Right Ho, Jeeves
P. G. Wodehouse
Literary and Cultural References
This is part of an ongoing effort by the members of the Blandings Yahoo! Group to document references, allusions, quotations, etc., in the works of P. G. Wodehouse.
Right Ho, Jeeves was originally annotated by Dan (last name unknown) (aka Worplesdon). The notes have been somewhat reformatted and substantially extended by others, notably Neil Midkiff [NM], but credit goes to Dan for his original efforts, even while we bear the blame for errors of fact or interpretation.
Right Ho, Jeeves was first published on October 5, 1934, by Herbert Jenkins, London, and on October 15, 1934, by Little, Brown, and Company, Boston, under the title of Brinkley Manor. It was serialized in the Saturday Evening Post, the Grand Magazine, and the Yorkshire Weekly Post prior to book publication; see this page for details of serial appearances.
These annotations and their page numbers relate to the 1983 Penguin (UK) reprint, in which the text covers pp. 5–.
hold the line (p. 5)
Literally, wait while a telephone conversation is temporarily interrupted; figuratively, be patient during the following digression. [NM]
gone off the rails (p. 5)
A colorful expression referring to a train wreck, meaning the author has strayed from his path.
floater (p. 5)
Slang, originally from British universities, for a social mistake or faux pas. [NM]
Cannes (p. 5)
Southern French city renowned for tourism, nightlife, and gambling. Now chiefly known for its film festival, begun in 1946.
white mess jacket (p. 5)
A waist-length fitted jacket, originally part of a military dress uniform, worn at formal dinners and the like; typically made with brass buttons. White mess jackets were briefly in fashion in the early 1930s for civilian semiformal dress in warm-climate resorts such as Palm Beach, Florida; more at this link. [Dan/NM]
baccarat (p. 5)
A card game popular in casinos, very similar to chemin de fer.
point d’appui (p. 5)
French: entry point (literally: point of support, fulcrum)
Ascot (p. 6)
An English horse racing course, site of an important yearly racing event.
aquaplaning (p. 6)
Similar to water-skiing but uses a single, wide board: the style at that time. Water-skiing is done with one or two skis or, sometimes, barefooted. [Although the word is divided as “aqua planing” here in this Penguin edition, original editions spell it as one word, and it also appears as one word in Chapter 7 of this edition (p. 56), so we can consider the space between words here to be a typo. —NM]
bronzed and fit (p. 6)
The fashion for sun tanning had only arisen in the 1920s; earlier, the upper classes had avoided the sun, thinking that a brown skin was the mark of the laboring classes. [NM]
Victoria (p. 6)
A railway station in London’s Westminster, south of Buckingham Palace. Originally built 1860 and much remodeled since, it was the first north-of-the-Thames rail connection to Britain’s southern coast. During Wodehouse’s era the “boat train” connecting London with the Channel ferries at Dover would arrive at and depart from Victoria. (Boat trains to Portsmouth, however, for ocean journeys would depart from Waterloo station.) [NM]
Brinkley Court, her place in Worcestershire (p. 6)
The American edition of this book used the name Brinkley Manor for her country house, apparently believing that US readers would misunderstand Court to be something royal. The US book title was Brinkley Manor, subtitled A Novel About Jeeves. Worcestershire is on the order of 100 miles west-northwest of London, as Aunt Dahlia notes in one of the telegrams of Chapter 6 (p. 50). Norman Murphy identified Brinkley Court with Severn End, the family home of the Lechmeres, the “big house” at Hanley Castle, just north of Upton-upon-Severn, and identified the town of Hanley Castle itself with Wodehouse’s Market Snodsbury; both contain a grammar school. Wodehouse stayed at the Hanley Castle vicarage as a boy, visiting his uncle, the Rev. Edward Isaac. See Murphy’s In Search of Blandings and A Wodehouse Handbook for more details. [NM]
soup and fish (p. 6)
Slang for formal evening wear: “white tie” with white waistcoat and tailcoat. So named from the first two courses of a formal dinner. Wodehouse is credited in the OED with the first citation of this usage, in Piccadilly Jim (1917). [NM]
What news on the Rialto? (p. 7)
Shakespeare, Merchant of Venice, III:1. The Rialto is a bridge over the Grand Canal and a central meeting point in Venice.
Lincolnshire (p. 7)
A largely rural county on England’s northeastern coast, on the order of 100 miles north of London. [NM]
Eton and Harrow match (p. 7)
Two large and prestigious private schools for teenage boys in England; the match refers to a hotly contested annual cricket match held every summer [at Lord’s cricket ground in London; the first recorded match was in 1805, and with few exceptions (such as wartime) has been held annually since 1822. In 1933 the match was played July 14–15. —NM] Bertie and Gussie were both Etonians.
newts (p. 7)
Newts are members of the salamander group, amphibians that live in ponds and streams, often mistaken for lizards which they resemble in shape and size. Lizards are, of course, reptiles. British newts are of the order Urodela, family Salamandridae. Jeeves states they are genus Molge, but modern taxonomy puts them in genus Triturus. If this in-and-out running surprises you, recall that the father of taxonomy is Carl Linnaeus, a Swede. As is well-known, the Swedes are a peculiar people, and when the impressionable young come under their sway, for instance, D’Arcy “Stilton” Cheesewright, they are liable to end up involved in such excesses as doing “Swedish exercises” every morning in the nude. Given this, it is less surprising that they would pull the rug out from under Jeeves in this fashion.
complex (p. 7)
The psychological sense of the word, meaning vaguely a fixed mental tendency or obsession in popular use, was relatively recent. Carl Jung had established the term in 1907 in scientific literature; a 1919 quotation from the Athenaeum as “now a polite euphemism for a bee in one’s bonnet” is the first OED citation for the colloquial sense. [NM]
niffy (p. 8)
Rural Sussex dialect (recorded 1903), from the 1920s in broader colloquial usage, for “smelly” [NM]
piscine (p. 8)
Relating to fish.
rummy (p. 9)
“Rum,” slang that means odd or strange.
ruling of the form book (p. 9)
The form book is a reference to horse-racing; it gives information on the horses.
Mr. Sipperley, Old Sippy (pp. 9–10)
Oliver Randolph “Sippy” Sipperley, an old friend of Bertie’s (see “Without the Option” and “The Inferiority Complex of Old Sippy”). [NM]
cognoscenti (p. 10)
Italian word meaning those who are well-informed or learned.
in any form of soup (p. 10)
In any difficulty. “In the soup” was originally USA slang, in Britain by 1898, in Wodehouse by 1903 (“A Fiscal Pantomime”) and famously elaborated by him in many comic ways, notably by Psmith (“I seem to see the consommé splashing about his ankles”) and later in this book by Bertie (see below, pp. 215–216). [NM]
Elizabeth Moon (p. 10)
An odd error, appearing in all versions of this story. In “The Inferiority Complex of Old Sippy” her name is given as Gwendolen Moon. Wodehouse doesn’t seem to be making a point about the unreliability of Bertie’s memory, as the difference in names is not mentioned elsewhere; none of the editors of the present story seem to have caught the discrepancy, nor is it mentioned in previous reference books to my knowledge. [NM]
bring himself to the scratch (p. 10)
Starting line in a race.
letting “I dare not” wait upon “I would” (p. 10)
[Lady Macbeth] Was the hope drunk
Wherein you dress’d yourself? hath it slept since?
And wakes it now, to look so green and pale
At what it did so freely? From this time
Such I account thy love. Art thou afeard
To be the same in thine own act and valour
As thou art in desire? Wouldst thou have that
Which thou esteem’st the ornament of life,
And live a coward in thine own esteem,
Letting ‘I dare not’ wait upon ‘I would,’
Like the poor cat i’ the adage?
[Shakespeare, Macbeth, I:7]
divine p (p. 11)
divine passion. [In the British first edition, the p is printed in italics. —NM]
a dasher with the sex (p. 11)
Nineteenth-century citations for “dasher” refer to “fast” or even immoral young women; later the term meant a showily dressed man, or one whose social interactions were rapid and unreserved. “The sex” as shorthand for “the female sex” dates from 1589 but is now out of common use. [NM]
treading upon Life’s banana skins (p. 11)
Banana peels can be extremely slippery on a smooth surface, and cause a nasty slip. [The Gros Michel or “Big Mike” variety, predominant in commerce in the first half of the twentieth century, had a slipperier peel than the Cavendish variety now commonly grown. —NM]
any spinster of any parish (p. 12)
The Church of England required “reading the banns”—publicly announcing upcoming marriages—in church. The traditional form, if the prospective bride had never been married and was living in the vicinity of this church, would refer to her as “Jane Roe, spinster, of this parish…” [NM]
Tallulah Bankhead (p. 12)
Comely Alabama-born Broadway, London, and Hollywood star of the 1920s and 30s, later on radio and television as well. Notorious for her “hard partying” lifestyle and frank speech.
reduces the contents of the brain to cauliflower (p. 13)
An allusion to George Ade’s More Fables (1900), in “The Fable of the Author Who Was Sorry for What He Did to Willie”: “His Brain felt as if some one had played a Mean Trick on him and substituted a Side-Order of Cauliflower.” [NM]
stymied (p. 13)
Golfing expression: in a situation where a putt is blocked by an opponent’s ball. The stymie has been obsolete since 1952—a player was “laid a stymie” if, on the green, the opponent’s ball fell in the line of his path to the hole (providing the balls were not within 6 inches of one another). The player was not allowed to strike the opponent’s ball when putting his own ball.
vest (p. 14)
The American name for this would be an undershirt; what Americans call a vest (a sleeveless decorative upper-body garment worn over a shirt and under a jacket) is a “waistcoat” (traditionally pron. “weskit”, now usually as spelled) in Britain. [NM]
the knee-length (p. 14)
A coy reference to undershorts. Bertie asks Jeeves, “Can I mention men’s knee-length under-clothing in a woman’s paper?” in “Clustering Round Young Bingo.” See also The Code of the Woosters, ch. 5: “I slid into the shirt, and donned the knee-length under-wear.” (Dan’s previous note “This appears to be a reference to the length of the tails in his dinner jacket” cannot be right, as the white mess jacket has no tails and is still in Jeeves’s hands.) [NM]
the Blue Train (p. 14)
Le Train Bleu was the colloquial name of the luxury overnight sleeping-car rail service between Calais (the French port of the English channel steamers from Dover) and the French Riviera towns such as Marseilles, Antibes, Cannes, Nice, Monte Carlo, and Menton. The new blue-painted steel sleeping cars introduced in late 1922 gave the route its name. [NM]
tout ce qu’il y a de chic (p. 15)
French: all that’s elegant
treading the measure (p. 15)
Battle of Agincourt (p. 15)
English triumph during the Hundred Years War. Taking place in October 1415, Henry V faced a vastly larger, but undisciplined, French army on their own soil. English courage and longbow superiority carried the day.
Pongo Twistleton (p. 15)
In full, Reginald G. Twistleton-Twistleton, whom we have previously met in “The Luck of the Stiffhams” (in the Drones Club framing story). He takes a more prominent role in later tales such as “Tried in the Furnace” and especially in the stories and books featuring his Uncle Fred, Lord Ickenham: “Uncle Fred Flits By,” Uncle Fred in the Springtime, Uncle Dynamite, Cocktail Time, and Service With a Smile. [NM]
having completed my toilet (p. 16)
In other words, “having finished dressing and grooming.” The word toilet originally referred to a light cloth used to protect clothes (as during hairdressing) or to cover a dressing-table, then to the table itself and the articles found there (comb, brush, etc.), then to the act of dressing and grooming, or the clothing or hairstyle itself (often toilette); later to a dressing room, sometimes having washing facilities. Its use as a euphemism for lavatory or water-closet began in America in the late nineteenth century but was rare in Britain until the mid-twentieth century. [NM]
olive branch (p. 16)
A peacemaking gift and gesture. Probably related to the dove bringing back the olive leaf to Noah to signal an end of the Great Flood.
Mephistopheles (p. 16)
A synonym for Satan, he is one of the seven Princes of Hell. [As a character in operas such as Gounod’s Faust, he is traditionally portrayed as Bertie describes Gussie in the next chapter.—NM]
shake like an aspen (p. 17)
A tree with leaves that flutter in the slightest breeze.
[Ian Michaud comments that according to the poets Tennyson (in The Lady of Shalott) and Scott (in Marmion), aspens were noted for quivering.]
fancy-dress ball (p. 17)
Pierrot (p. 17)
A stock comic character of French and Italian pantomime and commedia dell’arte, wears whiteface with light-colored clothes; cf. several early Picasso paintings and “Pierrot Lunaire,” a song-cycle by Arnold Schönberg.
scarlet tights (p. 17)
The illustration of Mephistopheles at right is from a 1920s French book of costume designs. [NM]
fungus (p. 17)
Slang for facial hair, whether beard or whiskers; the first OED citation is from Wodehouse’s 1925 Sam the Sudden, but an earlier appearance is “Comrade Bingo” (1922). [NM]
roof-tree (p. 17)
The main, center pole of a tent or building which holds up its roof, typically carved from a single tree. [Figuratively, someone “beneath one’s roof-tree” is owed all the obligations of a host to a guest. —NM]
came up (p. 18)
The “up” direction on any British train line is toward London, no matter the compass direction of travel. Similarly, the “down train” heads radially away from London. (Members of the two great universities of Oxford and Cambridge also consider these as pinnacles to which one goes up, or from which one is sent down.) [NM]
rout or revel (p. 18)
gassing all over the place (p. 18)
Talking out of turn, spilling secrets. [“Gas” is still used in Britain for empty or excessive talk, just as “hot air” is used in America; both are used to fill balloons. It is not used in Britain as a short form of “gasoline” (called petrol there). —NM]
non-starter (p. 19)
Horse removed from a race for any reason.
cipher (p. 20)
An unimportant or powerless person.
shirty (p. 20)
iron hand (p. 20)
The iron hand in the velvet glove. A saying suggesting great power with a benign front.
de rigueur (p. 21)
French: required, necessary.
always been a whale (p. 21)
Has always been learned and enthusiastic about a subject.
snaps it out of the bag (p. 21)
Brings up the subject.
binge (p. 21)
visionary (p. 23)
one with the ability to see into the future, or one with speculative, impractical ideas
beating about the b. (p. 23)
beating about the bush: circling round an uncomfortable topic rather than bringing it up directly [NM]
snifter (p. 26)
A special rounded glass designed for drinking brandy, cognac, armagnac, calvados, and the other brandywine drinks.
