the casting function, usually containing scripts of upcoming productions for review, and notices of available opportunities
Informal, improper or unethical conduct, as deception or trickery [1880-85]
His Forgotten Bride
Fictional title of what sounds like a Victorian melodrama; Warner Baxter (see Chapter twenty-four) starred in the movie His Forgotten Wife in 1924
The rules, as explained by Claude “Mustard” Pott to Lord Bosham in Uncle Fred in the Springtime: “In its essentials it’s not unlike Blind Hooky. Here’s the way it goes. You cut a card, if you see what I mean, and the other fellow cuts a card, if you follow me. Then if the card you’ve cut is higher than the card the other fellow has cut, you win. While, conversely, if the card the other fellow’s cut is higher than the card you’ve cut, he wins.”
stuffed eelskin (in hand)
a device containing sand used by Victorian villains to stun their victims
Innocence had been taken advantage of
Victorian euphemism for an unmarried woman’s loss of virginity at the hands of one with dishonorable intentions
Br. slang, after blighter: a contemptibly worthless. Rascally [1825-25]
To swindle, cheat, hoodwink, or hoax [1825-25]
Fiend in butler’s shape
“Fiend” was one of Wodehouse’s (and Bertie’s) favorite words to describe an adversary. “A Fiend in Human form” seems to have been a common usage from Chaucer onwards [NM]
A wider, freer world
Common use from late 19th century
But so it is: we have passed the Rubicon, and we leave the rest to fate; though its edict may create a fruitless regret that we ever emerged from "the shade," and courted
Tennyson, Poems by Two Brothers notoriety.
Parked up against a fire-plug
I can’t find any reference for this. By context, it clearly means “in trouble;” Perhaps an allusion to standing in front of a fire hydrant when it suddenly goes off, or parking a car next to a fire hydrant and risking a ticket. (?)
Gather nuts in May
'Here we go gathering nuts in May: On a cold and frosty morning!' Irish childhood rhyme; The word was originally ”knots,” and referred to knots or bunches of flowers. May 1st was an important day in the Irish farming calendar, time to celebrate the end of winter with the gathering of flowers, dancing around bonfires or May poles, and one very special activity usually performed by Irish children - the making of a May bush.
Sower going forth sowing
Behold, a sower went forth to sow.” Matthew 13:3; The Sower Went Forth Sowing, by William S. Bourne and John F. Bridge, in Hymns Ancient and Modern, 1875:
The sower went forth sowing, The seed in secret slept Through weeks of faith and patience,Till out the green blade crept; And warmed by golden sunshine, And fed by silver rain,At last the fields were whitened To harvest once again. Etc.
a list of the persons enrolled in a military or naval unit
Alarums and excursions
Elizabethan drama; offstage military action, as represented by fragments of a battle, sound effects of trumpets, or clash of arms, etc; used as a stage direction [1585-95]
Br. To chase, to run after [1775-80]
Strategic railways were open
As in a military retreat, before the enemy had destroyed means of egress from the battlefield
One definition of ‘rabbit’ is a runner in a distance race whose goal is chiefly to set a fast pace, either to exhaust a particular rival so that a teammate can win or help another entrant break a record; I can find no reference for “home-going rabbit.”
Let nature take its course
to allow someone or something to live or die naturally; to allow something to happen as it would, without outside interference
I was in something of a doodah
flustered, upset about a troublesome situation; Murphy attributes it to the Stephen Foster song Camptown Races, but I disagree, as its use there is just as nonsense syllables; The true definition is 'dithering', for which the OED cites Wodehouse: “Poor old Clarence was patently all of a doodah”. Pigs Have Wings  The first usage cited in the OED dates from 1915 and is attributed to one "H Rosher", Flight-Lieutenant Harold Rosher, Royal Naval Air Service, who was killed in a flying accident in February 1916; The origins of doodah may well be found in World War 1 military slang The Disney tune from Song of the South, Zip A De Doo Dah didn’t come until 1946. It sounds more to me like a knut locution or a 1920’s jazz-age catchphrase, but I can’t locate any pertinent references. I also wouldn’t be surprised if it’s an Anglicization of some foreign word meaning turmoil, or the like. Coinage in this sense attributed to Wodehouse.
Quicker’n a chorus girl can eat caviare
Chorus girls, en masse, were at one time referred to by theatrical folk as the “caviar mob” due to their tendency, when attending cast parties, to head straight for the caviar and champagne
Expressing acknowledgment that someone has been fortunate; “Stiff” personified, has negative connotations, but to call someone a “lucky stiff” is more an expression of regret on the part of the person who utters it rather than a personal reflection on the lucky person.
Done a bunk
Br. slang, to absent oneself from; to run away or flee hastily, esp. under suspicious circumstances [1865-70] with syndicate’s cash box: refers to one of a group of bettors who is holding the stakes and absconds with them
The hand of doom
Metaphor for death
Gone are they who raised the host. Gone, alas, to nameless gloom! Oh, the cruel hand of doom!
