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. These notes were originally compiled by AK and have been extended by others in the group, including Neil Midkiff [NM], with contributions from Rob Bovendeaard’s Biblia Wodehousiana [RB].

This book was first published by A. & C. Black in the UK on September 18, 1902.

Page numbers refer to the 1925 A. & C. Black edition, available online at



The Pothunters first appeared in January 1902 as a serial in Public School Magazine, which had already published several stories and other items by Wodehouse. After two parts (representing chapters 1–6 of the book) had appeared, the publishers announced that the magazine was ceasing publication — its copyrights were sold to the owner of its rival, The Captain — and the third part of the serial (in the final issue, March 1902) took the form of an extended summary of the rest of the plot. [Note by Terry Mordue]

Dedication: To Joan, Effie and Ernestine Bowes-Lyon (p. [iii])

  The Bowes-Lyon girls, daughters of old family friends, were cousins of the late Queen Elizabeth (the Queen Mother). They were also related to Sir Campbell Munro of Linderits who had a country retreat, Fairfield House in Lyme Regis. (The Munro family are probably best known from Sir Campbell’s son Hugh’s pastime of listing all Scottish peaks over 3000 ft.) One summer, Wodehouse accompanied the girls to Lyme and whilst holidaying formulated his ideas for Love Among the Chickens.

Chapter 1

What the dickens (p. 13)

phrase similar to “what the devil”, origin unknown. Shakespeare used it in The Merry Wives of Windsor, and Thomas Heywood before that in King Edward IV.

crocked yourself (p. 13)

hurt yourself

game of fives (p. 13)

is an English sport believed to derive from the same origins as many racquet sports. In fives, a ball is propelled against the walls of a 3- or 4-sided special court, using a gloved or bare hand as though it were a racquet, or in a variant form of the game, using a small flattish paddle (a fives bat) made of willow. [AK/NM]

the middles (p. 14)

competing as a middleweight boxer. When this was written, weight classes were not so finely divided as today, but the upper limit of 11 stone 6, or 160 lb., for middleweights has remained the same since 1884.   (1 stone = 14 lb.) Until the welterweight class was established in 1914 for those up to 147 lb., middleweights covered a wide range above the lightweight limit of 135 lb. (9 st 9) up to 160 lb. Since 1962, when super welterweights were defined as over 147 up to 154 lb., the middleweight class is from over 154 up to 160 lb. [AK/NM]

The Sportsman (p. 14)

the British sporting newspaper of that name, which was published from 1865 to 1924.

weigh eleven-three (p. 14)

eleven stone three pounds or 157 lb.

heavies (p. 14)

heavyweight; at the time, anything over 160 lb. In 1913, the light-heavyweight class was established for the 161–175 lb. range, and in 1980, 176–200 lb. was defined as cruiserweight, so that today a heavyweight boxer is over 200 lb., but this was not true in 1902. [NM]

Aldershot, Queen’s Avenue Gymnasium (p. 14)

Aldershot, a British army town, played host to inter-school sporting events such as gymnastics, boxing and fencing, at the Gymnasium on Queen’s Avenue.

From east and west, and north and south (p. 14)

Psalm 107:2–2 [King James (Authorised) Version used throughout]:

2 Let the redeemed of the Lord say so, whom he hath redeemed from the hand of the enemy;
3 And gathered them out of the lands, from the east, and from the west, from the north, and from the south.

Dan even unto Beersheba (p. 14)

I Samuel 3:30:

And all Israel from Dan even to Beersheba knew that Samuel was established to be a prophet of the Lord.

Public Schools (p. 14)

The Public Schools Act 1868 established seven schools as independent institutions supervised by a board of governors for each, free of government, Crown, or church control: Charterhouse, Eton, Harrow, Rugby, Shrewsbury, Westminster, and Winchester. St. Paul’s and Merchant Taylors’ Schools were considered by the authors of the legislation, but argued that they were already independent and thus not subject to the terms of the Act. Other schools of similar constitution were later grouped under this heading; membership in the Headmasters’ Conference became the unofficial definition of the category. See the note at p. 17 below. Students at a public school usually ranged from ages 13 to 18, plus or minus a year in some cases. [NM]

feather-weight (p. 14)

9 stone maximum (up to 126 lb.)

light-weight (p. 14)

9 st 9 maximum (over 126 up to 135 lb.)

Rugby (p. 15)

One of the original seven English Public Schools defined by the Public Schools Act of 1868. Located in Rugby, Warwickshire. Birthplace of Rugby football.

The whole duty of man (p. 15)

Ecclesiastes 12:13:

Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man.

Also an English high church ‘Protestant’ devotional work, first published anonymously, with an introduction by Henry Hammond, in 1658.

scientific (p. 16)

In boxing, this term means relying more on skill and technique than on brute strength or mere endurance. Wodehouse frequently uses this as a term of approbation for his boxing characters. [NM]

sparrer (p. 16)

Sparring is “practice fighting” with the aim of training and fitness, not to determine a winner.

pluck (p. 16)

in this context, courage

footer (p. 16)


Harrow, Felsted, Wellington, St. Paul’s (p. 17)

all English Public Schools. Wodehouse’s essay “Pauline Pugilism” (Public School Magazine, June 1901) discusses the boxing eminence of St. Paul’s School in real life.

mops you up (p. 17)


scrapping (p. 17)


guard (p. 17)

defensive posture

lead (p. 17)

take the offensive (as opposed to guard)

let auld acquaintance be forgot (p. 17)

variation of Robert Burns’ Auld Lang Syne:

Should Old Acquaintance be forgot,
and never thought upon;
The flames of Love extinguished,
and fully past and gone:
Is thy sweet Heart now grown so cold,
that loving Breast of thine;
That thou canst never once reflect
On old long syne.

knock-out (p. 17)

usually when one boxer goes down, and is unable to rise while the referee counts to ten. The fight is ended at that point.