Martinis and a dividend (p. 26)
When a pitcher or shaker of mixed drinks is prepared and poured out into glasses, the portion left over that is not quite a full drink is called the “dividend.” Karen Shotting found this personal recollection from Sir Edward Cazalet, Wodehouse’s grandson, in an article in Plum Lines, Autumn 2012, pp. 8–10:
Ethel would mix some powerful martinis for both of them. Plum would have two of these (quite lethal for many but certainly not for him) and any odd “dividends,” as he called them, that might be left in the shaker.
the well-cooked (p. 26)
a well-prepared meal
the better element (p. 27)
the aristocracy, his well-bred friends
V-shaped rumminess (p. 27)
The reference is to the depiction on a synoptic weather chart of the fronts associated with a depression, or low pressure system. The warm and cold fronts usually appear as an inverted ‘V’, with its apex at the center of the depression. In Britain, such frontal systems almost always bring thick cloud and rain. Thanks to Terry Mordue.
dissentient (p. 28)
In the first edition of these notes, Dan called this “A very odd choice of words, perhaps this is a joke with Bertie mangling his vocabulary again. The proper term would typically be ‘dissenting,’ meaning ‘disagreeing.’ ” Dan should have used a larger dictionary; the word means “disagreeing” in both British and American dictionaries, both in Bertie’s time and today. [NM]
fortnight (p. 28)
A term for “two weeks,” seldom used in North America, a contraction of “fourteen nights.”
the lemon (p. 28)
Slang for “the head”; once again Wodehouse gets the first OED citation, from The Inimitable Jeeves, in a phrase first appearing in the magazine story “Jeeves in the Spring-Time” (1921), which is the source for the opening chapters of that book. [NM]
mighty rushing wind (p. 29)
And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting.
[Bible: Acts 2:2]
en secondes noces (p. 30)
French: in a second marriage [NM]
the year Bluebottle won the Cambridgeshire (p. 30)
The Cambridgeshire Handicap, run at Newmarket in October, is one of the main races of the horseracing calendar. The horse Bluebottle appears to be fictitious. Wodehouse often avoids committing himself to a date by referring to a horserace.
“What the Well-Dressed Man is Wearing” (p. 30)
The story of Bertie’s sole literary effort is told in “Clustering Round Young Bingo” in Carry On, Jeeves! [NM]
Milady’s Boudoir (p. 30)
A magazine for the delicately nurtured, edited by Aunt Dahlia Travers. Also referred to as Madame’s Nightshirt by her husband Tom Travers, who foots the bills for it.
Home Counties (p. 30)
The [former] counties which contain London are Middlesex and Surrey; the surrounding counties of Kent, Sussex, Hampshire, Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Hertfordshire, and Essex (clockwise from the Thames estuary) are also usually considered as Home Counties. English counties have been revised a couple of times over the last century; this list is according to the situation as it was in 1918.
many a time and oft (p. 30)
This flight of rhetorical repetition when the mere “often” would serve as well shows that Bertie’s expensive education still lingers in bits. Shakespeare used the phrase in The Merchant of Venice, as did Lord Byron in Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage. [NM]
vis-à-vis (p. 31)
French: face to face.
chivvying (p. 31)
out on the tiles (p. 31)
Out dancing, hanging around in nightclubs.
Noblesse oblige (p. 31)
French: noble obligations.
oolong (p. 31)
a kind of medium-dark tea, from Chinese Wu Lung (black dragon).
like a drowning man at a straw hat (p. 31)
Proverbial — usually just “at a straw” (or “at straws”). OED records first use as Clarissa (Richardson, 1748):
“A drowning man will catch at a straw, the Proverb well says.”
Reported to have originated in Dialogue of Comfort Against Tribulation (1534) by Thomas More (1478–1535). The addition of the word “hat” subverts the cliché completely, of course.
this awful thing that had come upon me (p. 32)
For the thing which I greatly feared is come upon me...
[Bible: Job 3:25]
oz. of the lifesaving (p. 33)
ounce of tea
strained a fetlock and must scratch his nomination (p. 33)
Fetlock: a joint of a horse’s lower leg, making a projection to the rear just above the hoof. Scratch his nomination: withdraw from the race/event.
Dotheboys Hall (p. 34)
The boy’s school in the Dickens novel Nicholas Nickleby. As is typical in Dickens’s work, it is hell on earth, run by tyrants who surpass even the Rev. Aubrey Upjohn, Bertie’s imperious schoolmaster in his youth at Bramley-on-Sea.
ragouts (p. 34)
nib (p. 35)
A distinguished person.
spats (p. 35)
A piece of cloth or leather covering the ankle and part of the shoe and buttoned on the side. Spatterdashes were long gaiters or leggings worn when riding to protect the breeches and stockings from mud (mainly 18th century). Spats were literally short spatterdashes: a 19th century adaptation to keep mud off your shoes and socks in city streets. With paved streets and the decreasing use of horses in city traffic they became purely decorative by the early 20th century, though still a part of formal morningwear during Bertie Wooster’s time. (Spats were never worn with formal eveningwear, whether black or white tie.) So here Aunt Dahlia is using “spats” as shorthand for formal morningwear: a morning coat (black or gray with tails tapered in a smooth curve from the lower tips of the lapels downward), striped trousers, ascot tie, and the lot. Spats fell out of favor when fashionable young men started wearing shoes instead of ankle boots, largely due to the fashion influence of the Prince of Wales. [Dan/NM]
topper (p. 35)
top hat, large tall hat worn on formal occasions
address a girl’s school (p. 35)
Bertie is referring to an unfortunate incident detailed in the short story “Bertie Changes His Mind.”
a frost (p. 35)
theatrical slang for a failure, a cold reception by an audience [NM]
beetled off (p. 36)
RAF slang from World War I, meaning “departed suddenly or directly” [NM]
raspberry (p. 37)
Putting the tongue firmly between the lips and blowing, making a rude sound. [Same as “Bronx cheer”; name contracted from rhyming slang, “raspberry tart” for “fart”. —NM]
human lark, leaving his watery nest at daybreak (p. 37)
The lark is a bird notorious for rising early and singing, causing much negative comment in the neighborhood.
The lark now leaves his wat’ry nest,
And climbing shakes his dewy wings.
He takes this window for the East,
And to implore your light he sings—
Awake, awake! the morn will never rise
Till she can dress her beauty at your eyes.
The merchant bows unto the seaman’s star,
The ploughman from the sun his season takes;
But still the lover wonders what they are
Who look for day before his mistress wakes.
Awake, awake! break thro’ your veils of lawn!
Then draw your curtains, and begin the dawn!
[Davenant, William (1606–1668): Aubade]
[According to Wikipedia, most larks nest on the ground in cups of dry grass, so Bertie’s choice to use this watery poetic source may well be influenced by Gussie’s pond of newts at his home. — NM]
bung (p. 37)
these pick-me-ups of Jeeves’s (p. 37)
These are first described in “Jeeves Takes Charge.” [NM]
rising on stepping-stones of his dead self to higher things (p. 38)
See Tennyson, “In Memoriam A.H.H.”: “That men may rise on stepping-stones of their dead selves to higher things.”
Suffolk Square; Norfolk Terrace (p. 39)
Both are fictitious addresses; there is a Norfolk Square in London, near Paddington Station, but a better source might be Wodehouse’s own London address at 17 Norfolk Street, Mayfair, in the late 1920s and early 1930s. [NM]
figures on the clock (p. 40)
fare indicated by the taxi’s meter [NM]
Colney Hatch (p. 41)
A noted insane asylum in north London, operating from 1851 to 1993.
put our hands to the plough, we do not readily sheathe the sword. (p. 41)
A muddled mixture of two sayings from Bertie; the first is from the Bible: St. Luke 9, 62, “No man, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.” The second is Shakespeare, Henry V, III,1: “Have in these parts from morn till even fought, and sheath’d their swords for lack of argument.”
It also could be influenced by the famous quote from Isaiah (2:4), in which “swords” and “ploughs/plows” are juxtaposed.
“And they will hammer their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not lift up sword against nation, and never again will they learn war.”
passed through the furnace (p. 43)
as did Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego: see chapter 3 of the Book of Daniel in the Old Testament. [NM]
plugs decarbonized (p. 44)
A reference to the sparkplugs of a car, which gradually become dirty with carbon from burning gasoline and need to be cleaned or replaced.
poultice (p. 44)
A soft medicine, typically warmed and spread on a wound or other bodily damage
mousse (p. 45)
A sweetened chilled dessert whipped into a foamy texture, typically made with whipped cream, egg white, and/or gelatin. [Dan/NM]
tender pash (p. 45)
tender passion, i.e., Love.
grab the gold ring on a merry-go-round (p. 46)
A merry-go-round is a carnival ride, a round platform with horses mounted on it; it spins around and people sit on the horses and pretend they are riding. Some merry-go-rounds have a system of prizes given for grabbing rings from a stationary object as you roll by.
beach pyjamas (p. 46)
In the twenties and thirties, beach pyjamas were loose-fitting and normally rather gaudy clothes intended to be worn (mainly by women) over a bathing costume after swimming.
looking like a close-up of Joan Crawford (p. 46)
Joan Crawford (1904?–1977) made her film debut in silent pictures and had a major career through the early 1970s. Just what Bertie has in mind regarding Gussie’s resemblance is not clear, though it may be a dewy-eyed romantic look similar to the portrait at right. [NM]
[Ian Michaud notes that when the passage first appeared in the Saturday Evening Post (Dec. 23, 1933), “Gussie popped along, flapping the telegram.” No mention of Miss Crawford. When the passage appeared four months later in the UK Grand magazine, the Joan Crawford passage appeared as in the book editions.
Did Wodehouse add the Crawford gag in a final re-write before sending the manuscript to Grand magazine or did George Horace Lorimer of the Saturday Evening Post cut the line because the joke (if it was a joke) didn’t make any sense to him? Ian suspects the latter. It also may have been a policy of the SEP to avoid incidental references to real persons, companies, etc. in their fiction, perhaps for legal reasons; in their serialization of Quick Service they omitted naming the other big car as a Packard.]
précis (p. 46)
a concise summary
Borstal (p. 48)
that time at the girls’ school (p. 48)
See note at p. 35, above.
bleater (p. 50)
Master of Revels (p. 50)
(the below was shamelessly stolen from a Shakespeare website)
Anyone involved in the production of plays in Elizabethan England, from the playwright to the theatre owners, knew that the Master of Revels was the man to impress and fear, for he auditioned acting troupes, selected the plays they would perform, and controlled the scenery and costumes to be used in each production. During the reign of James I, the Master of Revels reached the apex of his power and had complete authority over both the production and the publication of plays. The Master of Revels, deputy to the Lord Chamberlain, headed the Revels Office, the department of the royal household responsible for the coordination of theatrical entertainment at court.
cowardy custard (p. 50)
slang: scaredy-cat, etc.
all of a twitter (p. 52)
in a flutter of excitement or anxiety [NM]
two-seater (p. 53)
A small sports car. [In Thank You, Jeeves, Bertie’s two-seater is described as a Widgeon Seven, which Norman Murphy identifies with the real-world Austin Seven, one of the most popular British small cars, made from 1922 to 1939, and probably with one of the open-topped Sports models. —NM]
one grand, sweet song (p. 53)
Be good, sweet maid, and let who will be clever;
Do noble things, not dream them, all day long:
And so make life, death, and that vast forever
One grand, sweet song.
Stanza 2 of “A Farewell” by Charles Kingsley (1819–1875)
Wodehouse quotes the poem often. Harold Bramble is memorizing it in “Keeping It from Harold” (1914), for instance. [NM]
the hour of the evening cocktail (p. 54)
The cocktail hour is the hour before dinner, in America it is generally between four and six p.m. It may be later in England, since Europeans often have dinner later than Americans.
g. (p. 54)
map (p. 54)
conspic. by its a. (p. 54)
conspicuous by its absence
argot (p. 54)
Ancient Mariner (pp. 54–55)
The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, a poem by Coleridge. [The title character interrupts a young man on his way to a wedding feast and forces him to listen to a lengthy tale. —NM]
Uncle Tom (p. 55)
The title character of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s 1852 antislavery novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin, a long-suffering middle-aged black slave on a Kentucky farm. [NM]
Time, the great healer (p. 55)
In the original edition of these notes, Dan’s comment was “The closest true quote seems to be from Benjamin Disraeli’s Henrietta Temple (1837). ‘Time is the great physician.’ ”
The phrase is a translation of a classical one, and appears in many variant forms in English, such as “Time heals all wounds.” The ancient Greek poet Menander (c. 342–292 b.c.) expressed it as Πάντων τῶν κακῶν ἰατρός χρόνος ἐστί (“time is the best doctor for bad situations”). Google Books has citations of Bertie’s form back to 1844: “I was told indeed that Time, the great Healer, would soften the bitterness of my regret” (Lewis Gaylord Clark, in a memoir of his deceased twin brother Willis Gaylord Clark.) The Hepworth Film Company (UK) produced a three-reel silent film with this title in 1914 starring Tom Powers and Alma Taylor. [NM]
five hundred pounds (p. 55)
The Bank of England inflation calculator gives a factor of approximately 66 for the period from 1933, when Wodehouse was writing this novel, to 2016. £500 then would be £33,000 today. In 2016 U.S. dollars, the calculation depends on when the dollar conversion was made, giving a range of values from $41,000 to $45,000. [NM]
oofy (p. 56)
a squawk you can hear at Land’s End (p. 56)
The western tip of Cornwall, over 200 miles from Worcestershire. [NM]
green in my memory (p. 56)
Though yet of Hamlet our dear brother’s death / The memory be green…
Shakespeare: Hamlet, I:2 [NM]
Othello … among the cannibals (p. 58)
It was my hint to speak,—such was the process;
And of the Cannibals that each other eat,
The Anthropophagi and men whose heads
Do grow beneath their shoulders.