Pour oil on the troubled waters
To sooth the troubled spirit; St. Aidan gave his blessing to a young priest who was to set out by land, but return by water, to convey a young maiden destined for the bride of King Oswy; St. Aidan gave the young man a cruse of oil to pour on the sea if the waves became stormy. A storm did arise, and the young priest, pouring oil on the waves, did actually reduce them to a calm; from Ecclesiastical History by Bede 735
Darkest Africa picture down at MGM
Darkest Africa (1936) was a Republic movie serial and a sequel to The Lost Jungle, starring famed wild animal trainer Clyde Beatty; The plot of Darkest Africa, involving an East Africa safari, a loincloth-clad boy, a pet ape, a lost treasure of King Solomon, a lost sacred city, a volcanic eruption, an earthquake, spear-throwing Bat-men, a tiger attack, a lion attack, poison gas, a high priest, unscrupulous jewel thieves, and a daring rescue, sounds like something Wodehouse would have made up in order to satirize the genre;
Oh, Go into your dance
This may have been a 1930’s catchphrase, but the only reference I can find is the title song from a 1935 movie of the same name starring Al Jolson and Ruby Keeler, Helen Morgan, of “Bill” fame, also appeared in the film.
If you've a melancholy case of the blues, I've got a remedy for you.
If you've an ounce of rhythm down in your shoe, Then I'll change your point of view.
If you've been singin' a sad and blue song, Go into your dance.
Until you learn how to sing a new song Go into your dance.
Don't be complainin' Learn how to smile. And if it's rainin', Dance in the rain a while.
Written by Harry Warren and Al Dubin:
Dressage; a leap of a horse from a rearing position, in which it springs up with the hind legs outstretched as the forelegs descend [1565-75]
walking on air
a feeling of elation or exuberant joyfulness; likens feeling happy to floating. [Late 1800s]
a newspaperwoman specializing in human interest stories containing pathos or effusive sentimentality [1925-35]
How are things, what have you been up to? [1920’s]
Lucid, free from obscurity [1605-15]
(the) cutting room
a film-editing room [1830-40]
[1880-1972] Hollywood film gossip columnist
form of phony baloney; nonsense, foolishness; personified, a poseur
For sobbing in the beer
Similar to “For Crying out loud” or “Oh for crying in the soup” The phrase “crying on one’s beer” originally referred to an alcoholic who complains that he is misunderstood and feeling sorry for himself
Darker depths of infamy
a gothic Victorian allusion to villainy or disgrace of the worst sort; was in use as early as the mid-19th century by Dickens, Balzac, Zola, Maugham, etc.
A B C (’s)
Basic skills; (of) Mothercraft: the art and science of child-rearing
James Cagney stuff
[1899-1996] US film actor noted for his “tough wise-guy” portrayals
Feelings deeper and warmer than those of ordinary friendship
One of Wodehouse’s favorite sentiments to describe burgeoning love; usually spoken as part of a proposal of marriage; Murphy says: See Victorian etiquette books and Advice to the Lovelorn Columns 1870-1910. I read several and the phrase was indeed used as often as PGW implied.”
Omar the Tent Maker
Persian Omar Khayyam (Omar the tentmaker) was educated as a mathematician and worked at the royal court as astronomer. His works on algebra and geometry gave him an elevated position in his own time but it is as a poet that he achieved his lasting fame. Khayyam means “tentmaker.” An 1899 book titled Omar the Tentmaker by Nathaniel Dole told the story of how Khayyam rose to success, and was the subject of a 1914 play and a 1922 movie of the same name. Along the way the appellation “Omar the Tentmaker” came to be used as a jocular, but unkind name for the tailor of clothes for large or fat people.
Clearly, large, boxlike shoes; Wodehouse used the phrase several times but I’m unable to find any other reference to it
Dolled up like a gangster’s corpse
Embalmed, made-up, made presentable (?)
Dude waiting at the stage door
Stage Door Johnny: a man who often goes to the theater or waits at the stage door to court an actress [1910-15]
Danced like a cat on hot bricks
To shift from foot to foot with nervous and agitated impatience; The expression replaced a still earlier one, like a cat on a hot bake-stone, which appeared in John Ray's Proverbs (1678)
Not worth a moment’s purchase
doomed; usually in the context of “one’s life is not worth a moment’s purchase” due to some circumstance that has gravely endangered or threatened one’s well-being
The welkin is a chiefly literary reference to the sky, “the vault of heaven” [before 900] “A prolonged and piercing yell of wind split the welkin from end to end” Man Alive  G.K. Chesterton [TM]
In great profusion, strongly or very quickly; an extreme standard of comparison; "It rained like billy-o; we were all soaked through." One theory of its derivation is said to be from Joseph Billio, a Puritan preacher at the United Reformed Church in Market Hill, Maldon, Essex, c. 1696. He was an enthusiastic “hellfire and damnation” preacher and, given his name and reputation, ought to be a serious contender as the source of the phrase. [NM]
The Last Trump
The end of the world; 1 Corinthians 15:52 . . . in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.
Got off the mark
The mark is the starting line in track events; to get off the mark is to begin the race, event, etc.
Service and Cooperation
Norman Murphy says “PGW sometimes puts this in quotation marks, leading me to think it as a well-known slogan, on the lines of ‘Do It Now’ or ‘Safety First’. I suspect it was the motto of some large department store or a public utility, but I have been unable to trace it.” The phrase itself was in widespread use in the nineteenth century, being used by churches, businesses, education, government, etc.