Headmaster’s conference (p. 17)

HMC dates from 1869. The Headmasters’ Conference first met when Edward Thring, Headmaster of Uppingham, asked sixty of his fellow headmasters to meet at his house to consider the formation of a “School Society and Annual Conference.”

abolished the knock-out blow (p. 17–18)

According to Rebekah’s Annotated Psmith Project, this ban was decided in December 1898, so the action of this story must be set earlier, and the main characters would thus be contemporaries of Wodehouse himself, who was in the Upper Fifth form at Dulwich in the spring of 1898.

weighing-in (p. 18)

boxers are weighed on a scale before competition begins, to ensure that they are fighting in the correct category.

I’ve not brought evening dress or someone else’s footer clothes (p. 18)

Wodehouse had a long memory for this kind of substitution; he used it for humorous effect in Joy in the Morning (1946) when Catsmeat and Boko inadvertently swap suitcases of fancy-dress ball costumes while getting a drink at the Drones Club, and Boko has to wear a comic set of football gear emblazoned “Borstal Rovers” on the jersey. [NM]

weighed in the balance and found correct (p. 18)

variation of Daniel 5:27:

Tekel: Thou art weighed in the balances, and art found wanting.

modest quencher (p. 19)

light liquid refreshment

beastly nippy (p. 19)

quick and light on their feet

M.C. (p. 20)

master of ceremonies

seconds (p. 21)

assistants to a boxer, who attend to his comfort before and between the rounds, for instance with a damp sponge and towel. [NM]

Like somebody’s something it is both grateful and comforting (p. 21)

Epps’s Cocoa used the words “Grateful — Comforting” in their advertisements. While Wodehouse has no trouble naming Bovril (annotated later on), he seems shy about naming Epps.

sanguinary heavy-weight encounter (p. 23)

a heavyweight boxing bout involving bloodshed

for name and fame (p. 23)

title of a book by G. A. Henty, published in 1886

bye (p. 24)

a chance to sit out for one round, or (as here) to participate in an unofficial match against a non-qualifying competitor, when there are odd numbers of participants at one stage in a tournament. [NM]

Carthusian (p. 25)

student from Charterhouse School. The Carthusian Order (Latin: Ordo Cartusiensis), also called the Order of St. Bruno, is a Catholic religious order of enclosed monastics. The name Carthusian is derived from the Chartreuse Mountains; Saint Bruno built his first hermitage in the valley of these mountains in the French Alps. The word charterhouse, which is the English name for a Carthusian, is derived from the same source. (Wikipedia)

more blessed to give than to receive (p. 30)

Acts 20:35, the words of St. Paul to the elders of the church at Ephesus:

I have shewed you all things, how that so labouring ye ought to support the weak, and to remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said, It is more blessed to give than to receive.

Chapter 2

Thieves break in and steal (p. 31)

Matthew 6:19:

Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal.

his House … the School House (p. 31)

typically, a Public School that took in boarders had one or more “houses”, each usually under the care of a master, where students were boarded, and usually referred to by the housemaster’s name. There were usually competitions between the houses, such as for cricket, football, etc. “School House” is the house which is run by the Head Master.

fag (p. 31)

Fagging was a traditional practice in British boarding schools, whereby younger pupils were required to act as personal servants to the most senior boys. Such duties might include brewing tea, preparing light meals, or delivering notes; here Robinson has “underdone a fellow’s eggs and overdone his toast” on p. 32. The term derives from “fatigue” for the work involved, and should not be confused with the later derogatory term for a homosexual male; that sense is American slang which the OED dates from the 1920s. [AK/NM]

a very warm man (p. 31)

someone with a good chance of winning [NM]

Junior Quarter (p. 31–32)

quarter mile race, for junior students (approximately 13–15 years old).

handicap race (p. 32)

Runners of different ages or capabilities are given an advantage or handicap by adjusting their starting position before or behind the nominal starting line, depending on their times in trials. In “The Purity of the Turf” Harold, the page boy, receives a thirty-yard headstart in the Choir Boys’ Hundred Yards Handicap, and could win from scratch, according to Jeeves. [AK/NM]

leading light (p. 32)

prominent figure

Pav. (p. 33)

pavilion. Equivalent to clubhouse, with changing rooms and other sporting necessities.

booked it (p. 33)

in this context, noticed it.

First fifteen (p. 33)

The school’s senior Rugby football team. Most schools would have a “first” team comprising the best senior players, and a “second” team comprising the next tier and so on.

that‘s rum (p. 33)

that’s odd

shunted (p. 34)


Sports prizes (p. 34)

silver cups and other similar trophies; the “pots” of the book’s title [NM]

the Old Man (p. 34)

unofficial label for the Head Master. In Wodehouse’s essay “School Stories” he approvingly cites Barry Pain’s Graeme and Cyril: “The Head Master, the Old Man as they called him more in affection than irreverence.” [AK/NM]

brekker (p. 35)

breakfast, altered by the same slang rules that transform football into “footer” and Association football into “soccer.” [AK/NM]

terra firma (p. 36)

Latin: solid ground [NM]

struck the quarter (p. 36)

in other words, a chiming clock had announced that it was fifteen minutes after or before the hour. [NM]

play-bill (p. 36)

a placard or poster announcing a theatrical performance and giving the names of the actors playing the various roles, and oftentimes detailing the relationships among the characters of the play, as in the dramatis personæ of the play’s program. [AK/NM]

feeling chippy (p. 36)

grouchy, grumpy; seedy, unwell

in a beastly hole (p. 36–37)

in a severely difficult situation [NM]

weigh in (p. 37)

give your point of view. The OED currently dates this phrase back to 1909 from George Bernard Shaw; I have submitted this earlier usage to the OED for their consideration. [NM]

cert (p. 37)

short for “certainty”

gave him beans (p. 37)

beat him up

couple of quid (p. 37)

two pounds sterling; the Bank of England inflation calculator puts an equivalent value of £225.59 in 2016 prices. A fairly large bet for a student! [NM]

hedge (p. 38)

a countervailing bet, designed to minimize one’s losses if another larger bet goes wrong [NM]

half-sovereigns (p. 38)

a sovereign was a gold coin with a face value of 1 GBP

come a mucker (p. 38)

come a cropper, fail miserably

half-a-crown (p. 39)

