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.

The Mating Season was originally annotated by John Dawson (aka Sir Jasper Addleton). The notes have been reformatted and slightly extended by Neil Midkiff [NM] and others, but credit goes to John for his original efforts, even while we bear the blame for errors of fact or interpretation.

The Mating Season was published in the UK by Herbert Jenkins Ltd. on 9 September 1949 (left) and in the USA by Didier (right) on 29 November 1949. The two versions are very similar, with a few substituted names and the usual transatlantic changes in spelling and punctuation. A condensed version was published as a single-issue supplement to the Toronto Star Weekly of 12 November 1949.



In his scholarly work, A WODEHOUSE HANDBOOK [Popgood & Groolley, London, 2006], Norman Murphy quotes Alan Judd in a 1997 review from the Daily Telegraph: “Every generation . . . is doomed to be a sort of secret society, with special thoughts and interests which, like passwords, are well known to its contemporaries but cannot be communicated to its descendants.” Murphy continues: “Very many of Wodehouse’s references and quotations were topical, and the first readers of his books appreciated them more than we do today. He worked for over seventy years and his stories reflect the background, social standards, and events of his time.” Murphy’s point about first readers of the books appreciating the topical references more so than a reader of today is well taken. Wodehouse referred to real people and events of his day and used vernacular terms that were well-known when he wrote them, but which have today faded from the language due to disuse and have since been relegated to the dustbin of obscurity. But his remarkable gifts of prose and timeless context allow readers of any age and time to know why he’s said something and to understand what he meant by it, even though we may not grasp the specific reference he is using. We gloss over the pages, relishing in the story, the characters, the language and the humor, and we don’t have to look up what all these obscure references may mean because his meanings and intent usually come through very clearly.

Still, there is a need to annotate Wodehouse’s work for the benefit of those who are curious today, and even more so for those who will come in the future. Many words and phrases that Wodehouse used that we understand today may well be forgotten by the time our great-grandchildren pick up a copy of The Mating Season — which, my guess is, will still be in print somewhere. His use of “Beatle, Beatle and Beatle of Liverpool” from 1966 is entirely clear to us today — but will it be to the 2066 reader — any more than the songs and singers of Wodehouse’s own day he wrote about?

For these reasons, I decided to depart from the usual practice of Wodehouse annotators and to aim for a comprehensive inclusion of all of the vernacular terms and other Wodehouse references in the book, rather than limit it to quotations and antiquated references which is the usual custom. Thus, you will find words and phrases that are well-known to you — but may not be so well-known to generations to come. These are the reasons why this annotation of The Mating Season is so lengthy. In essence, I’m writing it for not only a reader of today, but also a reader of many years hence.

For the man who always gave Bertie the mot juste, it is only fitting that Wodehouse’s language is exact, to the slightest nuance. When he used a word, an adage, a quotation, a reference, an allusion, a bit of vernacular, whether he fractured a figure of speech or mangled a metaphor, he himself always found the mot juste. He wrote, rewrote, edited and polished; and as he wished to be remembered — he did take care. By writing this annotation, I hope that others can more fully appreciate the depth of his talents.


—John Dawson, April 2007


A few notes:

1. I’ve used the Herbert Jenkins first edition of The Mating Season, published September 9, 1949.

2. In addition to the well known and oft-used quotations from Shakespeare, Tennyson, scripture, etc., which are well-documented elsewhere, I’ve also included, where I feel it appropriate, other quotations from both expected and unexpected sources. Some of these are unquestionably the exact source; others may or may not be, but in any event serve to illustrate and explain their context in Wodehouse’s world. I don’t claim that each citation I’ve given is the one Wodehouse had in mind — only that they could have been something he read at one time and used.

3. Some of the quotes and songs have been abridged or Anglicized for brevity and clarity; the aim has been to make the precise meaning clear.

4. There are too many sources to credit each of them. But foremost, I’ve referred to Norman Murphy’s books for a starting point and inspiration. When I’ve quoted from them, I’ve appended a [NTPM] at the end. Other PGW scholars are credited when quoted. Many of the simple definitions come from the Random House Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary, Second ed., 2001 or the OED. Dates in square brackets indicate the earliest known uses of these terms. Special thanks to Terry Mordue, [TM] that Gentleman of Leisure, who has helped extricate me from some fiendish, glutinous mysteries. I also appreciate the inmates at the Yahoo! Blandings discussion group, who will be the first to tell you that they are a completely lovable, if potty, group of fanatics. I’ve had more than a few questions answered for me in their forum.