Face like a suet pudding
Suet is the hard fatty tissue about the loins and kidneys of beef, sheep, etc., used in cooking or processed to yield tallow [1350-1400] Recipe: Two cups or suet (chopped fine), two cups of stoned raisins, four cups flour, two eggs, a pinch of salt, milk enough to make a stiff batter; put in a pudding bag, and boil three hours. A finished suet pudding, in shape and with outer crust, resembles a large half-cantaloupe rind-up.
one of Rudyard Kipling's most famous poems, perhaps best known for its oft-quoted last line You’re a better man than I am, Gunga Din. The poem is a rhyming narrative from the point of view of a British soldier, about a native water-bearer who saves his life. Bertie Wooster used to recite it at school.
You may talk o' gin and beer, When you're quartered safe out 'ere,
An' you're sent to penny-fights an' Aldershot it; But when it comes to slaughter
You will do your work on water,An' you'll lick the bloomin' boots of 'im that's got it.
Now in Injia's sunny clime, Where I used to spend my time
A-servin' of 'Er Majesty the Queen, Of all them blackfaced crew
The finest man I knew Was our regimental bhisti, Gunga Din.
He was "Din! Din! Din! You limpin' lump o' brick-dust, Gunga Din!
Hi! slippery hitherao! Water, get it! Panee lao! You squidgy-nosed old idol, Gunga Din."
Fr. a jewel, something small, delicate and exquisitely wrought [1660-70]
a child surreptitiously or unintentionally substituted for another; in folklore, an ugly, stupid or strange child left by fairies in place of a pretty, charming child [1545-55]
Am. slang [1920-30] a young woman, a flapper; A beasel hound is a man who indiscriminately chases women
I was revolted to the core
Offended and disgusted in the extreme, to the depths of the soul
As near the outer rim
close to the edge, at risk of going too far
My lips are sealed
"I know the answer to your question but you'll have to discover the answer for yourself." Origin uncertain, but in use in the 1700’s. Charles Dickens used the idiom repeatedly: It is my duty, my bounded and imperative duty. If I did not discharge it I would be a base and guilty wretch. Having said that, my lips are sealed and I can say no more. Barnaby Rudge 1868
At the bridge table when producing the unexpected trump
Cards, a trump is a card that belongs to the suit that has been chosen to have the highest value in a particular game; a trump can take any card of any other suit.
Into the discard
Cards, the pile of cards no longer in play; a person or thing that is cast out or rejected [1580-90]
A cold hand seemed to clutch my vitals
Another Gothic Woosterism
To take the gilt off the gingerbread
To destroy the illusion. The reference is to gingerbread watches, men, and other gilded toys, sold at fairs.
A bit above the odds
Unfair, unbalanced as to an equal chance
At the rate of knots
Naut. At top speed, very quickly
The blue bird
The mythology of the bluebird as an universally accepted symbol of cheerfulness, happiness, prosperity, hearth and home has deep roots, going back thousands of years. Bluebird mythology in Europe is noted in a fairy tale called L'Oiseau Bleu (The Blue Bird) by Madame d'Aulnoy [1650-1705] which seems to be the root source of most modern accounts of bluebird symbology. In a fairy-tale-like setting, two children, the son and daughter of a poor woodcutter, are sent out by a fairy to search the world for the Blue Bird of Happiness. They visit many magical places, including the Land of Memory, the Palace of Night, and the Kingdom of the Future. Only when they return home do they discover that the Blue Bird has been in their birdcage all along. True happiness, the children learn, is usually found close to home. It comes from making the journey, not from reaching the destination; from seeking and not from finding; and from acting unselfishly without thought of reward. It was made into a film in 1940 starring child actress Shirley Temple; In 1916, The Bluebird, a musical composition by Clare Kummer, was exceedingly popular, and there were a rash of “bluebird songs” from Tin Pan Alley in the 1920’s: Swanee Bluebird, My Blackbirds are Bluebirds Now, My Bluebird Was Caught in the Rain, Hello Bluebird, My Bluebird of Happiness, etc. which reinforced the symbology.
Usborne says that when he completed Sunset at Blandings, the manuscript pages Wodehouse had completed were marked Aziz, meaning “leave as is”
Dropping salt in the exposed wound
Usually, rub salt in an open wound, or pour salt in a wound; To remind someone of a personal, painful experience;
Slang for a social error, a faux pas. In UK today, we say ‘dropped a clanger’ (NM); perhaps related to 1890’s American slang for a dead body in the water
Defeated, destroyed, rendered useless. Cheated, foiled, outmaneuvered. The earliest use I can find is 1854; a wheel is said to be dished when its spokes are broken; Mark Twain may have been punning when he wrote When done, the fish is dished, a little broth is put into the pan Etc. The Galaxy, 1866
a situation or problem presenting such difficulties as to discourage or defeat any attempt to deal with or resolve it; in golf, a stymie is the placement of a ball on the green lying directly between another player’s ball and the hole. [1855-60]
a gadget or other thing for which the speaker does not know or has forgotten the word; thingamajig [1830-75] Dicken’s Oliver Twist popularized the term
An abnormal outgrowth on an animal or vegetable body; disfigurement [1375-1425]
Leaped like the high hills
Psalms 68:16 Why hop ye so, ye high hills?
Horseracing: In a selling plate race, the owner of a winning horse has to offer him for sale afterwards. Known in America as a claims race, the entered horses are not normally of great caliber in terms of future racing potential; of inferior quality
Come home on a loose rein
Horseracing: A horse on a loose rein is one which is allowed to run freely, without any pressure from the driver to speed up or slow down
(Judgment of) form
manner or method of performing something; in horse racing, the form of a horse is a record of significant events including its performance in previous races, used by bettors in the prediction of its performance in future races
To dot is "To hit, strike; to dot (a person)" (OED). The earliest cited usage is from 1895, this one from Laughing Gas is the fourth cited.