2 shillings and 6 pence, one eighth of a pound.

wants his oof (p. 39)

wants his money. From Yiddish oyf ‘on’, tish ‘table’, i.e. ‘on the table’ (referring to money in gambling).

pater (p. 39)

father (Latin)

five bob (p. 39)

five shillings, one-fourth of a pound

got done rather badly (p. 40)

got the worst side of a deal; was swindled [NM]

Orme ... poisoned (p. 40)

Orme was a bay colt, bred by the 1st Duke of Westminster. In April of 1892, he was withdrawn from a number of races, with his owner alleging that the horse had been poisoned. Orme recovered and won several more races over the next few years.

lynch (p. 40)

in this usage, whip or otherwise punish severely [NM]

get scalped (p. 40)

receive chastisement [NM]

see (p. 40)

in this usage, understand and forgive [NM]

got the half (p. 40)

won the half-mile race [NM]

2—7 and three-fifths (p. 41)

race time, 2 minutes, 7 and 3/5 seconds

sprinted too late (p. 41)

typically in long distance races, the runners conserve their energy till the last part of the race, then put on a burst of speed, or sprint in an effort to win.

expire on the tape (p. 41)

collapse at the finish line

buck up (p. 41)

hurry up

gorge (p. 41)

party with food as the main theme

rusks (p. 42)

bread dry-toasted or twice-baked until crisp

Chapter 3

pots (p. 45)

slang for the silver cups, plates, and other Sports trophies which had been stolen [NM]

bottom bench in Form (p. 45)

the last row of seating in the classroom, reserved for the youngest or newest students [NM]

presented … with 200 lines a-piece (p. 46)

required to copy out 200 lines of some classic text as a punishment [NM]

jot and tittle (p. 46)

Literally, the smallest letter of the Greek alphabet (jot=iota) and any small accent mark; in English idiom we would say every dot on the letter i and every crossing of the letter t; figuratively, every last bit. [NM]
Matthew 5:18: For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.

en masse (p. 47)

French: “in a body”; all together

First Eleven pitch (p. 47)

The cricket field, and the attendant pitch where the Senior Cricket (the First Eleven) team played

disciple of Deerfoot (p. 47)

Deerfoot (1828–1897), also known as Lewis Bennett, who was born into the Seneca tribe, was a famous runner from the United States whose most noted achievements took place in England.

burglary chestnut (p. 48)

An old joke; a worn-out phrase, ploy, etc. so often repeated as to have grown stale. In this case, the tale of the burglary at Reade’s house has been repeated so many times as to have palled on his audience.

potted (p. 49)

took pot-shots; fired carelessly [NM]

man of the vilest antecedents (p. 49)

in other words, descended from people of the lowest class. A quotation from Arthur Conan Doyle’s “The Man with the Twisted Lip” (Strand magazine, December 1891): “The Lascar was known to be a man of the vilest antecedents…” [NM]

beak (p. 49)

slang for master

books a chap (p. 49)

in this instance, to catch in the act of some wrongdoing, and thus to set down demerits in a notebook

out of bounds (p. 49)

boarders at a public school, with the exception of prefects (in some schools) may not leave the school premises without permission from a master. To do so was called breaking bounds (as cited on p. 52), and could incur severe penalties when found out.

action and reaction (p. 49)

inevitable pairings, by a law of nature, as in Newton’s Third Law of Motion in physics [NM]

if life was worth living (p. 50)

the earliest usage of this phrase so far found is in Sir Thomas Browne’s Hydrotaphia (1658): “life when it was scarce worth the living” [NM]

hauteur (p. 52)

From the French, literally “height”; haughtiness, arrogance, pride, self-importance [NM]

break bounds (p. 52)

See “out of bounds” at p. 49 above.

roll call (p. 52)

Taking attendance. Before “lock up” (when the school gates were closed for the night), roll call was done, where each boarder’s name was called and he was expected to acknowledge.

Did he sleep? Did he dream? Or were visions about? (p. 53)

from Bret Harte’s poem “Further Language from Truthful James” (1870):

Do I sleep? do I dream?
Do I wonder and doubt?
Are things what they seem?
Or is visions about?

Chapter 4

Sixth (p. 56)

the Sixth Form, the uppermost class of the oldest students in the school, mostly 17 and 18 years old [NM]

further concealment was useless (p. 56)

This phrase is found in several nineteenth-century tales, so at present it is difficult to know just which one Wodehouse had in mind. [NM]

Amateur lynx (p. 56)

sharp-eyed, as a lynx is reputed to be

House Prefect (p. 58)

Prefects are trusted older students who share disciplinary authority with the masters, as part of their training for future positions of responsibility. They may be classed as “House Prefects,” whose sphere of influence extends only within the house where they live, and where they act as the house master’s assistants, or as “School Prefects,” who have authority over all the students in the school regardless of house.

taking prep. (p. 58)

Prep. or preparation is akin to homework, where one prepares for the classes on the following day. Masters may assign books to read or work to do, and students would be questioned on it in class. Students who share a study can do their work in their own studies; senior students who don’t have a study but a shared common room may work there; the rest of the school usually sat together in the big hall and did their work under the eye of a master or a prefect.

without leave (p. 58)

without getting permission from the house master, who (as stated) was not in the house that night but was supervising students’ prep. work in the Hall. [NM]

forced draught (p. 59)