Shakespeare: Othello, I:3 [NM]
oom beroofen (p. 59)
Puzzling, probably a German expression. “Rufen” means to call, e.g.: “Aus der Tiefen rufe ich, Herr, zu dir,” a cantata by Bach (“Out of the depths I call, Lord, to you”). The closest thing I can find is “unberufen,” which means “uncalled for,” “unbidden.”
[Colloquially it seems to have had a superstitious usage. Writing from Vienna in 1899, Mark Twain told a friend:
that is a German word which is equivalent to “ ’sh! hush! don’t let the spirits hear you!” The superstition is that if you happen to let fall any grateful jubilation over good luck that you’ve had or are hoping to have you must shut square off and say “Unberufen!” and knock wood. The word drives the evil spirits away; otherwise they would divine your joy or your hopes and go to work and spoil your game.
See also other examples, including Queen Victoria in her letters. The phonetic change of n to m before a b is common in many languages, and the less common spelling “umberufen” reflects that pronunciation.
I haven’t found other examples of it being used as a blessing after a sneeze; it isn’t clear whether Aunt Dahlia was using it that way, or was saying “knock wood, let’s hope Jeeves has the answer” and Bertie mixed it up in his mind with “gesundheit.” —NM]
deaf adder (p. 61)
They are as venomous as the poison of a serpent: even like the deaf adder which stoppeth her ears; Which refuseth to hear the voice of the charmer: charm he never so wisely.
Psalm 58:4–5 [Book of Common Prayer]
irreproachable Mechlin lace (p. 61)
As usual, his get-up was absolutely irreproachable, the fine Mechlin lace at his neck and wrists were immaculate and white, his fair hair was carefully brushed, and he carried his eyeglass with his usual affected gesture.
Sir Percy Blakeney, Bart., as described in chapter 25 of The Scarlet Pimpernel (1905) by Baroness Orczy. [NM]
Mechlin (p. 61)
A city in Belgium, famous for its lace. “Mechlin” is the old English spelling: it is now usually written Mechelen, (in French, Malines).
I have told you before about young Tuppy Glossop (p. 63)
We first met Tuppy in “Jeeves and the Yule-Tide Spirit” and followed his career in “Jeeves and the Song of Songs” and “Tuppy Changes His Mind” (also known as “The Ordeal of Young Tuppy”); all these stories are collected in Very Good, Jeeves! [NM]
swimming bath (p. 63)
hotsy-totsy (p. 63)
satisfactory, just right, delightful; US slang first recorded in a 1924 Ira Gershwin lyric [NM]
sand-bagged (p. 64)
having been knocked out by being struck over the head with a softer version of a blackjack, a tube of cloth or leather stuffed with sand. Elsewhere Wodehouse refers to this sort of weapon as a stuffed eelskin, for instance “Bingo and the Little Woman” and Uneasy Money, chapter 13. [NM]
melancholy...had marked him for her own (p. 64)
And Melancholy mark’d him for her own.
[Thomas Gray, Elegy in a Country Churchyard (1751)]
gasper (p. 64)
slang for a cigarette, especially an inexpensive or harsh one
Quorn (p. 65)
One of Britain’s best-known fox hunting packs, established in 1696 by Thomas Boothby. [NM]
blowing the all clear (p. 69)
Dating from World War I, a signal from a horn or siren indicating that the danger of an air raid or other attack is over. [NM]
ris de veau à la financière (p. 69)
Calves’ sweetbreads studded with truffles and pickled beef tongue, braised in brown stock, served in a pie crust with cocks’ combs and cocks’ kidneys, quenelles, lambs’ sweetbreads, mushrooms, olives, and strips of truffles, with a reduced brown-stock sauce flavored with ham, thyme, bay leaf, Madeira, more mushroom and truffle trimmings, etc. As outlandish as it seems, this is a mere summary of the description in the Larousse Gastronomique. [NM]
raid the larder (p. 69)
find something to eat in the cool room off the kitchen where meats are stored [NM]
wheeze (p. 70)
the form-fitting (p. 71)
Shorthand for Bertie’s carefully tailored daytime clothes. In “Uncle Fred Flits By” (1935), Pongo Twistleton arrives at the Drones Club in form-fitting tweeds. “The structure and rigidity of the Edwardian era and the shapeless styles of the 1920s were replaced [in the 1930s] by fashions that enhanced the human form without restricting it.” (“Elegance in an Age of Crisis: Fashions of the 1930s”) [NM]
salle de bain (p. 71)
in-the-soup (p. 71)
porcelain (p. 71)
A form of china often used to make bathtubs and sinks.
the dinner disguise (p. 72)
It is rare for Bertie to make a jesting reference to dressing for dinner, even when he comes up with some of the innovations that Jeeves resists. In “The Aunt and the Sluggard” he boasts of his extensive evening wardrobe to Rocky Todd. In the present case, Bertie’s reference (p. 76) to “gent’s ordinary dinner jacket, or smoking” means semiformal (“black tie” also called tuxedo): the appropriate dinner clothes when dining with family and close friends. If outside guests were coming to dinner, only the full soup and fish (“white tie” with evening tailcoat) would be appropriate. See chapter 6 of the novel Heavy Weather for a further example of this distinction. [NM]
You know my methods, Jeeves. Apply them (p. 72)
“You know my methods. Apply them.”
[Sherlock Holmes to Dr. Watson in The Sign of Four.]
subj. (p. 73)
My emotions were too deep for speech (p. 73)
“To me the meanest flower that blows can give
Thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears.”
[Wordsworth, Ode, Intimations of Immortality.]
come a smeller (p. 74)
have an accident, a heavy fall (early 20th c. slang)
bring home the gravy (p. 75)
Another mangled bit of slang from Bertie. Should be “bring home the bacon,” which means to be successful. [Bertie uses “bring home the bacon” correctly on p. 122. —NM]
f-c (p. 77)
finely chiseled (face)
j. (p. 77)
Abernethy Towers (p. 77)
Abernethy is an ancient town in Scotland. The Abernethy Tower dates probably from the 9th or 10th century, with 11th century alterations. It is 72 feet high and only 8 feet in interior diameter, with walls 3½ feet thick. These towers served the Celtic clergy as steeples, watch-towers against Viking invaders, and refuges.
Having said this, I do not understand this reference in context, nor the following reference to a musical comedy.
death where is thy sting (p. 77)
“O death, where is thy sting?
O grave, where is thy victory?”
[First Corinthians, 15:55.]
Belshazzar’s Feast (p. 78)
See Daniel, chapter five.
mere (p. 79)
a sheet of standing water, such as a lake, pond, or pool; now mostly in British dialect or literary usage [NM]
Tabasco (p. 80)
Pepper sauce for cooking, in other words, “hot stuff,” or “a good idea.”
Plimsoll mark (p. 81)
A line painted on the outside of a ship which shows how deep it is legally allowed to go down into the water when it is carrying the maximum safe load of cargo.
standing room only (p. 81)
Another instance of Bertie’s love of theatrical jargon. When all seats in a theater are sold, a few more audience members can be accommodated in designated standing areas at the rear or sides of the auditorium. The implication is that Brinkley Court is filled up with tortured souls. [NM]
Devil’s Island (p. 81)
An island in the Caribbean used by the French as a prison.
badinage (p. 81)
small talk, social chit-chat
pterodactyl (p. 81)
A bird-like dinosaur with wings.
hewn from the living rock (p. 81)
carved into solid rock in its original geological location; the implication is “silent as a statue” [NM]
clarion (p. 82)
an old style of trumpet with a straight, narrow tube, used as a war signal
find scent … throw out the drag-net … flushed him (p. 82)
Hunting jargon. [NM]
d.f. (p. 83)
your need was greater than mine (p. 83)
A glancing reference to Sir Philip Sidney (1554–1586), Elizabethan courtier, poet, and soldier. Fatally injured at the Battle of Zutphen, he is reputed to have given up his ration of water to another wounded soldier, saying “Thy necessity is yet greater than mine.” Wodehouse referred to Sir Philip by name at least eight times and indirectly at least one other place as well. [NM]
the what-d’you-call-it (p. 83)
The word Bertie is searching for is “cynosure.” [Cynosure (Greek “tail of the dog”) originally referred to the constellation of Ursa Minor in the northern sky, around whose tail tip all other stars appear to revolve. The figurative sense of “center of all attention” derives from this. —NM]
Pig-something (p. 86)
The sculptor Pygmalion of Greek mythology.
She starts. She moves... (p. 86)
And see! she stirs!
She starts,—she moves,—she seems to feel
The thrill of life along her keel,
And, spurning with her foot the ground,
With one exulting, joyous bound,
She leaps into the ocean’s arms!
[Longfellow, The Building of the Ship.]
[A brilliant example of Wodehouse’s illustration of Bertie’s fickle memory for quotations. He gets most of the words right, but quotes the wrong poem; this one uses “she” in its nautical sense to refer to a wooden ship being launched, not to a statue coming to life. Many poems have dealt with the Pygmalion and Galatea myth; it is difficult to guess which one Bertie thought he was remembering when he substituted the Longfellow lines. —NM]
long, long trail (p. 86)
Probably a reference to the 1914 song “There’s a Long, Long Trail A-Winding” by Stoddard King and Alonzo Elliott, a popular song of World War I. [NM]
Now fades the glimmering landscape... (p. 86)
The Poet Gray again, from Elegy in a Country Churchyard:
Now fades the glimmering landscape on the sight,
And all the air a solemn stillness holds.
pace the meadows with a heavy tread (p. 87)
This sounds like a quote, but I can’t find it. Help please.
gloaming (p. 87)
Crepuscular. The part of the day after the sun has gone down and before the sky is completely dark.
scenario (p. 88)
A detailed summary or outline of the plot of a play or film. Bertie, like his creator, is conversant with theatrical terms and uses them freely in everyday life. [NM]
Hot dog! (p. 90)
American slang, an exclamation of excitement or emphasis.
glutinous (p. 90)
Sticky, gummy. From “gluten,” a gluey protein in wheat which makes bread dough sticky.
cheese it (p. 90)
fag-end (p. 90)
map (p. 90)
soul’s awakening (p. 90)
In the original edition of these notes, Dan stated “This is a difficult quotation, possibly a reference to ‘The Soul’s Awakening,’ a mystery play written by Rudolf Steiner, in 1922.” This is unlikely, as Wodehouse was using the phrase at least as early as 1911, and refers to it as a picture.
It is a sentimental portrait by James Sant (1820–1916) of his young niece (or great niece) Annie Kathleen Rendle, exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1888 and widely reproduced in engravings and prints. [NM]
circs. (p. 90)
soupiness (p. 90)
hung fire (p. 91)
When lighting a fuse, if it stops burning quickly, yet doesn’t go out, it is said to “hang fire.”
Michael Arlen (p. 91)
1895–1956, English novelist, b. Bulgaria as Dikran Kuyumjian. The son of Armenian parents, he was brought to England as a child. In 1922 he became a British subject and changed his name, and in 1928 he married Countess Atalanta Mercati. Arlen is best remembered for his fantastically successful novel (and play) The Green Hat (1924), which depicts the licentious postwar life of fashionable London society. His characters are disillusioned, cynical, and witty. Although sophisticated, the novel is ultimately sentimental. Arlen’s novels depicted the mood of the 1920s, and by the ’30s he was no longer read. His last novel, Flying Dutchman, appeared in 1939.
A figure from the twenties if ever there was one. His nickname in society was ‘The Baron’. Many thought that this was because young Dikran, back in his native Armenia was a member of that admirable nation’s aristocracy. Some believed he was indeed an Armenian Baron. Sadly this proved to be inaccurate. The truth lay in the simple fact that the Armenian word for ‘Mr’ is ‘Bahr-ron.’
spinney (p. 91)
small patch of trees
unshipped a sigh (p. 92)
The literal meaning of “unship” is to remove something from a vessel, to offload. Figuratively, it seems that Bertie is describing Madeline’s sigh as heavy cargo, requiring an effort to get it out of her system. [NM]
mashed potatoes (p. 94)
syrupy love talk
[Ian Michaud comments that here it is used to describe syrupy love talk, but as a slang expression for nonsense it is interchangeable with apple sauce (p. 104). For example, when Jeeves warns Bertie that red-haired women are dangerous in “Jeeves and the Yuletide Spirit” his advice is rejected as “rot, absolute drivel and pure mashed potatoes.”]
marked starting of the pores (p. 94)
by the time the whistle blew (p. 94)
Finished; a whistle is blown to mark the end of the workday or sporting event.
persp. (p. 95)
Niagara (p. 95)
Niagara Falls, a very large waterfall on the American-Canadian border.
let it ride (p. 95)
In gambling, to not take your winnings at the end of a wager but let all the money stay on for the next bet.
vamp (p. 96)
chukker (p. 97)
The game of polo is divided into six intervals known as “chukkers.”
Boadicea (p. 97)
Boudicca, early British queen known in Roman annals as Boadicea, was born into aristocracy around 30 A.D. Little or nothing is known of where she came from; many believe that her name, Boudicca, was not her name at all, but that she may have been called Boudiga—the Celtic goddess of Victory—by her followers, which would lead to the Latinized name given as ‘Boadicea Victoria’ given by Roman historians. Boudicca married into the Iceni royalty in southeastern Britain, believed about 48 A.D., and bore two daughters who had reached adolescence before her husband died of illness in 60 or 61 A.D. After his death came a series of surprising and ruthless attacks on her and her daughters by the Romans, and for this the Iceni tribe became outraged and Boudicca ultimately led a force believed to number over one hundred thousand or more, in a massive rebellion that left a permanent thorn in the side of the Roman Empire.
gollup (p. 98)
keep his head down and not press (p. 98)
A bit of good advice for golfers.
pricing fish slices (p. 99)
That is, shopping for knives with broad silver blades, used for serving and deboning fish; Wodehouse uses this as the first wedding gift that Bertie thinks of in many stories. A fish course was part of any formal dinner, and was usually served in an acidic sauce such as lemon juice, which would react with and discolor a steel-bladed knife in those days before stainless alloys. [NM]
something attempted, something done (p. 99)
Something attempted, something done,
Has earned a night’s repose.