A small elevation of the skin containing pus; a pimple [1350-1400]
I don’t say I’m a particularly intelligent chap
Pure Bertie Wooster
English order of precedence
The ranking system at Court which governs protocol at all events; Generally, in this order: Royal Family, Peers of the Realm, then Baronets, Knights and the Companions of Orders of chivalry with archbishops coming ahead of dukes and bishops above barons. (NM)Within each category are delineated each position and rank.
Anat. A thin structure that covers the glottis during swallowing which prevents the entrance of food and drink into the larynx; Reggie has a dry throat
Eton Boating Song
The Eton Boating Song, first performed in 1863, is the best known of the school songs associated with Eton College. The words were written by William Johnson Cory and melody by Capt. Algernon Drummond. The piano accompaniment was written by Evelyn Wodehouse (a cousin of PGW) The traditional status of Eton as the training grounds for Britain's wealthy elite endowed the song with a peculiar cultural cachet. George Orwell, an Old Etonian himself, wrote: “From the whole decade before 1914 there seems to breathe forth a smell of the more vulgar, un-grown-up kind of luxury, a smell of brilliantine and crème-de-menthe and soft-centred chocolates — an atmosphere, as it were, of eating everlasting strawberry ices on green lawns to the tune of the Eton Boating Song.”
“Jolly boating weather,
And a hay harvest breeze,
Blade on the feather,
Shade off the trees,
Swing swing together,
With your bodies between your knees,
Swing swing together,
With your bodies between your knees.
Rugby may be more clever,
Harrow may make more row,
But we'll row for ever,
Steady from stroke to bow,
And nothing in life shall sever,
The chain that is round us now,
And nothing in life shall sever,
The chain that is round us now.
Others will fill our places,
Dressed in the old light blue,
We'll recollect our races,
We'll to the flag be true,
And youth will be still in our faces,
When we cheer for an Eton crew,
And youth will be still in our faces,
When we cheer for an Eton crew.
Umpty tumpty tiddles
Used in singing when one can’t remember the exact verse; Norman Murphy finds four late 19th century music hall songs with these or similar nonsense lyrics, some or all of which Wodehouse surely knew.
Fr., literally valiant knight; the phrase appears in numerous books and stories of the 1800’s, always in the context of men performing heroic, unselfish or gentlemanly deeds
“You need not be ashamed, said Madalina. “I have heard how well you behaved on that occasion. You were quite the preux chevalier; and if any gentleman ever deserved well of a lady you deserved well of her.”
Anthony Trollope [1815-1882] The Last Chronicle of Barset (1867)
Murphy quotes Jeffrey Richards: “By a variety of means, there evolved the image of a gentleman as the idealized medieval knight, an embodiment of the virtues of bravery, loyalty, courtesy, generosity. Modesty, purity and compassion. He was endowed with a sense of noblesse oblige towards women, children, and social inferiors.”
Pain and tenderness along the sciatic nerve.
Mousseline de soie
Fr. a fine crisp fabric made of silk or rayon.
Los Angeles Chronicle
Fictitious; although there was a short-lived newspaper of the same name in the mid 19th century
Cornish Riviera Express
an English express passenger train, known for speed, that has run from London to Penzance in Cornwall since 1904
I gazed back. . . like Julius Caesar at Brutus
Recalling the occasion of Caesar’s assassination in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar:
Casca, Speak, hands for me!
[CASCA first, then the other Conspirators and BRUTUS stab CAESAR]
Caesar : Et tu, Brute! Then fall, Caesar.
Ripe, pungent; (ones on the seat of the) bags: Br. slang, pants
(Off her) onion
Br. slang head; Crazy, insane
The scales fell from my eyes
Acts 9:18 And immediately there fell from his eyes as it had been scales: and he received sight forthwith, and arose, and was baptized.
Put my shirt on it
To “lose one’s shirt” is to forfeit a large quantity of money by losing a large bet; to put one’s shirt on something is to bet an equivalent amount
Skin I would have loved to touch
Popular advertising slogan for Woodbury Soap, ca. 1910, The Skin You Love To Touch [NM]
Hammer murderesses you read about. . . place the remains in a trunk
Winnie Ruth Judd (1905-1998) was an American secretary dubbed the "Trunk murderess;" She was charged and convicted of the murder of one of her two friends she was alleged to have murdered in October 1931 in Phoenix, Arizona. The fight that led to the shooting of the two women reportedly was fueled by a conflict of interest - all three woman were interested in the same man. She was convicted in 1931 in a trial marked by sensationalized newspaper coverage The case quickly has become known as "The Trunk Murders", as the one intact body and the dismembered body were shipped in trunks by train from Phoenix to Los Angeles. Norman Murphy appends: “We had four sensational Trunk Murders in UK in the 1930s which hit the headlines as well.”
A blow, punch [1840-50]
an awl for making small holes in woods for brads [1815-25]
Throw hay on that idea
Beating the gun
1920’s American slang phrase used when an investor purchases or sells a security at a beneficial price by executing a trade before the market can respond to new information. Beating the gun denotes an investor's ability to time the market and react more quickly than other investors; according to the OED, it derives from athletics races and pertains to an athlete getting a jump on the starter's gun. Figuratively, then, it refers to someone deriving a sneaky advantage from being first to react.