An engineering term, unusual for Wodehouse; it refers to using a fan to push air at higher than atmospheric pressure into the combustion chamber of a steam boiler. Here it suggests that Charteris finds it necessary to work under the pressure of a deadline. [NM]

Rouse the British Lion (p. 59)

reference to a famous Punch cartoon that appeared in the March 12, 1859 issue:

crossed the Rubicon (p. 59)

did something that inevitably commits one to following a certain course of action. Alludes to the crossing of the River Rubicon by Julius Caesar with his army, which involved him in a civil war in 49 b.c.

extra tuition (p. 60)

that is, compulsory additional sessions in the classroom when most students had free time for games or other activities [NM]

Prefect’s cap (p. 60)

most Public School uniforms included a cap, usually with a distinctive color and badge or wording. Prefects are senior students who are given a degree of authority over the rest of the student body. Prefects wore a different style of cap to signify their status.

given him a bit of a start (p. 63)

in other words, startled him somewhat. (Nothing to do with giving him a headstart; that is a false interpretation.) [NM]

watches of the night (p. 64)

the hours when most are asleep; in military practice, when only a few are keeping watch (staying awake) guarding the security of the entire company. [NM]

pass muster (p. 64)

in military sense, to come through inspection without criticism; in general use, to do well enough to get by without being noticed as bad [NM]

Coll. chap (p. 65)

student. Some Public Schools were called Colleges, as for example Winchester College, Eton College, Dulwich College. Historically, many of these were founded as societies of religious scholars, and through the years evolved into teaching institutions for secular students. [AK/NM]

reformatory (p. 65)

A reformatory or reformatory school is a youth detention center, or an adult correctional facility most prolific in the early 20th century.

Hooligans (p. 65)

a fairly fresh coinage for young ruffians, with the first OED citations from 1898; possibly derived from an 1890s comic song about a rowdy Irish family of that name.

hundredweight (p. 65)

in imperial measure, one-twentieth of a long ton; 112 lb., rather than the 100 lb. of an American hundredweight.

The Powers that were (p. 65)

the people in authority; variation of “powers that be,” from Romans 13:1:

Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: The powers that be are ordained of God. [RB]

copper-bottomed (p. 66)

originally, from 1761, describing a ship’s hull sheathed with copper as a protection against wood-boring marine worms and the accumulation of barnacles; in figurative use meaning trustworthy or genuine. [NM]

all over the shop (p. 66)

throughout the premises of the school, with an implication that the search is in a state of confusion [NM]

don’t believe detectives are much class (p. 66)

don’t think they are of very high quality or worth much

gumption (p. 66)

originally from Scots dialect, meaning either shrewdness or initiative

Chapter 5

The Mutual Friend (p. 67)

Charles Dickens’ last completed novel was titled Our Mutual Friend. Probable use here by PGW, especially as one of the characters in the chapter professes to be a fan of Dickens

His manners are patronizing, and his customs beastly (p. 68)

Published in 1884, the Australian edition of the Universal Self-Instructor and Manual of General Reference carried an article titled “The Aborigines”, which has this to say: The only form of government is that of the family; the only law, the club. Summing up their manners and customs, we may say, “manners, none; customs, beastly”. That’s the only close reference found to-date.

Herodotus in the original Greek (p. 68)

a Greek historian who was born in Halicarnassus in the Persian Empire and lived in the fifth century BC, a contemporary of Thucydides, Socrates, and Euripides.

Patience on a monument (p. 68)

from Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, act 2, scene 4:

A blank, my lord. She never told her love,
But let concealment, like a worm i‘ the bud,
Feed on her damask cheek. She pined in thought,
And with a green and yellow melancholy
She sat like patience on a monument,
Smiling at grief. Was not this love indeed?

Done to a turn (p. 71)

The allusion in the phrase ‘done to a turn’, or ‘roasted to a turn’, is to food that had been cooked for the precisely correct number of turns of the spit.

gone the way of all flesh (p. 72)

to die. This expression is actually a misquotation from the Bible, which has it to go the way of all the earth (I Kings 2:2; Joshua 22:14), also meaning “to die.” In the current context, it means all the sausages had been consumed.

frantic blood (p. 73)

the word blood is used in the sense of “a fashionable or popular man”, except here it’s used sarcastically, to mean just the opposite.

prize day (p. 73)

a day on which various school prizes are officially presented, in the presence of family and friends.

side on him (p. 73)

put on side is slang for insolence, arrogance or pretentiousness

all sort of dooks (p. 73)

acts as if he were a Duke, puts on airs

copped him on the hop (p. 73)

caught in the act? Not sure of any other references.

A sharp shriek, a hollow groan (p. 74)

possible reference to Alexander Pope’s ode?

O’er all the dreary coasts!
Dreadful gleams,
Dismal screams,
Fires that glow, Shrieks of woe,
Sullen moans,
Hollow groans,
And cries of tortur’d ghosts!

AEschylus exam (p. 76)

Aeschylus was an ancient Greek tragedian, often described as the father of tragedy.

centre-three-quarters (p. 77)

Rugby football position. There are four threequarters: two wingers and two centres. Right wing, right centre, left centre and left wing. Typically these players work in pairs, with one winger and one centre occupying each side of the field.

voila comme des accidents arrivent (p. 80)

that‘s how accidents happen

Froust (p. 81)

also spelt as frowst. stale stuffy atmosphere: offensive or musty odor

Livy (p. 82)

Titus Livius — often rendered as Livy in English language sources was a Roman historian. He wrote a monumental history of Rome and the Roman people

invaluable friend Mr. Bohn (p. 84)

Henry George Bohn (4 January 1796–22 August 1884) was a British publisher. He is principally remembered for the Bohn‘s Libraries series of books which he inaugurated. These were begun in 1846, targeted the mass market, and comprised editions of standard works and translations, dealing with history, science, classics, theology and archaeology. Classical students used these books as study guides.