5. This work, as far as I care, can be freely photocopied, reproduced, quoted, or, if need be, used to line the parrot’s cage. Nobody needs my permission to use it. It cannot, however, be used for monetary gain or sold. Some of the material contained herein is under assuredly under copyright by various entities, and unless you want to get a stern letter from somebody’s lawyer, please heed this warning. It’s for the private, non-commercial use of Wodehouse readers.

6. I don’t claim perfection, only progress. I did my best, and I’m under no illusions that this is in any way a final, complete or authoritative reference. I’m certain that sharp-eyed Wodehousians will spot many things they wish to comment on, clarify, correct and set the record straight on. I welcome corrections, clarifications, stinkers, advice, or whatever you want to say, and I will keep my upper lip stiff throughout.


Chapter 1


(the heart as actually) leaden

Dull, spiritless or gloomy, as in mood or thought; “My heart is leaden and hopeless...” Thomas Wolfe (1900–1938)

do my bit of time

colloquially, to serve a prison sentence [NM]

Deverill Hall

When Wodehouse entered Dulwich in 1894, his parents were in Hong Kong and his ‘home address’ was given as Cheney Court, Box, Wiltshire; Cheney Court is still there, a (Jacobean) picturesque seventeenth-century manor Wodehouse’s boyhood, it was the home of his maternal grandmother and her four unmarried daughters...the memory of the five ladies stayed with Wodehouse a long time, which is why, in The Mating Season, Bertie Wooster’s heart sinks when he learns he is to stay at Deverill Hall, a house infested by no less than five aunts. And it needs little imagination to work out that the five ladies were given the name Deverill because of the five small hamlets in the valley below Cheney Court: Brixton Deverill, Monkton Deverill, Kingston Deverill, Longbridge Deverill and Hill Deverill [NTPM]. Wiltshire is a county in southern England.


cheerfulness, liveliness, gaiety [1830–40]


poured, as in wine [1625–35]

Aunt Agatha

Bertie’s Aunt Agatha, the “human snapping turtle who has savaged Bertie incessantly from childhood up, kills rats with her teeth, devours her young, eats broken bottles, and turns into a werewolf at the time of the full moon. Tall and thin, about 5′9″ topped off with a beaky nose, an eagle eye, and a lot of gray hair, looks rather like a vulture in the Gobi desert.” [Daniel Garrison, Who’s Who in Wodehouse (1989)]. In January 1955, PGW wrote: “Aunt Agatha is definitely my Aunt Mary [Mary Deane (1845–1940)] who was the scourge of my childhood.” [NTPM]

one of our most prominent fiends in human shape

“Oh! that fiend in human shape, next to her, knew human—female—nature well. He had played upon her feelings as a skilful musician plays upon an instrument.” [The Scarlet Pimpernel (1903) by Baroness Emmuska Orczy (1865–1947)]

The phrase can be traced as far back as 1839, in a discussion of Goethe’s Faust, describing Mephistopheles in those words. [NM]


More profitable, appealing, interesting, satisfying, or substantive. [1925–30]

take a pop

To attempt something; to take a shot at (pop—Br. Slang, to shoot a firearm)

to focus the silver lining

See look for the silver lining in the notes to Bill the Conqueror.

People’s Choice

The popular choice, by acclamation; the expression of the electorate; “The hind (a female deer) briefly disdained to enlarge on the power of Kings, and their superior charge, as heavens trustees; the Peoples choice Though sure the panther did not much rejoice to hear those echoes given of her once loyal voice” John Dryden (1631–1700) The Hind and The Panther (An allegory wherein the hind is the Catholic church, the panther the Anglican church)


Herbert Sebastian Agar (1897–1980), American journalist, won the Pulitzer Prize in 1934 for his book The People’s Choice, a critical look at the American presidency.

half a jiffy

See Leave It to Psmith.

haven’t the foggiest

Blurred or obscured as if by fog; not clear, vague, e.g. “I haven’t the foggiest notion.” [1520–30] A knut locution.

pan(s) out

To turn out, especially successfully.


a swift movement [1540–1550]

off the mark

to begin from the starting line, as in a race


energy, vigor, animation


piquancy, animation, spirit


spirited, courageous [1655–65]


a horse of a kind suitable to be ridden in battle [1475–85]

into its routine

going into action, i.e. battle


explanatory or documenting note or comment at the bottom of a page referring to a specific part of the text on the page [1835–45]

Old Vic(s)

The Old Vic, founded 1818, is one of the oldest theatres in London, famous throughout the English speaking world; it has long specialized in Shakespeare’s works.