(Put a) stopper on
a plug for closing off or sealing a bottle of liquid; to prevent the continuance of
the tender passion
love; in use as early as the sixteenth century; to be softened to any gentle and tender passion Shakespeare
The Voice That Breathed O’er Eden
Hymn often associated with 19th century weddings
The voice that breathed o'er Eden! That earliest wedding-day, The primal marriage blessing, It hath not passed away... As Eve thou gav'st to Adam, Out of his own pierced side Be present, gracious Saviour, To join their loving hands, As thou didst bind two natures In thine eternal bands etc.
w. John Keble 
A lamp that stands on the floor
Horseracing: A race run on a level track having no hurdles, water jumps, hedges or the like to hinder the speed on the entrants; (Performer) over the sticks: a term for jumps racing or steeplechase
Refers to Napoleon’s reputation as a brilliant military strategist; There are nearly 100 references to Napoleon [1769-1821] in PGW’s books. Napoleon died 60 years before Wodehouse was born, but the embedded memory of his domination of Europe, his threat to Britain, and his final defeat at Waterloo was very strong in Victorian England. [NM]
Ashes of my dead love
The pale morning light is creeping into the room. The candle is flickering with a feeble sickly light; there are little piles of filmy ashes strewn upon the hearth—ashes of my dead love. A Hard Knot by Charles Gibbons 1885
Play the game
to behave in a way that is accepted or demanded by those in authority; to act in the correct or expected way; There's a breathless hush in the Close to-night Ten to make and the match to win A bumping pitch and a blinding light, An hour to play, and the last man in. And it's not for the sake of a ribboned coat. Or the selfish hope of a season's fame, But his captain's hand on his shoulder smote "Play up! Play up! And play the game!" Sir Henry Newbolt’s poem Vitaï Lampada (1897)
Boil (them) in oil
Ann is speaking metaphorically, of course. Boiling in oil was a medieval method of execution, carried out using a large cauldron filled with oil. Sometimes the victim was immersed, the liquid then being heated, or he was plunged into the already boiling contents, usually head first. The executioner could then help speed their demise by means of a large hook with which he sank the criminal deeper. The expression came into popular use with The Mikado and Wodehouse’s characters used it to describe what should be done with those who had thwarted their plans.
a fiendish person, after a mythical watchdog of hell
Alls well that ends well
Shakespeare’s play of the same name; But with the word the time will bring on summer, When briers shall have leaves as well as thorns, And be as sweet as sharp. We must away; Our wagon is prepared, and time revives us: All's well that ends well
A loud, coarse laugh, esp. of derision [1705-15]
A piece of cheese
An unpleasant, incompetent person [late 19th century]
The hosts of Midian
From the hymn Christian Doth Thou See Them: How the troops of Midian Prowl and prowl around, Christian up and smite them. The Midianites were often oppressive and hostile to the Israelites. By the time of the Judges, the Midianites, led by two princes Oreb and Zeeb, were raiding Israel with the use of swift camels, until they were decisively defeated by Gideon. Today, the former territory of Midian is located in what is now a small area of western Saudi Arabia, southern Jordan, southern Israel and the Sinai.
A mere hash of seething emotions
More Woosterish melodrama
based on pretense, deception or insincerity [1620-30]
Put the bee on
To finish off, to beat; OED gives 'quash' as one definition; To put the bee on someone is a variation of "To sting someone" in various slang senses; to solicit money, to swindle, to hurt
(Working away at the old) stand
Refers to a bookmaker’s stall at a race course
Of all sad words of what-d’ you-call-it
From John Greenleaf Whittier’s Maud Miller 1856: (excerpt)
Then she took up her burden of life again, Saying only,
"it might have been." Alas for maiden, alas for Judge, for rich
repiner and household drudge!
God pity them both! and pity us all, who vainly the dreams of youth recall.
For of all sad words of tongue or pen, The saddest are these: "It might have been!"
Ah, well! for us all some sweet hope lies Deeply buried from human eyes;
And, in the hereafter, angels may Roll the stone from its grave away
An exclamation of melancholy, boredom or weariness [1545-55]
(Hell of a) jam
Unlike the earlier reference of jam meaning a good thing, jam also means a difficult or embarrassing situation; a fix
A princely host(ess)
One who graciously and generously welcomes one into their home, etc; The grand procession to complete, sent up their tribes, a princely host; Thus God to strength and union brought our tribes, -at strife till that blest hour Psalms, Book of Common Prayer
a state of nervous excitement or anxiety; flutter [1890-95]
The morrow would bring oblivion
An old story shows us how the man who concerns himself with trifles advances to his own destruction. Live for to-day, and the morrow will bring oblivion; .The Fireside Papers, Frederic Rowland Marvin 1915
A pungent, sweet-tasting chemical derived from acetone used in medicine as a solvent and formerly as an anesthetic [1830-40] The knock-out drug of choice for kidnappers in mystery thrillers of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
Put the tin hat on things
to bring to an abrupt and conclusive end (Brewer's). Tin hat was a slang term for an army helmet in WW1; some surmise that when a soldier completed dressing, the last thing he would don would be the tin hat, thus the phrase “put the tin hat on” meant that he had finished dressing.