Out on the tiles (p. 86)

To go out in the evening, usually to bars or pubs. It is a phrase originating in Ireland, where all the pubs have tile floors, referring to a night of drinking.

corn-crake (p. 90)

The corn crake, corncrake or landrail (Crex crex) is a bird in the rail family.

Chapter 6

Penny whistle (p. 95)

also known as tin whistle, is a six-holed wood-wind instrument, presumably of the flute family.

The crack of doom (p. 96)

The sound that heralds the day of the Last Judgment, before the end of all things. It was used by Shakespeare in Macbeth:

MACBETH: Thou art too like the spirit of Banquo: down!
Thy crown does sear mine eye-balls. And thy hair,
Thou other gold-bound brow, is like the first.
A third is like the former. Filthy hags!
Why do you show me this? A fourth! Start, eyes!
What, will the line stretch out to the crack of doom?

Punch dinner (p. 98)

The founders of Punch magazine, bon-vivants all, believed in the Epicurean creed ... and the magazine was usually published during the course of a dinner meeting. The main weekly staff meeting took place over dinner, and the tradition lasted over 150 years.

When I takes the chair at our harmonic club! (p. 98)

“Our ‘Armonics Club” is a music hall song written and performed by Albert Chevalier.

Chorus: With my ’ammer in my ’and there I sits as large as life
Surrounded by the patrons of the pub
Oh! I ain’t by nature proud, but I feels a regular ‘treat’
When I takes the chair at our ‘Armonics Club

In the mid 1800s the United Kingdom saw a period of dull trade, even the liquor sellers suffering severely in consequence. This led them to form Harmonic Clubs, or Free-and-Easies as they were called, which met once or twice a week at their public-houses for the overt purposes of song singing and amusement, but in reality for the sale of alcoholic drinks. (from the Rechabite Handbook)

We, as Wordsworth might have said, but didn’t, are five (p. 99)

reference to William Wordsworth’s poem titled “We are Seven”.

Offertory (p. 100)

In this context, the period of collection and presentation of the offerings of the congregation at public worship

Alderman (p. 100)

An alderman is a member of a municipal assembly or council in many jurisdictions founded upon English law. The title is derived from the Old English title of ealdorman, literally meaning “elder man”, and was used by the chief nobles presiding over shires. No doubt Wodehouse was taking a dig at officials (elected or otherwise) who tended to be on the larger side, fattening themselves at the taxpayers‘ expense!

Bovril (p. 101)

Bovril is the trademarked name of a thick and salty meat extract paste similar to a yeast extract, developed in the 1870s by John Lawson Johnston. It is sold in a distinctive, bulbous jar. Bovril is owned and distributed by Unilever UK. (Wikipedia)

And so to bed (p. 101)

an expression often used by Samuel Pepys, denoting the end of a day’s entry in his diary.

loco parentis (p. 102)

Latin for “in the place of a parent”

“pills” (p. 102)

in this context, billiards

facial H.B. (p. 104)

not sure, but since a portrait sketch is being discussed, H.B. might refer to the grade of pencil used. An HB pencil is considered to be medium dark and medium hard (H for hard and B for black). Possibly also a reference to John Doyle (Dublin 1797–2 January 1868 London), known by the pen name H.B., a political cartoonist, caricaturist, painter and lithographer. (Rebekkah)

Barry Pain (p. 104)

Barry Eric Odell Pain (28-Sep-1864 to 05-May-1928) was an English journalist, poet and writer.

Englishman‘s shortest prayer (p. 104)


But what is man after all? (p. 104)

Psalm 8:4:

What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him? (King James)

are we not as the beasts that perish (p. 104)

Psalm 49:20:

Man that is in honour, and understandeth not, is like the beasts that perish. (King James)

little life rounded by a sleep (p. 104)

Shakespeare, “The Tempest”:

And like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep. Sir, I am vexed.
Bear with my weakness. My old brain is troubled.

We take him from the city or the plough ... we dress him up (p. 104)

from “Private Tommy Atkins” (lyrics by Henry Hamilton, music by S. Potter)

O, we take him from the city or the plough,
And we drill him, and we dress him up so neat,
We teach him to uphold his manly brow,
And how to walk, and where to put his feet.
It doesn‘t matter who he was before,
Or what his parents favor‘d for his name;
Once he‘s pocketed the shilling,
And a uniform he‘s filling,
We‘ll call him Tommy Atkins, all the same.

Chapter 7

Hoxton or the Borough (p. 109)

part of East London. A century ago, the East End was where the lower income people lived … Cockney country, if you will. The West End was where the toffs lived.

Chesterfieldian (p. 109)

Someone who acts in a sophisticated, aristocratic manner, reminiscent of Philip Dormer Stanhope, 4th earl of Chesterfield, (born Sept. 22, 1694, London—died March 24, 1773, London). He was a British statesman, diplomat, and wit, chiefly remembered as the author of Letters to His Son and Letters to His Godson—guides to manners, the art of pleasing, and the art of worldly success.

Beard the water-wagtail in its lair (p. 110)

similar to “beard the lion in his den”, although the latter phrase implies an aggressive or confrontational situation, while Barrett’s sole object is to collect an egg, not harm the bird. The origins of the phrase itself is unclear, but possibly dating back to the first Book of Samuel in the Bible, which tells the story of David, who pursued a lion that had stolen one of his sheep, seized it “by his beard” (chin whiskers) and slew him. The “in his den” detail most likely came from another Bible story, that of Daniel cast into a lions’ den and saved by an angel.