Longfellow, “The Village Blacksmith” [NM]
two penn’orth of wassail (p. 99)
Two pennies worth of a hot drink made with beer or wine and spices.
raw spirit (p. 100)
Undiluted hard liquor; here it is a reference to whisky.
the day he overcame the Nervii (p. 100)
If you have tears, prepare to shed them now.
You all do know this mantle: I remember
The first time Caesar ever put it on;
’Twas on a summer’s evening, in his tent,
That day he overcame the Nervii.
[Shakespeare, Julius Caesar III,ii,174.]
cloth-headed guffins (p. 100)
Slang: idiot, fool.
under the ether (p. 100)
Ether was an early anesthetic, but what Bertie is referring to here is comparing the effects of love to ether. See also The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, by T.S. Eliot: “Let us go then, you and I, When the evening is spread out against the sky Like a patient etherized upon a table.”
pourparlers (p. 100)
conference, initial exchange of greetings
browsing and sluicing (p. 101)
A slangy way of saying eating and drinking; “browsing” originally meant the way animals feed on the tenderer young shoots and leaves of bushes and trees; “sluicing” can mean running water through a gated channel as in dams, mining equipment, or other waterworks, or generally rinsing something. The combined term seems to be an invention by Wodehouse; Green’s Dictionary of Slang cites an 1885 Australian newspaper account of cannibalism as “browsing on boy” but there is no reference to sluicing, so it fails the relevancy test. [NM]
nonnettes de poulet Agnès Sorel (p. 101)
A dish that cannot now be legally made, as it includes ortolans, a rare tiny game bird of Europe now under endangered-species protection, a longtime fetish for gourmets who would eat them whole with head, bones, and beak. In this dish each bird would be plucked, sautéed in butter, wrapped in a flattened pair of chicken breasts and tied in a roll, then baked with more butter and served on a crusty bread base fried in more butter and spread with foie gras and glazed with a chicken-stock-based sauce made with, you guessed it, more butter. I’m not sure whether this endangers the birds or the diners more. [NM]
tonsils of the soul (p. 101)
Confusing reference, but probably refers to spiritual agonies causing the odd sounds rather than physical ones.
Gandhi (pp. 101–02)
Mohandas K. Gandhi (1869–1948), known as Mahatma, leader of the movement for India’s independence from the British empire, was an advocate of an ascetic vegetarian diet at all times, and frequently went on hunger strikes to gain attention and sympathy for his political goals. He underwent four periods of fasting during 1932–33 to protest the social and political status of “untouchables” under a proposed new constitution, so his fasting would have been newsworthy when this novel was written. [NM]
motif (p. 102)
cèpes à la Rossini (p. 102)
A dish of mushrooms (the type commonly known as porcini in the US today) stewed in butter with onions and truffles and reduced in a cream sauce. Invented by (or perhaps for) the opera composer Gioachino Rossini (1792–1868), who retired early (1829) from music and enjoyed gourmet cookery for the rest of his life. [NM]
travail (p. 102)
painful heavy work
apple sauce (p. 104)
Slang: emotional rants, or gooey insincere flattery. [Or, as attested in slang dictionaries, simply “nonsense.” —NM]
get together across a round table and try to find a formula (p. 105)
Journalistic jargon for diplomatic conferences. [NM]
crack (p. 106)
insult, sharp reply
animus (p. 106)
anger, prejudicial hatred
melting pots (p. 107)
In this context referring to Great Britain as a “melting pot” means that people of different countries and races have come there to live and blend in. In the larger context conservative individuals like Uncle Tom take this as a type of invasion that will jeopardize the country and its institutions.
hand in his portfolio (p. 107)
resign: also a diplomatic usage [NM]
floater (p. 108)
pterodactyl (p. 108)
A winged bird-like dinosaur.
Old Home Week in Moscow (p. 108)
A reunion in Moscow; evidently if this happened Bertie thinks a riot would ensue.
third waistcoat button (p. 108)
Not only the seat of the solar plexus, a bundle of nerves which make this a bad spot to be hit in during a boxing match (see endnote “on a vital spot” for “How Kid Brady Won the Championship”); this also seems to be Wodehouse’s way of locating the pains of indigestion. [NM]
b. (p. 108)
Lord Tennyson (p. 109)
Alfred Tennyson, first Baron Tennyson (1809–1892), distinguished English poet, and Poet Laureate of Great Britain from 1850 till his death.
Provençal (p. 109)
Gauls (p. 109)
old-fashioned word for French
spilt milk blows nobody any good (p. 109)
A befuddled mix of two sayings: “There is no use crying over spilt milk,” and “It’s an ill wind that blows no good.”
lines and business (p. 111)
More theatrical jargon from Bertie: words to say and actions and gestures to perform. “Lines and Business” is the American magazine title of the Reggie Pepper story better known as “Helping Freddie” and later revised as “Fixing It for Freddie” for Bertie and Jeeves; the references to “lines and business” were retained in the revision. [NM]
throwing a spanner into the works (p. 113)
British usage for “throwing a wrench into the machinery,” or, figuratively, disrupting well-made plans [NM]
marked sexual dimorphism (p. 113)
a distinctly different body appearance for male and female members of the species [NM]
m. (p. 115)
gimlet (p. 115)
A hand tool used for boring holes in wood.
bring a blush to the cheek of modesty (p. 116)
cause embarrassment to a female listener or reader: the expression can be traced back to 1828 and was widely used in the 1840s to advertise the purity of the collected poetry of Mrs. Felicia Hemans. W. S. Gilbert gave it a fresh popularity in the libretto of Patience (1881), in which the poet Grosvenor claims: “I believe I am right in saying that there is not one word in that decalet which is calculated to bring the blush of shame to the cheek of modesty.” [NM]
fuel up (p. 116)
drink something alcoholic [NM]
Morning Post (p. 116)
A London daily newspaper, founded in 1772, with a strong conservative leaning and attention to the doings of the aristocratic and wealthy; it was the “correct” organ for announcing engagements and marriages among the upper classes. Cf. Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest, act II: [NM]
Gwendolen: My darling Cecily, I think there must be some slight error. Mr. Ernest Worthing is engaged to me. The announcement will appear in the Morning Post on Saturday at the latest.
stap my vitals (p. 116)
Also “stap me vitals.” A common expression or exclamation that is somewhat obscure. The OED says that it’s a mispronunciation of “stop my vitals,” as popularised by the character Lord Foppington in Sir John Vanbrugh’s play The Relapse (1696).
blue around the rims (p. 116)
I believe this is a reference to mold, including mold on cheese.
[Or it could be the sense of blue to mean sad or depressed, which seems more likely in this context. —NM]
some sort of Masonic uniform (p. 117)
The Masons are an ancient quasi-religious fraternal organization, who trace their origins to the building of the Temple of Solomon.
[Ian Michaud points out that Wodehouse himself was a freemason, joining in 1929 and submitting his resignation in November 1934.]
Ian also notes the following, about using the term masonic generically:
A few years later, in the 1937 story “Romance at Droitgate Spa,” Freddie Fitch-Fitch had a reaction similar to Bertie’s when shown a photograph of Annabel Purvis’s Uncle Joe in the masonic (note the lower-case ‘m’) regalia of a Grand Exalted Periwinkle of the Mystic Order of Whelks. That was in the U.S. book The Crime Wave at Blandings. But in the Strand Magazine and the U.K. book Eggs, Bean and Crumpets “masonic regalia” became “lodge regalia.” The Saturday Evening Post also dropped the ‘masonic’ making it “the regalia of.”
omitting no detail, however apparently slight (p. 118)
An echo or take-off on Sherlock Holmes. [For instance, from “The Red-Headed League”: —NM]
…the peculiar nature of the story makes me anxious to have every possible detail from your lips. As a rule, when I have heard some slight indication of the course of events, I am able to guide myself by the thousands of other similar cases which occur to my memory.
somnambulist (p. 119)
the year Shining Light was disqualified in the Cesarewitch for boring (p. 119)
A reference to a scandal in racehorse circles, details unknown and probably fictional, but the Cesarewitch is a race in October, in Newmarket. The full phrase would have been ‘bumping and boring’ which means that one jockey has been accused of purposely encouraging his horse to run into another, thus putting it off its stride.
apoplectic fits (p. 120)
An old-fashioned term for “stroke.”
less than the dust beneath her chariot wheels (p. 120)
Less than the dust beneath thy chariot wheel,
Less than the rust that never stained thy sword…
“Less Than the Dust” from Indian Love Lyrics (1901) by “Laurence Hope” (Adela Florence Nicholson, 1865–1904)
Another of the Indian Love Lyrics is “Pale hands I loved beside the Shalimar” as sung by Bertie Wooster in his bath. [NM]
idée fixe (p. 121)
French: unshakeable notion [NM]
conv. (p. 121)
sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought (p. 123)
Thus conscience does make cowards of us all;
And thus the native hue of resolution
Is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought,
And enterprises of great pith and moment
With this regard their currents turn awry,
And lose the name of action.
Shakespeare, from Hamlet’s “To be or not to be” soliloquy in act III, scene 1.
au pied de la lettre (p. 123)
French: a word-for-word translation is “at the foot of the letter” but idiomatically it means “literally” as Jeeves explains. [NM]
The poet Scott— (p. 124)
Few of the entries under Sir Walter Scott in Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations mention women, so it seems most likely that Jeeves was about to quote these familiar lines from Marmion: [NM]
O, Woman! in our hours of ease,
Uncertain, coy, and hard to please,
And variable as the shade
By the light quivering aspen made;
When pain and anguish wring the brow,
A ministering angel thou!
Eden rock at Antibes (p. 125)
Antibes Juan les Pins is a city in the French Riviera or “Côte d’Azur.” Eden Rock is a tourist attraction therein.
[Contemporary accounts are somewhat coy on the matter, but there are enough hinting references to nudity and near-nudity there in the 1920s and 1930s that it seems that the Eden name and the dress code were related. —NM]
original call of two spades (p. 126)
An opening bid of two of a suit in the game of Bridge requires strong overall high card values or complete control of the suit bid. There would naturally be some debate over how fully a suit was controlled if the bidder lacked the ace, and Goren would inevitably be consulted.
[Charles Goren’s first book was published in 1936; at the time of this story the authority would probably have been Ely Culbertson. Contract Bridge was fairly new at the time; Harold Vanderbilt published the rules in 1925, and within a few years it had supplanted Auction Bridge as the standard game. —NM]
mere straws … do not let us chop them (p. 126)
“To chop straws” means to make unnecessarily fine distinctions or to analyze the details of something essentially worthless. A similar but more common idiom would be “to split hairs.” [NM]
gasper (p. 126)
cigarette, especially a rough or inexpensive one
western front … eastern (p. 127)
First World War terminology for the main areas of battle: the Western Front was defined by Germany’s invasion of Luxembourg, Belgium, and France; the Eastern Front encompassed a longer frontier from the Baltic Sea to the Black Sea, with the Russian Empire and Romania fighting the Central Powers of Germany, Austria-Hungary, the Ottoman Empire, and Bulgaria. [NM]
sensitive plant (p. 127)
a plant, such as Mimosa pudica, whose leaves fold up when touched. In The Code of the Woosters, Bertie adopts Jeeves’s terminology, telling Madeline Bassett that Gussie is “a sensitive plant, what?” Madeline assumes that Bertie is referring to the poem “The Sensitive Plant” by Shelley, but a little joke there depends on Bertie not recognizing the name of Shelley in this context. Knowing that Bertie took his description of Gussie from Jeeves here makes the later joke even funnier. See Terry Mordue’s notes on The Code of the Woosters at p. 47. [NM]
on the silver screen (p. 128)
in the movies [NM]
If it were done when ’tis done, then ’twere well it were done quickly (p. 130)
More Shakespeare: Macbeth contemplating the murder of Duncan in Act 1, scene 7.
nolle prosequi (p. 131)
legal Latin: to be unwilling to prosecute or pursue a case, as Jeeves explains. [NM]
stately-home owners (p. 133)
A reference to “The Homes of England” (1827) by Felicia Dorothea Hemans (1793–1835):
The stately Homes of England,
How beautiful they stand!
Amidst their tall ancestral trees,
O’er all the pleasant land!
Noël Coward’s song that quotes the first two lines will come to the mind of many readers, but it would not appear until 1938 (a couple of Internet sources have an erroneous date of 1928) and so must regretfully be dismissed as irrelevant. [NM]
about eight miles distant in the direction of Pershore (p. 133)
Further confirmation linking Brinkley Court to Severn End (see above, at p. 6): the road distance from Severn End to Pershore is about nine and a half miles, so Kingham Manor must be just this side of Pershore; I have not tried to identify it with any specific house. In chapter 22 (page 231 of the Penguin edition), Jeeves gives the distance from Brinkley Court to Kingham Manor more accurately as nine miles. [NM]
young prune (p. 133)
Slang dictionaries seem only to cite negative senses of “prune” for a disliked, foolish, prissy, or disagreeable person, frequently an older one. Combined with “young,” though, Bertie applies it to nice girls like Angela (here and in Jeeves and the Tie That Binds) and attractive ones like Stiffy Byng (The Code of the Woosters and Stiff Upper Lip, Jeeves), Nobby Hopwood (Joy in the Morning), Corky Pirbright (The Mating Season), and Bobbie Wickham (How Right You Are, Jeeves); the only non-Wooster uses I can find are Lord Biskerton addressing Ann Moon in Big Money (1931, the earliest appearance of the phrase so far found) and Freddie Threepwood in Full Moon describing Prudence Garland. Outside of Wodehouse it seems to appear only in more recent works with a deliberately Wodehousean turn of phrase. [NM]
[From Ian Michaud:] One other non-Wooster prune is heard in the Wodehouse song lyric “Poor Prune” from Leave it to Jane, memorably sung by Maria Jette in her CD The Siren’s Song with Dan Chouinard. After being deserted by her faithless swain, the girl Flora ruefully recalls his line of patter, singing,
Oh, I fell for all that old time junk,
Them nights beneath the moon,
full of beans and buck (p. 133)
Slang, apparently means enthusiasm and energy. [“Full of beans” is middle 1800s British stable slang, derived from the notion that a horse fed on beans would be strong and frisky, according to Robert L. Chapman in New Dictionary of American Slang. A Google Books search for “beans and buck” finds (after excluding results mentioning buckwheat) only Wodehouse references, so the combined phrase seems to be original with him. —NM]
penalized for “sticks” (p. 133)
This is a reference to field hockey, a popular girl’s game. This probably refers to holding the stick too high during play (high sticking is what it is called in ice hockey).
a copy of Omar Khayyam (p. 134)
This is a reference to the poem “The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam” in the very popular Fitzgerald translation.
gaucherie (p. 134)
A gaucherie is something done clumsily or ineptly.
scenic effects (p. 135)
Once again, Bertie uses the terminology of the theatre to apply to everyday life. [NM]
low down among the wines and spirits (p. 135)
These are stored in the cellar, so this is a metaphor for Tuppy’s supposedly low social standing. This and the following series of slurs are entirely uncharacteristic of Bertie, of course, who is no snob. [NM]
[Ian Michaud cites Norman Murphy’s A Wodehouse Handbook for an alternate explanation: Music hall stage bills in the UK listed the acts in order of importance, with the headliners at the top of the bill in large print, and the unknowns down at the bottom along with the advertisements for wines and spirits available at the theatre bar.]
oik...mass of side...bargee (p. 135)
An oik is somebody of the lower classes, “putting on a mass of side” is showing off considerably, and a bargee is somebody who works on a canal barge and therefore is to be looked down upon (about the same social status as a gypsy had at that time).
outsider (p. 136)
A person lacking the social status of the individuals he is consorting with, typically used by the upper classes as a reference to someone of inferior status.