Nice bit of box-fruit
An unpleasant situation; Before the days of refrigerated transport containers, fresh fruit was grown in the UK, ‘box-fruit’ meant it had come in boxes from overseas. Bananas, grapes and other perishable tropical fruit often arrived with half the contents already rotting — hence the derisive term for a messy or complicated situation. [NM]
Gone off like a lamb
Then out comes the Clerk from his secret lair;
He lifts up the legs, and she raises the head,
And between them, this most reprehensible pair
Undress poor Gengulphus, and put him to bed.
Then the bolster they place athwart his face,
And his night-cap into his mouth they cram;
And she pinches his nose underneath the clothes,
Till the “poor dear soul" went off like a lamb
The Ingoldsby Legends Richard Harris Barham 1837
Tired natures sweet restorer
Tir’d Nature’s sweet Restorer, balmy Sleep!
He, like the world, his ready visit pays;
Where Fortune smiles the wretched he forsakes;
Swift on his downy pinion flies from woe,
And lights on lids unsully’d with a tear.
From Night Thoughts, by Edward Young [1683-1765], and illustrated by William Blake
one of the primary east-west thoroughfares in the San Fernando Valley
Fr. attractive and stylish, fashionable [1855-60]
In 1919 beards enjoyed a short return to fashion among Bohemians. . . and spotting beards in the street became a popular game. If you saw a beard before your friend did, you shouted “Beaver!” [NM]
Pre-Code films were created before the Motion Picture Production Code or Hays Code took effect on July 1, 1934. Films in the late 1920s and early 30s reflected the liberal attitudes of the day and could include sexual innuendos, references to homosexuality, miscegenation, illegal drug use, infidelity, abortion, and profane language (such as the word "damn") as well as women in their undergarments, often shocking audiences in rural areas. Of particular note were references to sexual promiscuity, drug use, bloody gangster life, and morally ambiguous endings, which drew ire from various religious groups — some Protestant, but overwhelmingly Roman Catholic. As a result, many religious groups created their own leagues, such as the Catholic Legion of Decency in 1933, premised around controlling and enforcing decency standards in theatres, and boycotting movies which they deemed offensive. By 1934, theatre revenues were slumping (likely, in part, due to the Depression) and those in the film industry were unhappy with the prospect of losing even more of their audience, particularly in heavily Catholic cities such as New York, Boston, Chicago, etc., .thus, the pre-Code era effectively came to a close with the establishment of a special bureau (eventually christened The Breen Office, after Joseph Ignatius Breen, a former public relations executive), whose purpose was to review scripts and finished prints in order to ensure that they adhered to the new Code. This effectively spelled the end of the pre-Code era, and shaped the trends in American film-making during the ensuing years.
(1893-1980) American actress, playwright, screenwriter, and sex symbol.
Famous for her bawdy double entendres, West made a name for herself in vaudeville and on the stage in New York before moving to Hollywood to become a comedian, actress and writer in the motion picture industry
Alice in Wonderland
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1865) is a work of literary nonsense written by English author Charles Lutwidge Dodgson under the pseudonym Lewis Carroll, considered a classic example of the genre and of English literature in general. It tells the story of a girl named Alice who falls down a rabbit-hole into a fantastic realm populated by peculiar and anthropomorphic creatures. The idea of Mae West playing Alice in Wonderland would be today akin to the concept of Madonna playing Mother Teresa.
Water on the flames of the tidal wave of license
See Purity Drive, above,
An important, powerful, or influential person, after the Mongolian conquerors of India who established an empire that lasted from 1526 to 1857
A member of a powerful or elite group or class, after an official of the Chinese Empire [1580-90]
Hitler(s) and Mussolini(s)
Infamous criminal dictators of the 1930’s and 40’s Assortments of New York playwrights and English novelists: Wodehouse slyly winking at himself; his career as a studio writer in the 1930’s is well-documented
The office in a movie studio responsible for maintaining scripts or texts [1930-35]
Public Enemy Number Thirteen
In July 1934, Wodehouse and Guy Bolton had completed their preliminary script — later dumped — for Cole Porter’s Anything Goes. The story about Public Enemy Number Thirteen, named Moonface Martin, is in the plot.
voodoo, bad luck, a person or thing that brings bad luck [1870-75]
(1878 — 1954) American Academy Award-winning actor of stage, radio and film.
(1889 -1951) American Academy Award-winning actor. By 1936, Baxter was the highest paid actor in Hollywood
William Horatio Powell (1892—1984) three-time Academy Award-nominated American actor, noted for his sophisticated, cynical roles. He is most widely known for portraying the detective Nick Charles in six The Thin Man films. He and Myrna Loy also starred in the Best Picture of 1936, The Great Ziegfeld, with Powell in the title role and Loy as Ziegfeld's wife Billie Burke.
(1896—1946) American actor specializing in comedy roles. His voice was the inspiration for the Cap'n Crunch commercials from the Jay Ward studio.
(1868-1949) British character actor, appeared in dozens of films in the 1930’s, including The Great Zeigfeld
Edward Everett Horton
(1886—1970) American character actor with a long career in motion pictures, theater, radio, television and voice work for animated cartoons. Horton starred in many comedy features in the 1930s and appeared in several Fred Astaire films. In his late career, he appeared in a memorable role as an elderly róue on I Love Lucy and as a narrator on the Rocky and Bullwinkle show. Horton played Bertie Wooster in the 1940 CBS radio pilot of Leave It To Jeeves, and later asked Wodehouse to transform Spring Fever into a play for him, but the product never came to fruition.