Classical abbreviation for Hampshire, used in postal addresses. Derives from Old English Hantescire as used in the Domesday Book. [NM]

village concert

A rural entertainment consisting of performances of songs and music, etc., put on by local inhabitants, often in aid of the local church. Traditional in England from the 1800s and before.

touch...with a ten-foot pole

In the sense of not wanting to get involved or having strong distaste for something, [Late 19th century] e.g. “It’s dangerous or disagreeable, and I intend to avoid it.” This expression may have been suggested by the 10-foot poles that river boatmen used to pole their boats along in shallow water.

young Thos

See Thank You, Jeeves.

the shape of things to come

What will happen; H. G. Wells’ 1933 book The Shape of Things to Come prophesied war in the air and atom bombs. [NTPM]

Gussie Fink-Nottle

We meet this fish-faced newt-fancier in Right Ho, Jeeves (1934) and continue his saga in The Code of the Woosters (1938). [NM]

Den of the Secret Nine

A fictional hideout of mysterious criminals; reflecting the popular books (Faceless Fiends, et al.) written by Edgar Wallace (1875–1932) and the mystery thriller genre as a whole [NTPM]. PGW repeatedly employs the upper case for comedic emphasis, as though in a book title or a name of a statue, etc.

Anthony Scerbo thinks it likely that Wodehouse was alluding to the Nine Unknown Men in Talbot Mundy’s 1923 novel The Nine Unknown.

(to) keep the upper lip stiff

To face misfortune bravely and resolutely; to suppress the display of any emotion. A trembling of the upper lip is a sign of fear or emotion which can be prevented by a deliberate attempt to stiffen it, to make it rigid. [early 1800s]

Haddock’s Headache Hokies

PGW invented many patent remedies through the years. The name seems influenced by hokey: [1815–25] obviously contrived, and hokum: out-and-out nonsense, bunkum. Other PGW nostrums include Old Doctor Gordon’s Bile Magnesia, Park’s Pepsinine, Perkin’s Digestine, Pringle’s Pink Pills, Prosser’s Pep Pills, Reduc-O, Slimmo, Scalpo, etc.

(Jeeves’s) pick-me-ups

Throughout the Wooster/Jeeves novels and stories, beginning with the 1916 story “Jeeves Takes Charge,” Jeeves’s hangover remedy (the complete recipe is never given) contains Worcester sauce, red pepper, and a raw egg (other ingredients, including brandy, are suggested). Drinking the potion has marked effects, such as “if somebody had touched off a bomb inside the old bean...”


Fr., misalliance, an improper or incompatible association, esp. in marriage [1730–40]

a very old county family...impoverished

World War I spelled the end for the ways of many of England’s oldest country houses and castles. Death, expenses and hard times fell upon the heirs; PGW addresses this topic in at least ten other novels, with the heir or owner trying to sell a large house or struggling to maintain upkeep on it. [NTPM]

There’s gold in them thar Hokies...

“There’s gold in them thar hills,” from the California and Alaska Gold Rush days of the 1840s and 1890s. [NTPM]

chew(ing) the fat

To converse at length in a relaxed manner; chat. The expression has its origins from the days of 19th century sailing ships. Because of the problem inherent in preserving food for a long journey, food was most often salted so that it would not spoil. One special food liked by sailors then was salted beef or pork. With the scarcity of food aboard ship, every scrap was eaten and relished, even the skin. The skin was given to the crew, and they would chew on the tough skin, especially the fatty portions. Presumably, conversation took place as they ate.

a bit of goose

something occurring, perhaps unexpectedly, that enriches, energizes, strengthens, or the like; a surprise bonus

gravel soil

See Summer Lightning.