The boy is the father of the man (p. 136)
As Bertie goes on to explain, this means that the man grows up to be what the boy was. The source is an 1802 poem by William Wordsworth: [NM]
My heart leaps up when I behold
A rainbow in the sky:
So was it when my life began;
So is it now I am a man;
So be it when I shall grow old,
Or let me die!
The Child is father of the Man;
I could wish my days to be
Bound each to each by natural piety.
a hissing and a byword (p. 137)
This appears to be a biblical quote, but a precise reference cannot be found, perhaps it is from The Book of Common Prayer. The closest found in the King James version is from Jeremiah 29:18: “And I will persecute them with the sword, with the famine, and with the pestilence, and will deliver them to be removed to all the kingdoms of the earth, to be a curse, and an astonishment, and an hissing, and a reproach, among all the nations whither I have driven them.”
[It seems to have become combined in theological language with references to phrases like Deuteronomy 28:37: “And thou shalt become an astonishment, a proverb, and a byword, among all nations whither the Lord shall lead thee.” Google Books searches for the phrase yield results from 1808 onward, including Frederick Douglass’s 1852 speech What to the slave is the Fourth of July? and many more. —NM][Ian Michaud refers us to Fr. Rob Bovendeaard’s Biblia Wodehousiana, now hosted on Madame Eulalie; follow this link, scrolling down to RHJ, Chapter 14, where he notes that other translations found on the Internet use “byword” in place of “reproach” in Jeremiah 29:18. Fr. Rob provides many additional scriptural references and allusions not covered in our notes here, so until we get around to cross-linking between our sites, it is a good idea to remember to check Fr. Rob’s pages.]
rash you get on your face (p. 138)
Here Bertie is mixing up “ecstatic” with “eczema.”
rocketing pheasant (p. 140)
A wild gamebird, relative of the domestic chicken, that is famed for its sudden burst into flight when startled.
Quotha...Odds Bodikins...Eh Ba Goom (p. 140)
Obscure and archaic exclamations.
[“Quotha” would not be exclaimed by itself; it was “used with contemptuous, ironic, or sarcastic force after repeating words said by someone else” [OED] — sort of a medieval “Sez you!” “Odds bodikins” is a lightly-veiled substitute oath, swearing by God’s body. “Eh, by gum!” would be a more conventional spelling of the third one, also a substitute for swearing by God; the given spelling is probably intended to indicate a northern-English dialect pronunciation. —NM]
Eustace H. Plimsoll (p. 141)
The boat-race night episode is also recalled in chapter 6 of Thank You, Jeeves. [NM]
three times pinched, but never once sentenced under the correct label (p. 141)
However, he was once fined five pounds under his own name, in “Without the Option” (1925; collected in Carry On, Jeeves!). Identifying the “three times pinched” would be an interesting research project. [NM]
approbrious (p. 141)
This word should be “opprobrious.” This misprint occurs in the American first edition (Brinkley Manor) and in the original Penguin edition (1953–1990s); the British first edition and both magazine serializations have “opprobrious” here. [Dan/NM]
acrid (p. 141)
I’m Scotch (p. 142)
Something of an archaism here, unless Wodehouse was considering that Tuppy may have been ethnically Scottish but linguistically English. The preferences we are taught today (use Scottish for people, Scots for the language, and Scotch for whisky) are by no means recent. Excerpted from a longer discussion in the Third Edition of the OED:
By the end of the 18th cent. (partly reflecting the vogue for anglicization) Scotch had also become accepted in literary use, and is frequently used e.g. by Burns and Scott. In the 19th cent. Scotch even occurs in official language in Scotland…
By the beginning of the 20th cent. disapproval of Scotch by educated Scots was so great that its use had become something of a shibboleth (much to the bafflement of speakers outside Scotland for whom this was the usual word). During the 20th cent. educated usage in England gradually began to adapt in deference to the perceived Scottish preferences. Paradoxically, for working-class Scots (as indeed for all speakers of Scots, as opposed to Scottish standard English) Scotch has remained in common use.
As I interpret this, even in the 1930s an educated Scottish native would have said “I’m Scottish.” But Tuppy was at a preparatory school with Bertie before Eton, and also at Magdalen at Oxford with him, so would have absorbed the older English way of referring to his ethnic heritage. [NM]
haggis (p. 142)
A Scottish traditional dish, entrails and various items cooked inside a sheep’s stomach, and according to all reports even worse than it sounds. One recipe is:
Stomach bag and pluck (heart, liver and lights of a sheep—you can
substitute a selection of organ meats)
2 onions, peeled
2 c pinhead oatmeal (Irish oatmeal)
1 ⅔ c suet
salt & pepper
trussing needle and fine string
Thoroughly wash the stomach bag in cold water. Turn it inside out and scald it, then scrape the surface with a knife. Soak it in cold salted water overnight. Next day remove the bag from the water and leave it on one side while preparing the filling. Wash the pluck. Put it into a pan, with the windpipe hanging over the side into a bowl, to let out any impurities. Cover the pluck with cold water, add 1 teaspoon of salt and bring the water to a boil. Skim the surface, then simmer for 1½ to 2 hours. Meanwhile parboil the onions, drain, reserving the liquid, and chop them roughly. Also toast the pinhead oatmeal until golden brown. Drain the pluck when ready and cut away the windpipe and any excess gristle. Mince half the liver with all the heart and lights, then stir in the shredded suet, the toasted oatmeal and the onions. Season well with salt and pepper. Moisten with as much of the onion or pluck water as necessary to make the mixture soft. With the rough surface of the bag outside fill it just over half full, the oatmeal will swell during cooking, and sew the ends together with the trussing needle and fine string. Prick the bag in places with the needle. Place the haggis on an enamel plate and put it into a pan of boiling water. Cover the pan and cook for about 3 hours, adding more boiling water when necessary to keep the haggis covered.
Note that not only does haggis appear to be utterly unfit for human consumption, but that it is very labor intensive as well. Also note that “lights” is an old-fashioned term for “lungs.”
true to the last drop (p. 143)
An echo of the Maxwell House coffee slogan “Good to the last drop”—part of their advertising since 1915. [NM]
round the mulberry bush (p. 143)
A game where hands are linked in a large circle and then singing children walk or dance around a central child.
many-headed (p. 144)
let the dead past bury its dead (p. 144)
This is from a Longfellow poem, since it is short and contains many other Bertie-isms I am reproducing it in whole:
Tell me not, in mournful numbers,
Life is but an empty dream!
For the soul is dead that slumbers,
And things are not what they seem.
Life is real! Life is earnest!
And the grave is not its goal;
Dust thou are, to dust returnest,
Was not spoken of the soul.
Not enjoyment, and not sorrow,
Is our destined end or way;
But to act, that each to-morrow
Find us farther than to-day.
Art is long, and Time is fleeting,
And our hearts, though stout and brave,
Still, like muffled drums, are beating
Funeral marches to the grave.
In the world’s broad field of battle,
In the bivouac of Life,
Be not like dumb, driven cattle!
Be a hero in the strife!
Trust no Future, howe’er pleasant!
Let the dead Past bury its dead!
Act,—act in the living Present!
Heart within, and God o’erhead!
Lives of great men all remind us
We can make our lives sublime,
And, departing, leave behind us
Footprints on the sand of time;—
Footprints, that perhaps another,
Sailing o’er life’s solemn main,
A forlorn and shipwrecked brother,
Seeing, shall take heart again.
Let us then be up and doing,
With a heart for any fate;
Still achieving, still pursuing,
Learn to labor and to wait.
[Longfellow, A Psalm of Life]
beak (p. 145)
book of rules (p. 145)
Specifically, the Table of Kindred and Affinity devised by the Church of England in 1563, and commanded to be hung up in churches since 1603, which sets out the degrees of relationship for which marriage is prohibited. It does not prohibit marriage between cousins, but does say that a man may not marry his grandmother. [NM]
banana oil (p. 145)
Slang for nonsense, especially when used to flatter or mislead; Robert L. Chapman’s New Dictionary of American Slang dates it to the 1920s and gives a possible derivation from amyl acetate, an oily liquid with a fruity smell used to “dope” (tighten and stiffen) the fabric of airplane wings. [NM]
younger g. (p. 146)
sentiment warmer and stronger than that of ordinary friendship (p. 146)
See the discussion of this phrase on the Thank You, Jeeves annotations page. [NM]
those three chaps in the Old Testament (p. 148)
A reference to Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who had a minor difference of opinion with Nebuchadnezzar and ended up in a furnace, emerging unscathed. The whole laughable misunderstanding can be found in the third chapter of Daniel.
au pied de la lettre (p. 149)
See note above, at p. 123
a task calling, no doubt, for address (p. 151)
A now rare sense of the word “address,” meaning readiness, adroitness, dexterity, skill. [NM]
mumps (p. 152)
Vaccines for the childhood diseases of measles, mumps, and rubella were not available until the mid-twentieth century. Before then, outbreaks in boarding schools were frequent and worrisome. Wodehouse himself contracted mumps at age nineteen, in his first year at the bank, but would have been aware of earlier school instances, and mentioned mumps often in his stories, at least thirty times. Mumps play an important role in the plots of the school novels The White Feather and The Luck Stone, for instance. [NM]
the race is not always to the swift (p. 153)
“I returned, and saw under the sun,
that the race is not to the swift,
nor the battle to the strong,
neither yet bread to the wise,
nor yet riches to men of understanding,
nor yet favour to men of skill;
but time and chance happeneth to them all.”
D.S.O. (p. 154)
The Distinguished Service Order was established to reward officers who exhibited individual instances of meritorious or distinguished service in war. It was usually awarded for service under fire or under conditions equivalent to service in actual combat with the enemy.
a mockery and a scorn (p. 154)
Apparently a stock phrase. The word “mockery” doesn’t appear in the AV [KJV] — there is “a scorn and a derision” in Psalms 44 and 79, which is presumably the translation of a stock phrase in Hebrew.
[I found one commentary on Ezekiel that translates the phrase in Ezek. 5:15 which the KJV renders as “a reproach and a taunt” as “a mockery and a scorn.” Non-biblical uses of the phrase go back to the seventeenth century, and it was used in well-known books such as Lord Clarendon’s History of the Rebellion and Civil Wars and in essays of William Hazlitt, and by Arthur Symons and T. S. Eliot in Wodehouse’s time. —NM]
osteopath (p. 154)
An osteopath specializes in healing by joint manipulation.
spoil the ship for a ha’porth of tar (p. 158)
One would think at first sight that this proverbial phrase referred to skimping on waterproofing the hull of a ship, even though wondering how much difference a small amount of tar (a halfpenny’s worth) could make on a large vessel. (A barrel of tar sold for 30 shillings in 1777 in Philadelphia; that is 720 halfpennies’ worth, but of course there are transaction costs in dividing a barrel into smaller retail quantities, so a ha’porth would be a few fluid ounces at most.) But William Hazlitt’s English Proverbs and Phrases (1869) noted that he had heard in Cornwall this proverb said of sheep, and the OED backs this up with citations going back to the seventeenth century. Tar was used as a salve to protect sores and wounds on sheep and swine from attracting biting flies. It is doubtful that Bertie knew this, but it’s interesting. [NM]
licked to a custard (p. 159)
An uncommon phrase, perhaps meaning either defeated until one has no more resistance than an egg-and-milk pudding, or resembling an ice-cream cone mostly melted by the tongue. Wodehouse uses it a few times; the only earlier citation in Google Books is from the American humorist Irvin S. Cobb, whose 1926 book On an Island That Cost $24.00 talks about the fate of a snowfall in the big city: “By midday of next day it would be licked to a custard—molten into puddles of foggy slush…” [NM]
linnet (p. 159)
A singing bird.
[Linnets have been poetically described with the adjective “blithe” since the eighteenth century (The Poetical Calendar, 1763) and into the twentieth (Once on a Time, a 1917 fantasy by A. A. Milne). —NM]
performing flea (p. 161)
Here is indeed evidence that Wodehouse admired the entertaining verve of the humble flea-circus denizen, years before the Irish playwright Sean O’Casey reacted to Wodehouse’s 1941 wartime broadcasts from Germany by calling him “English literature’s performing flea.” Wodehouse bravely accepted the slur as a compliment, titling his 1953 self-portrait in letters Performing Flea and writing that “all the performing fleas I have met have impressed me with their sterling artistry and that indefinable something which makes the good trouper.” [NM]
C3 (p. 161)
Wodehouse often makes reference to “C3” items. This was the lowest category of physical fitness defined in the Military Service Act of 1916, thus colloquially means inferior, low quality, not up to scratch.
solemn stillness (p. 161)
Another reference to Thomas Gray’s Elegy in a Country Churchyard:
Now fades the glimmering landscape on the sight,
And all the air a solemn stillness holds.
two minds with but a single thought (p. 163)
A common misquote of a commonly misattributed poem. The German playwright Friedrich Halm originated the idea in his 1842 play Der Sohn der Wildness; the English translation by Maria Lovell is:
Two souls with but a single thought,
Two hearts that beat as one.