All Quiet on the Western Front
anti-war novel written by Erich Maria Remarque about the horrors of World War One and also the deep detachment from German civilian life felt by many men returning from the front. Published in 1929, in 1930 it was turned into an Oscar-winning movie of the same name,
one of the first films nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture, in 1931, it was based on the comic strip by Percy Crosby and starred child actor Jackie Cooper
The Lost Patrol
1934 war film made by RKO
Mutiny on the Bounty
1935 film starring Charles Laughton and Clark Gable based on the Charles Nordhoff and James Norman Hall novel of the same name.
show business term for a big hit; a smackeroo
Chiefly Br. a simpleton [1835-45]
Slang, a pistol or revolver [1900-05] from Gatling gun
Bursting with their pancakes
Generally used by Wodehouse in the context of one who is a guest of a hospitable host, but for some reason must act adverse to that person’s interests; That’s pleasant—from the man who is bursting with my meat, too. Rudyard Kipling, 1898
See that’s wet, see that’s dry
In Wilts (Wiltshire, a county in southern England) boys swear an oath with an open pocket knife. Licking it, they say “See, that’s wet,” and after wiping it, “See, that’s dry,” then drawing the knife across the throat, “Cut my throat if I tell a lie.” From Word Lore 1926 Douglas McCillian
Slang An insignificant or despicable fellow [1920-25]
To refuse to recognize socially, to be snubbed in public
(by the) County
the inhabitants of the domain of a count or earl; the social 'set' made up of the principal land-owning families of the district. So to be "cut by the County" means to be shunned by the better class of society in one's neighborhood.
Eeny meenie miney mo
children's counting rhyme, used to select "it" for games and similar purposes. The rhyme has been around in various forms since the 1850s or earlier, and is common today in many countries. Since many similar counting rhymes existed earlier, it is difficult to ascertain its exact origin. From Rudyard Kipling's "A Counting-Out Song", from "Land and Sea Tales for Scouts and Guides," published in 1923:
Eenee, Meenee, Mainee, Mo! Catch a nigger by the toe! If he hollers let him go!
Eenee, Meenee. Mainee, Mo! You-are-It!
Underworld slang in hard-boiled detective fiction for a pistol or revolver [1910-15] In 1938, S. J. Perelman wrote about a publication called Spicy Detective and its hero, Dan Turner, who took to his apartment
"A wow in a gown of silver lame that stuck to her lush curves like a coating of varnish." Just as "she fed me a kiss that throbbed all the way down my fallen arches," suddenly from the doorway a roscoe said 'Kachow!' and a slug creased the side of my noggin. Neon lights exploded inside my think-tank. She was as dead as a stuffed mongoose. I wasn't badly hurt. But I don't like to be shot at and I don't like dames to be rubbed out when I'm flinging woo at them."
I felt it here
PGW is satirizing the then new system of method acting, where “empathy” for the role is considered all-important. [NM]
Lepers of Broadway
PGW’s parody of the musicals Gold Diggers of Broadway, filmed in 1929 and again in 1933 and 1935.
Hurrah girls here comes the royal bodyguard
The Queen's Body Guard of the Yeomen of the Guard are a bodyguard of the British Monarch, created by Henry VII in 1485 at the Battle of Bosworth Field. The Yeomen Warders of Her Majesty's Royal Palace and Fortress the Tower of London, popularly known as the Beefeaters, are ceremonial guardians of the Tower of London. The Yeomen Warders are often incorrectly referred to as Yeomen of the Guard, which is actually a distinct corps of Royal Bodyguards. W. S. Gilbert shared this confusion by naming his operetta The Yeomen of the Guard when it appears to be about Yeomen Warders.
Oh, Sergeant Meryll, is it true—
The welcome news we read in orders?
Thy son, whose deeds of derring-do
Are echoed all the country through,
Has come to join the Tower Warders?
If so, we come to meet him,
That we may fitly greet him,
And welcome his arrival here
With shout on shout and cheer on cheer,
Hurrah! Hurrah! Hurrah!
Gilbert and Sullivan’s Yeoman of the Guards
A drink with whiskey mixed with club soda or ginger ale and served with ice in a tall glass [1880-85]
Tar and feather
a physical punishment, at least as old as the Crusades, used to enforce formal justice in feudal Europe and informal justice in Europe and its colonies in the early modern period, as well as the early American frontier, mostly as a type of mob vengeance. In a typical tar-and-feathers attack, the subject of a crowd's anger would be stripped to the waist. Hot tar was either poured or painted onto the person while he or she was immobilized. Then the victim either had chicken feathers thrown on him or was rolled around on a pile of feathers so that they stuck to the tar. Often the victim was then paraded around town on a cart or a rail. The aim was to hurt and humiliate a person enough to leave town and not cause any more mischief.
originally, a disparaging term for an unskilled, foreign-born laborer, bohunk: (Bo)hemian + (Hung)arian; evolved into bohunkus, an oafish, dense person
In the old silent days
the advent of talking motion pictures was 1928
Licked to a splinter
Defeated; as in whittled down in spirit; Wodehouse used the phrase early and often, and I can find no other references to it — perhaps an original coinage (?)
(To) queer (me)
to put one in a hopeless or disadvantageous situation as to favor, success, etc.