A water wagtail is another name for the pied wagtail, a British songbird, Motacilla alba yarrellii, with a black throat and back, long black tail, and white underparts and face:

Stony (p. 111)

broke, out of cash

Dingle (p. 111)

a deep hollow, or dell

M.P. (p. 114)

Member of Parliament

jerry-built (p. 114)

cheaply and shoddily built; origin unknown

Solvitur ambulando (p. 114)

a Latin phrase which means “it is solved by walking” and is used to refer to a problem which is solved by a practical experiment.

Chapter 8

The Lincolnshire Poacher (p. 124)

“The Lincolnshire Poacher” is an English folk song associated with the county of Lincolnshire, and deals with the joys of poaching. The earliest printed version appeared in York about 1776. It was the regimental quick march song of the 10th Regiment of Foot and its successors the Royal Lincolnshire Regiment and the 2nd Battalion Royal Anglian Regiment, who are known as “the Poachers”. Other military units in America and Australia used it as well.

Leggings (p. 129)

Protective men‘s wear, usually made of cloth or leather that is wrapped around the leg down to the ankle.

official velveteens (p. 129)

uniform trousers made of velveteen, a cotton pile fabric with short, velvetlike pile.

Chapter 9

Form-beak (p. 137)

form master

Bargee (p. 137)

a class of man whose language was notoriously crude, probably derived from bargemen, and others of their ilk, who spoke Cockney and were careless with the letter H.

superior tourist, henry as opposed to ‘arry (p. 137)

Someone better educated and better spoken than an unlettered Cockney, and who had no trouble pronouncing their aspirates.

“Bless you my children” air (p. 138)

with the air of a priest imparting a benediction

bad outer ... bull (p. 140)

a standard target for shooting, or achery, consists of a series of concentric circles, with the innermost and smallest one called the bull’s eye, which is the hardest to hit. A hit on one of the outer circles might be termed a bad outer, as here.

turned up his cuff (p. 140)

rolled up his sleeve

frousting (p. 142)

sitting indoors, doing nothing

place to spend a happy day ... like Rosherville (p. 142)

Rosherville Gardens was a pleasure garden in Gravesend, Kent, England. The gardens were laid out in 1837 by George Jones in one of the disused chalk pits owned by Jeremiah Rosher in Northfleet. Their full title was the ‘Kent Zoological and Botanical Gardens Institution’. They became a favourite destination for thousands of Londoners during good weather.

hooked it (p. 143)

ran for it

come down a buster (p. 143)

fell down hard

on to trespassing like tar (p. 143)

taking a very strict view against trespassing.“On ... like tar” is used in the sense of being firmly set on something, like tar which is difficult to remove once it sticks to something.

get shirty (p. 144)

get angry. Possibly derived from “keep your shirt on”, which in turn means not to get angry enough to fight – one would presumably remove one’s shirt before indulging in fisticuffs!

Flush (p. 144)

in the money

Chapter 10

original MS of St. Austin‘s diary; Black-letter Eucalyptides (p. 149)

most likely imaginary treasures born of Wodehouse’s fertile mind

an excellent classic (p. 150)

an excellent classical scholar

inwardness of the Human Boy (p. 150)

unable to find any specific reference

Cribbing (p. 152)

cheating by copying from someone else’s work, usually in the context of school exams.

lower third (p. 152)

A form is a class or grouping of pupils in a school. Forms are normally identified by a number such as “first form” or “sixth form”. A form number may be used for two year groups and differentiated by the terms upper and lower.

ground-man (p. 153)

groundskeeper, in charge of maintaining the grounds and the playing fields

detective fever (p. 160)

Wilkie Collins’ The Moonstone (1868):

Do you feel an uncomfortable heat at the pit of your stomach ... and a nasty thumping at the top of your head? ... I call it the detective-fever.

Chapter 11

Strangers hundred yards (p. 162)

presumably a 100 yard race in which anybody — meaning the general public — can participate.

Conscia mens recti, nec si sinit esse dolorem
Sed revocare grandum
.” (p. 164)

John Dawson’s analysis:

In The Pothunters Wodehouse engages in some Latin wordplay that shows he’d had some experience translating Greek into Latin, but more importantly, this small vignette contains what I believe to be his earliest example of intentionally mangling or misquoting known classical phrases for comic effect. Unfortunately, unless one is either a Latin scholar or an Edwardian schoolboy, the phrase has to be deconstructed in order to understand why a schoolboy of Edwardian England would have laughed at it.

“What does our friend Thucydides remark on the subject?

Conscia mens recti, nec si sinit esse dolorem
Sed revocare gradum.”

Very well then.”

Quoting the Greek Thucydides in Latin is one thing, but part of the joke is that Thucydides didn’t say any such thing. The Roman poet Ovid, however, wrote: Conscia mens recti famae mendacia risit, or “The mind, conscious of rectitude, laughed to scorn the falsehood of report.”

Wodehouse appropriates the first part of Ovid’s phrase

the meaning is “A clean conscience will win out over false lies.” The second part of the “Thucydides quote” is an original construction:

nec si sinit esse dolorem: “nor if it allows grief to exist”

He ends with a lift from Virgil’s Aeneid: sed revocare gradums: “but to retrace one‘s path.”

The entire cobbled-together quote would then read something reasonably close to the complex sentence “A clean conscience will win out over lies, but must not allow grief to exist and we must retrace our steps.”

It makes sense in context, but what was first funny to the schoolboy readership is that the speaker, the schoolboy Charteris, has created a quote that they know couldn’t possibly attribute to Thucydides and that it borrows from two other authors. The joke is that none of the other boys in the scene object to anything he says, which infers that their knowledge of the classics is as confused as that of Charteris.