Innumerable sources on the Internet will tell you that John Keats wrote this, but this is demonstrably false. Writers as early as 1862 were substituting “minds” for “souls,” and the phrase became even more popular when stage mentalists Julius and Agnes Zancig used it as the slogan for their world-renowned husband-and-wife mind-reading act in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. [NM]
twiddling a thoughtful steering wheel (p. 165)
An excellent example of one of Wodehouse’s favorite literary devices, the transferred epithet, in which a descriptive word or phrase is moved from its expected grammatical position to another part of the sentence, and perhaps even converted to another part of speech. Here one would expect Bertie to twiddle the steering wheel thoughtfully (adverb); part of the charm of the usage is that he modestly appears to avoid attributing this quality to himself and instead applies it as an adjective to an inanimate object. The formal name in Greek for this rhetorical device is hypallage, but most Wodehouse commentators follow Robert A. Hall Jr. (“The Transferred Epithet in P. G. Wodehouse,” Linguistic Inquiry v.4, no.1 [Winter 1973], 92–94) in using the English phrase. Several Wodehouse characters smoke meditative cigarettes; one of my favorite examples is the opening of Jeeves and the Feudal Spirit in which Bertie sits in the bathtub, “soaping a meditative foot.” See also “tentative window” on p. 167. [NM]
the blue bird (p. 165)
an emblem of happiness, from Maurice Maeterlinck’s 1908 play L’Oiseau bleu. [NM]
a marriage has been arranged and will shortly take place (p. 165)
Jeeves here speaks in the formal language of an engagement announcement in the Morning Post (see above, at p. 116). [NM]
stevedore (p. 166)
Someone who loads and unloads cargo in the hold on ships. Americans often use the term “longshoreman.”
five hundred quid (p. 167)
five hundred pounds (see above, at p. 55) [NM]
fug (p. 167)
Slang: an airless, smelly atmosphere. OED cites it as school slang of the 1880s.
flavour lingered (p. 167)
I first found advertisements for Leaf Spearmint chewing gum with the slogan “The Flavor Lingers Longer” but could not spot this prior to the 1940s. And much earlier (The Girl on the Boat, 1922, and Sam in the Suburbs, 1925) Wodehouse had referred to a celebrated chewing gum, of which the taste lingered. Wrigley’s had used the slogan “The Flavor Lasts” since 1907; sometime before 1936 they also adopted the slogan “The Taste Lingers,” as in that year they erected a large electric sign on Broadway in New York with neon slogans including “the taste lingers.” I am still searching for print advertisements that will take this slogan back into the early 1920s. [NM]
nibs (p. 167)
19th-century British slang: aristocrats [NM]
chandler (p. 167)
A dealer in specific goods, a corn chandler would be someone who deals strictly in corn and related products.
essency (p. 167)
A Penguin misprint; “essence” in both British and American hardcover editions.
nigger minstrel (p. 168)
The phrase seems shocking to us today, but Bertie is using it for white performers in blackface, in the usual phrase of the times, not talking about people of African descent. See the further discussion of this in the annotations to Thank You, Jeeves. [NM]
pebble-beached (p. 168)
Slang: dazed, absent-minded (the OED cites this book) [NM]
fagged (p. 169)
silly ass (p. 169)
Slang: a foolish person, especially an amiable one from the upper classes [NM]
mot juste (p. 170)
French for the “exact word” that expresses the intended meaning. Wodehouse often attributes this goal, correctly, to novelist Gustave Flaubert (1821–1880, best known for Madame Bovary), who argued that careful choice of the right word was the key to literary realism and an essential truth in writing. [NM]
shot his bolt (p. 170)
From bolt, a short thick arrow as used in cross-bows; having shot one’s bolt, one has no more ammunition, or figuratively nothing more to say. [NM]
those birds who are trying to split the atom (p. 170)
For instance, Professor Ernst O. Lawrence and colleagues at the University of California, who used nuclei of heavy hydrogen as projectiles; lithium atoms were broken up, but gold and platinum atoms were undamaged, while the projectiles were themselves broken into a proton and a neutron, yielding 7.5 million electron-volts of energy, an amount “so great, it is estimated, that the atomic energy in a glass of water would be enough to drive the Mauretania across the Atlantic and back again.” Other researchers included Professor Ernest Rutherford and Dr. J. D. Cockcroft at Cambridge’s Cavendish Laboratory and groups at the University of Chicago and the Carnegie Institution, Washington, D.C. (Report of meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in the New York Times, June 24, 1933) [NM]
trial gallops (p. 171)
Short testing races for horses.
perspicacious (p. 171)
Having good judgment, observant.
a green-baize cloth (p. 171)
A heavy, coarsely woven woolen cloth, often having a somewhat felted or napped texture, typically dyed green, although red baize is not unusual. Seen today most often as the covering of billiard tables, it also was used to cover the swing door between homeowners’ and servants’ portions of a house, partly for sound insulation and partly as a symbolic separation of the classes. It had other traditional uses as a quieting layer: under a tablecloth, for instance, or over a birdcage, as alluded to in the present reference. Butler Beach at Blandings Castle symbolically puts a green-baize cloth over the cage of his bullfinch in Summer Lightning when he and Ronnie Fish are making clandestine plans. [NM]
tacked (p. 171)
Approached in a zig-zag manner, like the course of a sailboat tacking into the wind; further evidence of Gussie’s intoxication. [NM]
one over the eight (p. 171)
British military slang for “drunk,” based on the idea that eight pints of beer is the maximum one can drink safely.
all flesh is as grass (p. 172)
All flesh is grass, and all the goodliness thereof is as the flower of the field
from Isaiah 40:6; also quoted in I Peter 1:24: “For all flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of grass.” [NM]
there are sermons in books, stones in the running brooks (p. 172)
And this our life, exempt from public haunt,
Finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks,
Sermons in stones, and good in everything.
[Shakespeare, As You Like It, II.i.12]
[When one examines it carefully, Gussie’s alcoholically mangled version is more literally true than Shakespeare’s, and even rhymes. —NM]
tongue-tied (p. 172)
A birth defect when the frenulum, the skin under the tongue, holds the tongue in place more than normal, making speech difficult.
noggin (p. 172)
A small drink of liquor, usually measuring a quarter of a pint. [NM]
pie-eyed (p. 172)
drunk: US colloquial usage, first recorded in the OED in a 1903 fable by George Ade, known to be one of Wodehouse’s sources for American slang:
They put him down at a Table and sat around him and inhaled the Scotch until they were all Pie-Eyed. . . .
“The Fable of What Horace Stood For in Order to Land the Queen,” syndicated in newspapers in January 1903, and collected in True Bills (1904)
Our colleague Karen Shotting has found another one:
Consequently he would Stick, with his Breastbone against the Railing, and continue to hoist until he was Pie-Eyed.
“The Honest Effort to Go the Distance and Then the Melancholy Fluke,” syndicated in newspapers in June 1903, and collected in Breaking into Society (1904). [NM/KS]
conte (p. 172)
French: story, tale.
a small section in the second row (p. 173)
This refers to Aunt Dahlia and her guests, probably along with the other governors of the school. See four paragraphs further on. [NM]
froust (p. 174)
An alternative spelling for “frowst”: a hot stuffy fustiness, the warmth and closeness of an overcrowded and underventilated room.
blushful Hippocrene (p. 174)
O, for a draught of vintage! that hath been
Cool’d a long age in the deep-delvèd earth,
Tasting of Flora and the country green,
Dance, and Provençal song, and sunburnt mirth!
O for a beaker full of the warm South,
Full of the true, the blushful Hippocrene,
With beaded bubbles winking at the brim,
And purple-stainèd mouth;
That I might drink, and leave the world unseen,
And with thee fade away into the forest dim.
[Keats, “Ode to a Nightingale”]
Barmy Fotheringay-Phipps (p. 174)
Apparently the first mention of this member of the Drones, who will take the stage in a cross-talk act with Pongo Twistleton in “Tried in the Furnace” (1935) and is frequently present or recalled in other Drones stories. He finally becomes the hero of Barmy in Wonderland (1952). [NM]
squash in among the proletariat in the standing-room-only section (p. 174)
This position of apparent safety is also adopted by Bertie in “The Metropolitan Touch,” though with no more success at avoiding involvement. [NM]
Rightho (p. 176)
A Penguin misprint; it appears as “Right-ho” in magazine serials and American book, and in British book the hyphen comes at the end of a line of type, which probably accounts for it being omitted here. [NM]
bilge (p. 177)
Bottom of a ship, often full of foul water. In this context it means rubbish or nonsense.
drained the bitter cup (p. 177)
See Terry Mordue’s note on this phrase in his annotations to The Code of the Woosters.
Thingummy (p. 178)
A word used, especially in spoken English, when the name of an object has been forgotten.
ganglions (p. 179)
A mass of nerve cells outside the central nervous system; “ganglia” is the preferred plural in medical terminology.
cold collation (p. 180)
an informal meal of cold dishes served buffet-style [NM]
excite pity and terror (p. 182)
Aristotle in the Poetics recommended this as the goal of dramatists in tragedy. [NM]
coiffure (p. 183)
coconut (p. 183)
Slang for the head, in US and UK usage especially in sporting circles from the early 19th century. [NM]
swimming b. (p. 185)
Swimming bath, what Yanks would call a swimming pool, or possibly, if from the rural districts, a “cement pond.” Also possibly a reference to the Bath Club, in Dover Street, which was one of the models for The Drones club.
excrescence (p. 187)
From Latin roots meaning “growing outward”; most frequently used anatomically for an abnormal protrusion or swelling such as a wart or tumor. Figuratively, a useless or undesirable person or thing. [NM]
knocked me down with a f. (p. 187)
Feather: shocked, so shocked as to be unsteady and easily pushed over.
lilies (p. 187)
flowers associated with funerals [NM]
non-goose-bo-ing (p. 188)
This is a variation of the old phrase: “Wouldn’t say bo (or boo) to a goose.” It means timid, as in someone who wouldn’t have the confidence to stand up to even something so normally peaceful (when not breeding) as a goose.
a bit above par (p. 188)
Not a golf reference, but rather from the world of investments, referring to a stock or bond trading at above its face or nominal value. Figuratively, Gussie is over-valuing himself at present. [NM]
Landseer (p. 189)
Sir Edwin Henry Landseer, 1802–1873, very popular Victorian artist, specialized in animal portraits. Most tourists visiting London are probably unaware that the four lions at the base of Nelson’s Column in Trafalgar Square were sculpted by him.
[He exhibited the painting “The Stag at Bay” in 1846, and many different engravings and lithographs copying it to a greater or lesser degree of accuracy were issued during Victorian times to meet the demand for this dramatic image. One such, a hand-colored print from 1870, is at right. —NM]
taking a cooler (p. 192)
Obscure, possibly sipping a cold refreshing drink, or just cooling off in the shade.
The shot wasn’t on the board (p. 193)
A gambling term for a bet not worth making, a longshot, possibly a reference to Darts.
[Also in horse-racing terms, a (long) shot that wasn’t on the board (tote-board or bookie’s board) would be a horse that has been scratched from the race and therefore not to be considered as a possibility. —Ian Michaud]
Mendelssohn’s March timbre (p. 193)
A reference to the extremely popular Wedding March from Mendelssohn’s incidental music to A Midsummer Night’s Dream, but with an apparent Penguin misspelling. Timbre is a musical term referring to musical tone, color, etc. Only the British magazine serial agrees with the Penguin edition in using “timbre”; the American serialization and both US and UK original hardcover editions have “timber” here, used as a quality of manliness, e.g., “presidential timber.” [Dan/NM]
Jael, wife of Heber (p. 194)
An amusing story from the fourth book of Judges, which Bertie refers to often. It seems that Sisera, captain of a host of Canaan, so forgot himself as to attack the children of Israel, with unfortunate results. He fled the field and sought refuge with Jael while her husband was out of town on business. The raw work that Bertie refers to was her ruse of encouraging Sisera to take a nap, and then pounding a tent stake through his head.
Balaam’s ass (p. 194)
A reference to an incident in the 22nd chapter of Numbers. The ass saw an angel that Balaam could not, and fell to its knees.
recal (p. 194)
The word Bertie is searching for is “recalcitrant,” meaning stubborn.
a sophisticated talkie (p. 196)
At the time this was written, Hollywood movie studios had not yet begun strictly enforcing the Production Code, and British films could be issued with an adults-only certificate, so the “pre-code” silver screen had similar freedom to the legitimate stage in risqué situations, cynical dialogue, and moral ambiguity. [NM]
Tuppy’s grey hairs in sorrow to the grave. (p. 196)
More bible fun:
“And Jacob their father said
unto them, Me have ye bereaved of my children: Joseph is not, and Simeon
is not, and ye will take Benjamin away: all these things are against me.
And Reuben spake unto his father, saying, Slay my two sons, if I bring him not to thee: deliver him into my hand, and I will bring him to thee again.
And he said, My son shall not go down with you; for his brother is dead, and he is left alone: if mischief befall him by the way in the which ye go, then shall ye bring down my gray hairs with sorrow to the grave.”