Things will dry straight
Things will turn out all right; as early as 1841; Don’t look so woe-begone. Whatever it is, it will dry straight. CHTT. Do things always dry straight? GEO. Always- if they dry at all. An American Citizen by Madeline Lucette Ryley 1895; Perhaps related to masonry manufacture: Care should be taken that the clay is neither too wet, nor too dry, if the former is the case, the brick will not dry straight, i. e., the brick will sink and become wider at bottom than at top (1874)
the lower jaw [1780-90]
One of those things that begin with an h
Lt. the existing state or condition [1825-35]
scornful, disdainful, supercilious [1865-70]
Br. term of derision for a person whose manners, dress, bearing or some other personal characteristic are so out of the ordinary as to invite ridicule.
Fr. a mixture of fruits and vegetables, a medley [1810-20]
Keeley Cure Institute
In 1879, Dr. Leslie Keely opened the doors of the Keely Institute. According to one source, it was the first medical institution to treat alcoholism as a disease. In just over a decade, Keely Institutes that helped to administer his cure could be found all over America. This cure was referred to as "the Keely Cure" or "the Gold Cure". because the tonic Keely created had in it "twelve grains "chloride of gold and sodium," six grains "muriate of ammonia," one grain "nitrate of strychnia," one-quarter grain atrophine, three ounces "compound fluid extract of cinchona," and one ounce each of glycerine, "fluid extract of coca," and distilled water
Morning prayer services [1200-50]
Wodehouse parodied the melodramatic titles of 1920-30’s movies with an assortment of titles: Passion’s Slaves, Silken Fetters, Purple Passion, Where Passion Lurks, Wed to a Satyr, Bonds of Gold, Seduction, and Scented Sinners. Real Hollywood titles of the time included False Kisses, Foolish Wives, Human Hearts, Proud Flesh, Sinners in Silk and Souls for Sale, among others. [NM]
Bird in a gilded cage
At the Academy Exhibition in 1898, Frederick Goodall showed a picture, “The Gilded Cage” depicting a beautiful girl in a harem. The sub-title was “How can a bird that was born for joy sit in a cage and sing?” A. J. Lamb and Harry von Tilzer wrote a wildly popular song based on it in 1900: [NM]
The ballroom was filled with fashion's throng,
It shone with a thousand lights;
And there was a woman who passed along,
The fairest of all the sights.
A girl to her lover then softly sighed,
There's riches at her command.
But she married for wealth, not for love he cried!
Though she lives in a mansion grand.
She's only a bird in a gilded cage,
A beautiful sight to see.
You may think she's happy and free from care,
She's not, though she seems to be.
'Tis sad when you think of her wasted life
For youth cannot mate with age;
And her beauty was sold for an old man's gold,
She's a bird in a gilded cage.
Queen of her sex
Foremost, preeminent among women; In praise of her who holds my being's chain, Queen of her sex describing her to reign, Wise, winning, good, fair, noble, chaste to be; Petrarch.
is a seaside town in Lincolnshire, England, located along the North Sea; best known as one of the more famous seaside resorts in the United Kingdom
Frankenstein get married
Bride of Frankenstein is a 1935 science fiction/horror film, sequel to the influential film Frankenstein (1931). The film immediately follows the events of the first film and is rooted in the original novel. A subplot from the latter half of the book involves the Monster promising to leave Frankenstein, and the human race, alone if Frankenstein will create a mate for him. As a storm rages, the final preparations are made to bring the Monster's mate to life. Her bandage-wrapped body is raised through the roof. Lightning strikes a kite, sending electricity through the female's form. "She's alive! Alive!" The excited Monster sees his mate. He reaches out to her. "Friend?" he asks. The bride, screaming, rejects him in terror. "She hate me! Like others", the Monster says dejectedly. The Monster, shedding a tear as his bride hisses at him, pulls a lever causing the laboratory and tower to be destroyed. The Frankenstein monster himself, Boris Karloff, was a friend of Wodehouse’s in Hollywood, and had appeared in the 1919 film adaptation of The Prince and Betty
one of England's most prestigious public schools for boys founded in 1571, the traditional rival of Eton.
Walk straight up to her and grab her
Wodehouse readers will recognize the Ickenham System.
Pekinese surprised while eating cake
Wodehouse quite probably witnessed such an event in person
Cophetua swore a royal oath this beggar maid shall be my queen
Shakespeare had it in Romeo and Juliet, but Tennyson’s is the line people remembered [NM]:
As shines the moon in clouded skies,
She in her poor attire was seen;
One praised her ancles, one her eyes,
One her dark hair and lovesome mien;
So sweet a face, such angel grace,
In all that land had never been;
Cophetua sware a royal oath:
"This beggar maid shall be my queen!"
Bring home the bacon
To accomplish a task; be successful or victorious; From 1500’s, wealthy citizens had a rack in the parlor to hang their bacon, which was a sign of wealth; a man who could “hang the bacon” provided well for his family; Also, first recorded in 1925, Country fairs also used to have a greased pig competition, and if you won, you ‘brought home the bacon.’ Popularized in 1909 by cartoonist T.A.D. Dorgan, “He’ll bring home the bacon as sure as you’re wearing a hat,” a metaphor for success and being able to provide for one’s family. Wodehouse is cited in OED for use of the phrase in 1924.
Br. slang, a look or glance [1890-95]
Eyes shining like twin stars
In Greek mythology, Narcissus was said to have gazed in the pool to admire his own reflection, and to have thought that his eyes resembled twin stars; Make thy two eyes, like stars, start from their spheres, Etc. Shakespeare, Hamlet,