Or why the sea is boiling hot, and whether pigs have wings (p. 164)

From Through the Looking-Glass (Lewis Carroll):

“The time has come,” the Walrus said,
“To talk of many things:
Of shoes--and ships--and sealing-wax--
Of cabbages--and kings--
And why the sea is boiling hot--
And whether pigs have wings.”

rise of screw (p. 165)

a raise in salary (Brit. Slang)

why the whale wailed (p. 165)

unable to find a specific reference. Probably playing on similar sounding words

wrinkles from careworn brow (p. 165)

no reference found

let sunshine of happiness into his heart (p. 165)

no reference found

putting the weight (p. 166)

Shot put, an athletic pastime

cherub (p. 166)

one of the unearthly beings who directly attend to God according to Abrahamic religions

swashbuckler (p. 167)

a heroic archetype in European adventure literature that is typified by the use of a sword and chivalric ideals.

crack a crib (p. 167)

thieves cant, meaning to break into a house

Charles Peace (p. 167)

Charles Frederick Peace (14 May 1832–25 February 1879) was an English burglar and murderer, who embarked on a life of crime after being maimed in an industrial accident as a boy.

A warm man (p. 168)

someone’s who’s a solid favorite

soldier‘s chorus out of Faust (p. 169)

Faust is a grand opera in five acts by Charles Gounod to a French libretto by Jules Barbier and Michel Carré. In Act 4, Valentin‘s company returns from the war to a military march (Deposons les armes and Gloire immortelle de nos aïeux).

half-companies (p. 172)

A company is a military unit, typically consisting of 80-150 soldiers and usually commanded by a major or a captain.

Paterfamilias (p. 173)

the male head of the family

flannel next to the skin (p. 174)

“The Code of Health and Longevity”, by Sir John Sinclair, written in the early 1800s, promotes the advantages of wearing flannel next to the skin, especially for men.

pocket opppnent‘s ball in your twenty five (p. 175)

mixing sporting terms … pocket your opponent’s ball is a billiards term where the opponent’s ball is potted instead of one’s own; the twenty-five yard line refers to Rugby football (these days it’s the 22 metre line).

come back victorious or on the shields of your soldiers (p. 175)

“Come back with your shield—or on it” (Plutarch, Moralia.241) was supposed to be the parting cry of mothers to their sons. Mothers whose sons died in battle openly rejoiced, mothers whose sons survived hung their heads in shame.

Chapter 12

Gordian knot (p. 179)

knot that gave its name to a proverbial term for a problem solvable only by bold action. In 333 BC, Alexander the Great reached Gordium, the capital of Phrygia. There he was shown the chariot of the Gordius, with its yoke tied to the pole by means of an intricate knot, traditionally held to be untied only by the future conqueror of Asia. Alexander either sliced through the knot with his sword, or found the ends either by cutting into the knot or by drawing out the pole. The phrase “cutting the Gordian knot” has thus come to denote a bold solution to a complicated problem.

You don’t know, they don’t know (p. 181)

music hall score composed by Sam Richards and performed by Will Evans:

I‘m going to sing but what shall I sing,
You don‘t know, they don‘t know and I don‘t know!
It‘s got to be funny and be in the swing,
You don‘t know, they don‘t know and I don‘t know!
That just reminds me, now say, if you can,
Why is a woman so fond of a man?
Is it because it‘s a comforting plan?
You don‘t know, they don‘t know and I don‘t know!

Jellygraph (p. 182)

duplicating technology. The hectograph, gelatin duplicator or jellygraph is a printing process that involves transfer of an original, prepared with special inks, to a pan of gelatin or a gelatin pad pulled tight on a metal frame. After transfer of the image to the inked gelatin surface, copies are made by pressing paper against it.

his effects were nil (p. 185)

needs more research ************

no George Washington (p. 189)

Washington was famous for his honesty

braced his moral pecker (p. 189)

kept his chin up, or kept his courage up. From Gilbert’s Bab Ballads, “The Haughty Actor”:

Depressed became our friend
Depressed his moral pecker -

Circumstantial evidence (p. 191)

Circumstantial evidence is evidence that relies on an inference to connect it to a conclusion of fact—like a fingerprint at the scene of a crime. By contrast, direct evidence supports the truth of an assertion directly—i.e., without need for any additional evidence or inference.

strong enough to hang a cat on (p. 192)

can’t find a specific reference

Chapter 13

Gentleman in the ballad ... worried look (p. 193)

possibly from the eponymous Music Hall number by J.B.Dickson and Harry Randall, in 1893:


We all have some sort of trouble in our life,
That seems to worry our lives;
Some are worried if they happen to be wed,
And others if they haven‘t got wives.
My pal Smith was not worried in this way,
Though his manner was a bit grotesque.
‘Til one night a pal invited him to see
An up-to-date burlesque.
Chorus: And be enjoyed it very much,
And his sides with laughter shook,
When the band began to play ta-ra-ra boom-de-ey,
He wore a worried look, he wore a worried look!

tête-à-tête (p. 194)

face to face; involving or happening between two people in private.

pince nez (p. 196)

a pair of eyeglasses with a nose clip instead of earpieces.

Pg. 197

Unregenerate ’varsity days (p. 196)

in his unrepentant University days

power at the Union (p. 196)

The Oxford Union Society, commonly referred to simply as the Oxford Union, The Cambridge Union Society aka Cambridge Union and others are debating societies whose membership is drawn primarily from the Universities of the same name. They have provided an opportunity for many budding politicians from Britain and other countries to develop their debating skills and to acquire a reputation.

Chapter 14

Doxology (p. 210)

A doxology (from the ancient Greek: doxologia, doxa, “glory” and -logia, “saying”) is a short hymn of praises to God in various forms of Christian worship, often added to the end of canticles, psalms, and hymns.

Quarter, half, mile (p. 211)

foot races of quarter mile, half mile and a mile in distance

Mitchell-Jones record for the mile (p. 211)

no reference found so far

professional association player … feared to mention his crime in a school which worshipped Rugby (p. 215)

professional association player is one who plays regulation football or soccer. Some schools promoted association football and others Rugby, and the students tended to defend whichever style their school favored

Chapter 15

poaching on your preserves (p. 222)

a literal meaning would be “to hunt on your property”, but as a phrase it means to attempt a task which is not in one’s realm of expertise, but best left to someone in that field.