[Genesis chapter 42]Note variant spellings: grey/gray.
f. of the s. being more d. than the m. (p. 196)
The female of the species being more deadly than the male, from Kipling’s 1911 poem, “The Female of the Species.”
tête-à-tête (p. 196)
French: literally head-to-head; figuratively face to face. [NM]
salmon mayonnaise (p. 196)
If Anatole rather than the kitchen maid had dished this up, it would be saumon froid en mayonnaise: a mound of cooked salmon which has been boned, skinned, chilled, and flaked or thinly sliced, on a bed of lettuce seasoned with a vinaigrette; the whole covered with mayonnaise smoothed into a perfectly regular form, and decorated with anchovies, capers, chervil or tarragon leaves, and pitted olives, surrounded with quartered hard-boiled eggs and lettuce hearts (according to the Larousse Gastronomique). On previous readings, I had pictured something like the tuna or chicken salads known in America, with the flaked fish or poultry and chopped celery and onion mixed into the mayonnaise dressing, but this is not the classic preparation for salmon mayonnaise. [NM]
Everything is for the best in this best of all possible worlds (p. 197)
A reference to the sunny optimism of Dr. Pangloss in Voltaire’s Candide.
jag (p. 198)
As much liquor as one can consume, or a bout of being drunk; in colloquial usage since the seventeenth century, deriving from a dialect word for a carter’s or peddler’s load. [NM]
vowing he would ne’er consent, he consented (p. 198)
A reference to Lord Byron’s poem Don Juan.
linseed poultice (p. 199)
Linseed, also known as flax, produces a very oily seed. The extracted
oil is used in paints, as animal feed, and as a poultice.
Poultice preparation.—To boiling water, 10 fluid ounces, add gradually, powdered flaxseed, 4½ ounces, or a sufficient quantity; stir constantly, so as to make cataplasm (Lond.). The British Pharmacopoeia directs 4 ounces of linseed-meal. If American “cake-meal” be employed, the addition of about ¼ ounce of olive oil will be necessary. Some prefer a mixture of linseed-meal and cake-meal for this purpose.
Action and Medical Uses.—This is a valuable emollient cataplasm, to allay pain, inflammation, and favor suppuration. It is used for similar purposes with the elm poultice. If it should decompose, as it is apt to do, it may vesicate, or at least cause a pustular eruption, sweet oil, lard, glycerin, or olive oil may be mixed with or spread upon the poultice, both as a preservative and preventive. Flaxseed poultice causes the skin to be blanched, sodden, and wrinkled. Flaxseed poultice is frequently employed in acute pulmonic disorders.
Carnera (p. 199)
Primo Carnera, born 1906, a popular Italian heavyweight boxer of the 30s.
cucumber frame (p. 199)
a low glass-and-wood framework, acting like a greenhouse to provide extra solar warmth to heat-loving plants such as cucumbers, allowing a longer growing season than for plants in the open air. [NM]
pins (p. 199)
hastened after her. Seppings following (p. 199)
Another Penguin misprint; all original sources have a comma after “her.” [NM]
cracking pace … half a dozen lengths … rounded into the second … roaring … neck and neck … close a finish as you could have wished to see … short head (pp. 199–200)
Horce-racing terminology. [NM]
ant’s egg (p. 200)
Before the development of modern flaked foods for aquarium fish, ant’s eggs were harvested and packaged for fish food. [NM]
phlegmatic (p. 200)
A reference to the classical Four Temperaments: phlegmatic is the slow and stolid temperament, the others being sanguine (cheerful-extroverted), choleric (optimistic-confident-aggressive-easily angered), and melancholic (sad-analytical-Schopenhaueresque).
gargoyles (p. 200)
Stone demons carved into large buildings, in particular cathedrals. One of the saddest moments in cinema is in the 1939 Charles Laughton version of The Hunchback of Notre Dame. At the very end the deformed and outcast Quasimodo sidles up to a gargoyle and asks: “Why could I not have been made of stone, like thee?”
Swedish exercise (p. 201)
Calisthenics, aerobic exercises done in the nude by Stilton Cheesewright in Jeeves and the Feudal Spirit. Compare the Larsen exercises done by Ashe Marson in Something New/Something Fresh, attributed in the British edition to a Danish army lieutenant. Terry Mordue noted, in regard to “Lord Emsworth Acts for the Best” in Blandings Castle and Elsewhere, that “Per Henrik Ling (1766-1839) developed a system of gymnastic training for the Swedish military, in which massed groups of people performed synchronised sequences of movements. The emphasis was on developing aesthetically satisfying movements, rather than physical strength. These ideas were imported into America in the 1880s, and remained popular in Europe until at least the 1930s.” [Dan/TM/NM]
Je me fiche de ce type infect (p. 202)
French idiom: the best I can come up with is “I don’t care for that vile sort of person” [NM]
C’est idiot de faire comme ça l’oiseau (p. 202)
French: roughly “It’s crazy to act like a bird like that” [NM]
Allez-vous-en, louffier (p. 202)
French: the first part is “Go away!” the second part is obscure but may be related to loufoque: crank, screwball. [NM]
Nom d’un nom d’un nom! (p. 202)
French: literally “Name of a name of a name” but used idiomatically as a substitute for swearing in God’s name; an archived message from the ABOUT-WORDS-L mailing list by Bruce Todd suggests it is used in the same way as “for Heaven’s sake.” [NM]
troubled w’s (p. 203)
angry passions rise (p. 203)
But, children, you should never let
Such angry passions rise;
Your little hands were never made
To tear each other's eyes.
Isaac Watts, “Against Quarrelling and Fighting” from Divine Songs Attempted in Easy Language for the Use of Children (1715) [NM]
marmiton de Domange (p. 204)
French: some kind of kitchen-cleaner or scullery-maid; clearly an insult that would come naturally to a French chef. [NM]
pignouf (p. 204)
French: miser, skinflint, tightwad [NM]
burluberlu (p. 204)
A Penguin misprint. American and British magazine serials and American book have hurlubier: French thieves’ argot for a weak-minded person, according to Slang and Its Analogues (1890). The British book has hurluberlu: scatter-brained, harum-scarum. [NM]
roustisseur (p. 204)
French: thief, parasite, swindler [NM]
Esker-vous-avez (p. 204)
Bertie’s anglicized pronounciation of est-ce que vous avez: “Do you have?” Monty Bodkin is at the same stage in his French in the famous opening scene of The Luck of the Bodkins. [NM]
frisson (p. 204)
French: a shudder or shiver [NM]
St. Bernard dogs (p. 206)
Large rescue dogs of the Alps; according to legend they carried a small wooden cask of brandy on their collars to aid lost travelers.
Attila the Hun (p. 206)
Notorious Asian warlord who laid waste to much of the world.
certifiable (p. 206)
In other words, liable to be declared legally insane and committed to a mental hospital. [NM]
Black Death (p. 206)
Also known as Bubonic Plague, one of the greatest calamities in history when it killed approximately ⅓ of all the inhabitants of Europe during about 1330–1360.
two-reel comic film (p. 206)
A movie short subject lasting about twenty minutes, the typical length of short comedies at the time from Laurel and Hardy, W. C. Fields, the Three Stooges, and so forth. [NM]
dyspepsia (p. 207)
oojah-cum-spiff (p. 207)
The OED’s first citation is from Wodehouse, in “Jeeves and the Impending Doom” (1926), collected in Very Good, Jeeves (1930). From context, it is used to mean “satisfactory, all right” but its etymology is speculative. Oojah by itself is a word used when one cannot remember the name of an item, like thingummy; cum is Latin for “with”; spiff recalls spiffy: neatly turned out, fashionable, snazzy. Put them all together and you get something Plummy. [NM]
sticketh closer than a brother (p. 208)
A man that hath friends must show himself friendly: and there is a friend that sticketh closer than a brother.
Proverbs 18:24 [NM]
the Two Macs (p. 208)
A music hall double act in Irish dialect, created originally about 1877 by the comedians Frederick Michael “Mike” Maccabe (1851?–1894) and John Patrick MacNally (1859?–1908), known for cross-talk and for introducing slapstick comedy on British stages. The pair split up in 1881, each taking on a new partner and appearing under the same stage billing as before; eventually further splits and pairings led to lawsuits about who was entitled to appear as the Two Macs. This seems to be the origin of the Pat-and-Mike cross-talk acts performed by members of the Drones Club such as Barmy Fotheringay-Phipps and Pongo Twistleton-Twistleton. [NM]
Yogi deep breathing (p. 208)
Known popularly as “yoga,” thought to be very relaxing.
rubber comforter (p. 209)
Known in America as a pacifier. [NM]
the doom had come upon me (p. 210)
Nothing obvious comes to mind, but the passage Job 3:24–26 “For the thing which I greatly feared is come upon me, and that which I was afraid of is come unto me.” is close. Possibly a reference to Tennyson’s “The Lady of Shalott”—the curse is come upon me....
[My vote is for Tennyson. —NM]
thrown in the towel (p. 210)
Acknowledged defeat, as when a boxer’s seconds realize their man is too beaten to continue and literally toss a towel into the ring to concede the match. [NM]
wheeze (p. 210)
Once again Bertie is up on his theatrical slang; wheeze is a Victorian-era term for a comedian’s interpolated gag or joke, especially a catchphrase often repeated; from this derives the colloquial sense of a frequently heard maxim or slogan of advice. [NM]
imbroglio (p. 210)
A word borrowed directly from Italian: a confused or complicated situation, an entanglement [NM]
stage business (p. 211)
See lines and business above, at p. 111.
name the poison (p. 211)
choose your drink; originally American slang from the 19th century [NM]
relict (p. 212)
Old-fashioned term for “widow.”
registered anguish (p. 212)
More theatrical jargon: to register an emotion is to let it show on one’s face or display it by one’s stance or gestures. This sense dates from the early 20th century, and was much discussed during the days of silent movies, for example, in the first mention I can find in Wodehouse:
Lord Emsworth adjusted his glasses, and the mild smile disappeared from his face, to be succeeded by a set look. A stage director of a moving-picture firm would have recognized the look. Lord Emsworth was “registering” interest. . . .
Something New, chapter III, in the Saturday Evening Post, June 26, 1915, also in book form as Something Fresh [NM]
with reference to yours of even date (p. 212)
Wording used in commercial correspondence when replying to a letter sent earlier the same day (possible in those days when some parts of London had twelve postal deliveries per day, and most had six); Bertie is showing by his word choice that he wants to be businesslike. [NM]
talking turkey (p. 212)
speaking plainly, getting down to business, addressing the heart of the matter, not avoiding embarrassing or difficult matters. American slang from early 1800s, apparently coming later to the UK, as the Daily Express in 1928 felt obliged to explain it. [NM]
stewed to the eyebrows … plastered (p. 214)
More slang synonyms for being very drunk; stewed dates back to colonial America, stewed to the gills is the usual intensified phrase, and to the eyebrows seems to be Wodehouse’s invention, cited in the OED from Sam the Sudden (1925); plastered is first noted in 1912 from the US. [NM]
Cyrano de Bergerac … Schnozzle Durante (p. 215)
Cyrano is well-known [more from the Edmond Rostand play of 1897 than from the real-life man] as a courtly warrior with a big nose, who helped another suitor woo Roxanne, even though he was in love with her, because he thought she would reject him. Jimmy Durante (1893–1980) was a very popular movie and stage comedian and entertainer, but few today remember that he started out as a jazz pianist. He was reknowned for the size of his nose, which he made the constant butt of his own jokes.
inadvertently betrothed to … Honoria (p. 215)
See “Scoring Off Jeeves” (1922), collected in The Inimitable Jeeves (1923) as two chapters (The Pride of the Woosters is Wounded, The Hero’s Reward). [NM]
waist high in the gumbo and about to sink without trace (pp. 215–216)
One of Wodehouse’s most elaborate variations on in the soup (see above, at p. 10). [NM]
iron well embedded in the soul (p. 216)
This is one of the instances in which the Book of Common Prayer differs with the King James. In KJV Psalm 105:18 it says in reference to Joseph: “Whose feet they hurt with fetters: he was laid in irons:” The passage in the Book of Common Prayer says: “Whose feet they hurt in the stocks: the iron entered into his soul.”
the Sipperley Case (p. 216)
“The Inferiority Complex of Old Sippy” (1926), collected in Very Good, Jeeves! (1930). [NM]
the Episode of My Aunt Agatha and the Dog McIntosh (p. 216)
“Jeeves and the Dog McIntosh” or “The Borrowed Dog” (1929), collected in Very Good, Jeeves! (1930) as “Episode of the Dog McIntosh.” [NM]
Affair of Uncle George and The Barmaid’s Niece (p. 216)
“Indian Summer of an Uncle” (1930), collected in Very Good, Jeeves! (1930). [NM]
eating plenty of fish (p. 217)
There is some discrepancy on this point; Bertie persists in attributing Jeeves’s brain power to the consumption of fish, while at times Jeeves does not assent to this, and indeed once denies it, in “The Aunt and the Sluggard.” See Chris Dueker’s article “Remembrance of Fish Past” in Plum Lines, Summer 2006, pp. 4–7, for a detailed look at fish as brain food for Jeeves and the rest of us. [NM]
purple socks (p. 217)
“Jeeves and the Chump Cyril” (1918), in The Inimitable Jeeves (1923) as two chapters (A Letter of Introduction, Startling Dressiness of a Lift Attendant). [NM]
plus fours (p. 217)
“Jeeves and the Kid Clementina,” ccollected in Very Good, Jeeves! (1930). [NM]
Old Etonian spats (p. 217)
“The Delayed Exit of Claude and Eustace” (1922), collected in The Inimitable Jeeves (1923). [NM]
Sherlock Holmes (p. 219)
“When a woman thinks that her house is on fire, her instinct is at once to rush to the thing which she values most. It is a perfectly overpowering impulse, and I have more than once taken advantage of it.”
Sherlock Holmes/Conan Doyle in “A Scandal in Bohemia.”
purée (p. 220)
French culinary term for food processed to a smooth creamy texture by mashing, sieving, grinding, whipping, etc. [NM]
goose-fleshy (p. 221)
Goose flesh, also called “goose bumps.” The small bumps on the skin when someone is cold or scared, when the erector pilae muscles elevate the hairs of the body. The name comes from the appearance of a freshly plucked goose. In most mammals, with more hair, this makes you warmer by increasing the loft of the hair, and increases your apparent size if attacked. In humans it is an evolutionary holdover.
the Last Trump (p. 221)
A reference to the book of Revelations, when various angels are blowing horns to signal the last days.
Freddie Widgeon (p. 222)
A prominent member of the Drones Club, first encountered (by most of us, see Ian’s note below) in “Fate” (1931), collected in Young Men in Spats (1936), in which his chivalrous nature gets him into trouble. He appears in several later short stories and has a starring role in the novel Ice in the Bedroom. [NM][Actually Freddie’s first appearance was in the April 1931 Cosmopolitan magazine story “Quest” (also in Strand, July 1931), which was rewritten as a Mulliner story, “The Knightly Quest of Mervyn,” when it appeared in book form, with Freddie’s role taken by Mervyn Mulliner. For Freddie’s next magazine appearance one month later in the story “Fate” he was allowed to remain Freddie Widgeon when the story appeared in the book Young Men in Spats. —Ian Michaud]
reflexion (p. 222, also p. 235)
An alternate spelling of reflection, chosen for some reason by the Penguin editors. All original editions and serializations use the more common spelling reflection here. [NM]
in my puff (p. 222)
Slang: all my life.
Catsmeat Potter-Pirbright (p. 223)
This is the second mention of Bertie’s old school friend, first recalled in Thank You, Jeeves and later appearing more prominently, especially in The Mating Season (1949). [NM]
police rattle (p. 223)
A handheld wooden noisemaker, also called a ratchet, in which a box containing a broad, thin wood tongue is spun around a handle containing a toothed gear against which the tongue is sprung, causing quick repeated clicking sounds. Used like a police whistle, something to bring attention to a criminal act or the need for assistance. [Dan/NM]
Guy Fawkes Day (p. 223)
November 5th is Guy Fawkes Day, a holiday of carousing and setting off fireworks to celebrate the arrest of Fawkes and the stopping of “The Gunpowder Plot.” The latter was a scheme to blow up Parliament, and hopefully a few members of the royal family, in 1605.
playing to capacity (p. 223)
More theatrical jargon, meaning having an audience that fills the auditorium. [NM]
flop (p. 224)
More theatrical slang, meaning a failure; the usage dates from the late 19th century. [NM]
frowsting in bed (p. 225)
froust/frowst — apparently this was first used at Harrow School to refer to the extra time the boys were allowed to stay in bed on Sunday mornings.
rogommier (p. 225)
French: slang for drunkard.
Lloyd George, Winston, Baldwin (p. 226)
David Lloyd George was born on 17 January 1863. During World War I, he was made Minister of Munitions and later Minister of War, for his great efficiency in supplying the troops. Sir Winston Churchill was prime minister of Great Britain during WWII, one of the outstanding world figures of the 20th Century. In 1934, at the time this book was published, he had not yet become Prime Minister, but was a very highly regarded government official nevertheless. Stanley Baldwin served as the Prime Minister of the British government three times between 1923 and 1937.
yoicks-and-tantivy (p. 227)
Hunting cries when pursuing a fox on horseback.
crimson (p. 228)
A substitute oath, a euphemism for “bloody.” [NM]
Babes in the Wood … covered with leaves (p. 228)
A traditional British children’s tale, dating from the sixteenth century, and used as the basis for pantomimes; figuratively used when innocents enter a situation unaware of its dangers. In the original tale, two children die in the woods; their bodies are covered with leaves by birds. [NM]
if you give them a thingummy, take a what-d’you-call-it (p. 228)
The proverbial expression is “give him an inch, and he’ll take an ell” (in which an ell is a unit of measurement variously defined from the human forearm or twice that; it was most commonly used to measure cloth, for which the English ell was a yard and a quarter.) With that unit falling out of use, both “yard” and “mile” are commonly substituted in the proverb. In either case, it refers to someone who takes unfair advantage of small concessions, or who assumes authority beyond given limits. [NM]
to allude to me as “mentally negligible” (p. 228)
the goat (p. 229)
Scapegoat (n.) A goat upon whose head were symbolically placed the sins of the people, after which he was suffered to escape into the wilderness. Hence, a person or thing that is made to bear blame for others. In this instance, Bertie is being sacrificed for the greater good of the party, which is only fair under the circumstances.
bump-supper (p. 231)
This is to do with “eights week,” the inter-college rowing competition in Oxford University. As the river Isis (elsewhere known as the Thames, don’t ask why...) at Oxford isn’t wide enough for two eights to race side by side, the boats of all the various colleges set off equally spaced in line astern. If the bow of your boat catches up with the stern of the boat ahead, you are said to have “bumped” them, and you move up one place in the line in the following day’s race. The aim is to end up at the “head of the river” at the end of the week. A bump supper is a celebration of such a victory. Traditionally the winning boat is ceremonially burnt in the quad — these days they’re rather too expensive for that.
the good news from Aix to Ghent (p. 231)
Bertie (or Aunt Dahlia) gets it backwards; it should be “from Ghent to Aix” (now known as Aachen in Germany). This is a poem by Robert Browning, and the underlying incident that inspired his divine fire apparently never occurred. Rather, Browning just made it up, but of course that doesn’t detract from the beauty of the poem.
I sprang to the stirrup, and Joris, and he;
I galloped, Dirck galloped, we galloped all three;
“Good speed!” cried the watch, as the gate-bolts undrew;
“Speed!” echoed the wall to us galloping through;
Behind shut the postern, the lights sank to rest,
And into the midnight we galloped abreast.
Not a word to each other; we kept the great pace
Neck by neck, stride by stride, never changing our place;
I turned in my saddle and made its girths tight,
Then shortened each stirrup, and set the pique right,
Rebuckled the cheek-strap, chained slacker the bit,
Nor galloped less steadily Roland a whit.
’Twas moonset at starting; but while we drew near
Lokeren, the cocks crew and twilight dawned clear;
At Boom, a great yellow star came out to see;
At Düffeld, ’twas morning as plain as could be;
And from Mecheln church-steeple we heard the half chime,
So, Joris broke silence with, “Yet there is time!”
At Aerschot, up leaped of a sudden the sun,
And against him the cattle stood black every one,
To stare thro’ the mist at us galloping past;
And I saw my stout galloper Roland at last,
With resolute shoulders, each butting away
The haze, as some bluff river headland its spray:
And his low head and crest, just one sharp ear bent back
For my voice, and the other pricked out on his track;
And one eye’s black intelligence,—ever that glance
O’er its white edge at me, its own master, askance!
And the thick heavy spume-flakes which aye and anon
His fierce lips shook upward in galloping on.
By Hasselt, Dirck groaned; and cried Joris “Stay spur!
Your Roos galloped bravely, the fault’s not in her;
We’ll remember at Aix”—for one heard the quick wheeze
Of her chest, saw the stretched neck, and staggering knees,
And sunk tail, and horrible heave of the flank,
As down on her haunches she shuddered and sank.
So, we were left galloping, Joris and I,
Past Looz and past Tongres, no cloud in the sky;
The broad sun above laughed a pitiless laugh,
’Neath our feet broke the brittle bright stubble like chaff;
Till over by Dalhem a dome-spire sprang white,
And “Gallop,” gasped Joris, “for Aix is in sight!”
“How they’ll greet us!”—and all in a moment his roan
Rolled neck and croup over, lay dead as a stone;
And there was my Roland to bear the whole weight
Of the news which alone could save Aix from her fate,
With his nostrils like pits full of blood to the brim,
And with circles of red for his eye-sockets’ rim.
Then I cast loose my buffcoat, each holster let fall,
Shook off both my jack-boots, let go belt and all,
Stoop up in the stirrups, leaned, patted his ear,
Called my Roland his pet-name, my horse without peer;
Clapped my hands, laughed and sang, any noise, bad or good,
Till at length into Aix Roland galloped and stood.
And all I remember is, friends flocking round
As I sat with his head ’twixt my knees on the ground;
And no voice but was praising this Roland of mine,
As I poured down his throat our last measure of wine,
Which (the burgesses voted by common consent)
Was no more than his due who brought good news from Ghent.
Robert Browning: “How They Brought the Good News from Ghent to Aix”
[Wodehouse frequently got the direction muddled. For example, in the first US (Simon and Schuster) edition of The Ice in the Bedroom the news went the wrong way, while in the first British (Herbert Jenkins) edition of Ice in the Bedroom the news went to Aix, leaving us to speculate that Wodehouse got it wrong in his manuscript but his UK editor made the correction. —Ian Michaud]
bone-shaker (p. 231)
A nickname for any early bicycle, before rubber tires, sprung seats, and other improvements made for the rider’s comfort. [NM]
sprockets running true with the differential gear (p. 233)
Wodehouse names these parts often in illustrating unfamiliarity with the works of an automobile, as with Billie Dore in A Damsel in Distress, ch. 8; “Jeeves and the Old School Chum” (1930), in which Bingo pretends to fix a car whose fuel tank Jeeves has drained; these parts are paired even as late as “Ukridge Starts a Bank Account” (1967) and Pearls, Girls and Monty Bodkin (1972). Jeeves bamboozles Bertie about the differential gear and the exhaust in “Bertie Changes His Mind” (1922). Here the formula is even funnier, since bicycles do not have differentials. [NM]
well oiled (p. 233)
Another euphemism for being drunk. [NM]
velocipede (p. 234)
A very old-fashioned kind of bicycle with an enormous front wheel and a very small back wheel. Also used as a general term for the very early bicycles.
lighting-up time (p. 234)
The legally defined time in the UK (a half hour after sunset to a half hour before sunrise, when this book was written) during which vehicle lamps must be turned on. [NM]
skijoring (p. 234)
A form of travel on skis, while being pulled by a large dog.
billowy portions (p. 235)
Nether regions, the place upon which one would sit while on a bicycle.
boulevardier (p. 235)
French: man about town, city slicker.
tweenies (p. 235)
Short for “between stairs maid” — a servant who assists both the cook (“below stairs”) and the housemaid (“above stairs”). The lowest step on the ladder for a young girl just starting out as a servant.
overmasted (p. 236)
A Penguin misprint; all original editions and serials read “overmastered.” [NM]
en déshabille (p. 236)
French: undressed, improperly dressed.
hell hath no fury like a woman scorned (p. 238)
Heav’n has no rage like love to hatred turn’d
Nor Hell a fury, like a woman scorn’d.
The closing lines of act III of William Congreve’s The Mourning Bride, first produced in 1697.
Little Chilbury War Memorial (p. 238)
An imaginary place; there are towns of Chirbury and Chilbolton to be found in Great Britain, but The Master apparently made up this name to amuse himself.
croup (p. 238)
Croup is an infection that causes the trachea (windpipe) and larynx (voice box) to swell. It is usually part of a cold.
Young Lochinvar (p. 238)
“Lochinvar” is a ballade by Sir Walter Scott, which is actually part of a larger epic poem called Marmion. Lochinvar showed up uninvited at a wedding and was so lacking in social graces as to run off with the bride. In his defense, Ellen is clearly identified as a former girlfriend, and her betrothed as a lazy coward. Still, one cannot help but purse the lips in disapproval of this high-handed act.
O young Lochinvar is come out of the west,
Through all the wide Border his steed was the best;
And save his good broadsword he weapons had none,
He rode all unarm’d, and he rode all alone.
So faithful in love, and so dauntless in war,
There never was knight like the young Lochinvar.
He staid not for brake, and he stopp’d not for stone,
He swam the Eske river where ford there was none;
But ere he alighted at Netherby gate,
The bride had consented, the gallant came late:
For a laggard in love, and a dastard in war,
Was to wed the fair Ellen of brave Lochinvar.
So boldly he enter’d the Netherby Hall,
Among bride’s-men, and kinsmen, and brothers and all:
Then spoke the bride’s father, his hand on his sword,
(For the poor craven bridegroom said never a word,)
“O come ye in peace here, or come ye in war,
Or to dance at our bridal. young Lord Lochinvar?”
“I long woo’d your daughter, my suit you denied;—
Love swells like the Solway, but ebbs like its tide—
And now I am come, with this lost love of mine,
To lead but one measure, drink one cup of wine.
There are maidens in Scotland more lovely by far,
That would gladly be bride to the young Lochinvar.”
The bride kiss’d the goblet: the knight took it up,
He quaff’d off the wine, and he threw down the cup.
She look’d down to blush, and she look’d up to sigh,
With a smile on her lips and a tear in her eye.
He took her soft hand, ere her mother could bar,—
“Now tread we a measure!” said young Lochinvar.
So stately his form, and so lovely her face,
That never a hall such a galliard did grace;
While her mother did fret, and her father did fume,
And the bridegroom stood dangling his bonnet and plume;
And the bride-maidens whisper’d, “ ’Twere better by far
To have match’d our fair cousin with young Lochinvar.”
One touch to her hand, and one word in her ear,
When they reach’d the hall-door, and the charger stood near;
So light to the croupe the fair lady he swung,
So light to the saddle before her he sprung!
“She is won! we are gone, over bank, bush, and scaur;
They’ll have fleet steeds that follow,” quoth young Lochinvar.
There was mounting ’mong Graemes of the Netherby clan;
Forsters, Fenwicks, and Musgraves, they rode and they ran:
There was racing and chasing on Cannobie Lee,
But the lost bride of Netherby ne’er did they see.
So daring in love, and so dauntless in war,
Have ye e’er heard of gallant like young Lochinvar?
Sir Walter Scott: “Lochinvar” from Marmion
jaundiced (p. 239)
Literally, jaundice is a symptom of a diseased liver, marked by yellowish skin and eyes. It is caused by a build-up of bilirubin—a byproduct of decomposing red blood cells. In this context it means general disapproval, an apprehension of poor results to come.
the conversation … went blue on us (p. 239)
Not meaning indelicate or obscene, as in turning the air blue, but used in the sense of sad, depressing, unpromising, unfruitful. [NM]
Trappist monks (p. 240)
Formally, the Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance, who follow the Rule of St. Benedict. Though they do not take a vow of complete silence, as is commonly thought, their rule emphasizes speaking only when necessary. [NM]
The Wreck of the Hesperus (p. 243)
A poem by Longfellow about a captain who takes his doomed schooner on a wintry trip with his beautiful daughter for company.
beano (p. 244)
British slang from late 19th century: a binge; a festive, rowdy party [NM]
condish (p. 244)
condition, clipped as in the 1920s craze for shortened words, such as the Gershwin song “ ’S Wonderful” (1927), whose verse rhymes humble fash and tender pash. [NM]
half a bot. of something (p. 247)
A half-bottle of wine, perhaps even champagne. [NM]
à quoi sert-il (p. 248)
French: “What’s the use of it?” or “What’s the point?”