Bust of Socrates (p. 222)

Socrates (469—399 B.C.E.) was a classical Greek philosopher credited as one of the founders of Western philosophy, and as being the first moral philosopher, of the western ethical tradition of thought.

District Railway (p. 222)

The Metropolitan District Railway (commonly known as the District Railway) was a passenger railway that served London from 1868 to 1933. Established in 1864 to complete the inner circle, an underground railway in London, the first part of the line opened using gas-lit wooden carriages hauled by steam locomotives

Chapter 16

Conscia mens recti (p. 245)

from Ovid: Conscia mens recti famae mendacia risit, or “The mind, conscious of rectitude, laughed to scorn the falsehood of report.” (see John Dawson’s notes for similar phrase, page 164)

Chapter 17

How sweet the moonlight sleeps on yonder haystack (p. 246)

PGW misquotation from Shakespeare (Spoken by Lorenzo, The Merchant of Venice, Act 5, Scene 1)

How sweet the moonlight sleeps upon this bank!
Here will we sit and let the sounds of music
Creep in our ears: soft stillness and the night
Become the touches of sweet harmony.

Concerted piece (p. 247)

(Mus.) a composition in parts for several voices or instrument, as a trio, a quartet, etc.

andante (p. 247)

moderately slow —usually used as a direction in music

in six eight time (p. 247)

The time signature (also known as meter signature or measure signature) is a notational convention used in Western musical notation to specify how many beats (pulses) are to be contained in each measure (bar) and which note value is equivalent to one beat. In principle, 6/8 comprises not three groups of two eighth notes (quavers), but two groups of three eighth-note (quaver) subdivisions. (adapted from Wikipedia)

R.S.V.P (p. 247)

from the French Répondez s‘il vous plaît meaning “Please respond”.

My ewe lamb (p. 247)

betokening affection

lead on MacDuff (p. 249)

misquotation from Shakespeare’s Macbeth, in which Macbeth tries to provoke his nemesis to attack him by saying, “Lay on, Macduff” ... is now a variation of “After you”.

Archibald, my long lost brother (p. 249)

no specific reference found

Thomson, on the Grampian Hills (p. 249)

misquoted from Douglas, a blank verse tragedy by John Home (first performed in 1756).

My name is Norval; on the Grampian Hills
My father feeds his flocks; a frugal swain,
Whose constant cares were to increase his store.
And keep his only son, myself, at home.

Do a steady double (p. 251)

trot in double quick time, set up a brisk pace

man of blood (p. 251)

from the Bible: Samuel 16:7,8 (King James)

And thus said Shimei when he cursed,
Come out, come out, thou bloody man,
and thou man of Belial

Charles Stuart, that man of blood was a phrase used by Independents, during the English Civil War to describe King Charles I.

smacked of Ollendorf (p. 251)

Heinrich Gottfried Ollendorff (1803–1865, Paris) was a German grammarian and language educator. He produced a series of books on the Ollendorff Method of learning languages

no, but he has the mackintosh of his brother‘s cousin (p. 251)

presumably making fun of literal translations from one language to another (a la Ollendorff)

Chapter 18

There lies the viper on whom you have lavished your hospitality … (p. 262)

variation of the “a viper in your bosom”. This metaphoric expression, often put as nourish a viper (or snake) in one‘s bosom, comes from Aesop‘s fable about a farmer who shelters a snake dying from the cold, which then fatally bites him after it recovers. It was referred to by Chaucer and Shakespeare.

Dark Lantern (p. 264)

A dark lantern is a candle lantern with a sliding shutter so that it may conveniently be made dark without extinguishing the candle (archaically, dark lanthorn).

The divinity which hedges a detective (p. 265)

appropriated from Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Act 4:

What is the cause, Laertes,
That thy rebellion looks so giant-like?—
Let him go, Gertrude. Do not fear our person.
There’s such divinity doth hedge a king
That treason can but peep to what it would,
Acts little of his will.—Tell me, Laertes,
Why thou art thus incensed.—Let him go, Gertrude.

Copy the whole thing out in copper-plate (p. 268)

Copperplate is a style of calligraphic writing that uses a pointed steel nib or quill to produce a style of lettering characterized by both thick and thin strokes. Charteris means that he would have to write out the magazine in a classic style which will disguise their natural handwriting.

Gas had been cut off (p. 269)

back in the day, gas lights were used instead of electric lamps

member of board school (p. 269)

a school managed by a board elected by local ratepayers

passes the realm of the merely impudent and soars into the boundless empyrean of pure cheek (p. 269)

from Ambrose Bierce’s “Cobwebs from an empty Skull”:


“I say, you!” bawled a fat ox in a stall to a lusty young ass who was braying outside; “the like of that is not in good taste!”

“In whose good taste, my adipose censor?” inquired the ass, not too respectfully.

“Why—h’m—ah! I mean it does not suit me. You ought to bellow.”

“May I inquire how it happens to be any of your business whether I bellow or bray, or do both—or neither?”

“I cannot tell you,” answered the critic, shaking his head despondingly; “I do not at all understand it. I can only say that I have been accustomed to censure all discourse that differs from my own.”

“Exactly,” said the ass; “you have sought to make an art of impertinence by mistaking preferences for principles. In ‘taste’ you have invented a word incapable of definition, to denote an idea impossible of expression; and by employing in connection therewith the words ‘good’ and ‘bad,’ you indicate a merely subjective process in terms of an objective quality. Such presumption transcends the limit of the merely impudent, and passes into the boundless empyrean of pure cheek!”

At the close of this remarkable harangue, the bovine critic was at a loss for language to express his disapproval. So he said the speech was in bad taste.