Widow [1525–35] from Lat. reliquare, to relinquish

it is not aunts that matter but the courage which one brings to them

“It isn’t life that matters, it’s the courage you bring to it.” Hugh Walpole (1884–1941)

I wonder, by the way, if you recall this Augustus

See above. The US first edition has an extraneous (and erroneous) opening double quotation mark at the start of this paragraph.

shrink(s) (from the prospect)

to be fearful of; to shy away from

goofy to the gills

See Carry On, Jeeves.

The Larches, Wimbledon Common

From its setting adjacent to a large open space in southwest London, we can deduce that this is a desirable residence and that Madeline’s friend Hilda Gudgeon is wealthy. Other prosperous inhabitants of the neighborhood include Ukridge’s Aunt Julia in several stories; Sinclair Hammond (in Bill the Conqueror); Bobbie Wickham’s Aunt Rhoda, Sampson Broadhurst and Dudley Finch (in “Dudley Is Back to Normal”); Lord Tilbury (in Frozen Assets/Biffen’s Millions); Mrs. Wilberforce or Willoughby Gudgeon (in “Joy Bells for Barmy” and “The Right Approach”); Hilda Gudgeon (in The Mating Season); and Mr. & Mrs. Bingo Little in the later stories, after Bingo inherits from an uncle. [NM]


hair fashioned into a ball or knob on the top of the head [1680–90]

woman whom God forgot

Possibly from a 1920 film The Wife Whom God Forgot, written by Lew Wallace (1827–1905), released in England as Tangled Hearts (the title of a PGW story in Nothing Serious, PGW’s next book following The Mating Season). Wallace, a lawyer, soldier, diplomat, and author (Ben Hur, 1880), had dealings with several of PGW’s theater acquaintances, Abe Erlanger and the Shubert brothers among them. It’s said that a meeting with the agnostic Robert Ingersoll (see Chapter Seven) inspired Wallace to write Ben-Hur. There is also a Robert W. Service (1874–1958) poem entitled “The Land God Forgot.” PGW quoted Service often (see Chapters Three and Twenty-One).


becoming wed, i.e., walking down the aisle toward the altar

pronounced sentence

Bertie likens the clergyman’s proclamation of marriage to a judge’s announcement of a term of imprisonment. [NM]

laughing Love God

Apparently a PGW creation (?), Wodehouse used this locution in several other books, most notably The Girl on the Boat/Three Men and a Maid (1922), in which he pictures a silent movie caption reading:

and so, calm and golden, the days went by,
each fraught with hope and youth and sweetness,
linking two young hearts in silken fetters
forged by the laughing love-god

[Clearly a reference to Cupid/Eros, often depicted as laughing. One earlier use of the phrase can now be found in Google Books: —NM]

Nelly’s smiling! Nelly’s smiling!
 The laughing love-god in her eye,—
All my former will beguiling,
 Never was such dupe as I!

“Nelly’s Smiling” in Fire-Side Melodies (1859) by Sylvan (Samuel Hobbs).

sweating away at the old stand

“Still doing business at the old stand” was a popular phrase at bookmaker’s stands at race courses to advertise reliability and stability. [NTPM]

with knobs on

an expression of emphasis, similar to “with bells on” or “in spades.” The OED defines it as a jocular slang phrase meaning “that and more,” indicating ironic or emphatic agreement, or in retort to an insult. [TM] The phrase probably originated from highly decorated houses or pieces of furniture in the Victorian era (c.1840–c.1900) that emphasized the owner’s wealth. If one homeowner built a house with some degree or ornamentation, his neighbor, not to be outdone, would add more elaborate decoration to his own, including, for example, knobs on the top of fence posts. [NTPM]

someone waits without

Well! Well—Anselmo waits without for me; I do remember he waits without!”

Eva, or the Error (1840) by Lady Emmaline Stuart-Wortley

King Lear

Shakespeare’s tragedy [1603–1606] of the ruler of Britain

Mr. Pirbright … old Catsmeat

Bertie’s old school friend, now a light-comedy actor and a member of the Drones Club, is first recalled in Thank You, Jeeves and Right Ho, Jeeves; in these and other previous accounts his surname is given as Potter-Pirbright. The simpler form of the surname is used for all his family members in the present book. [NM]

his sister … Corky

Corky appears only in the present book. [NM]

Chapter 2


bubbly, effervescent, lively [1850–55]


Br. slang; a person, usually one who is odd or has some peculiarity


energy, vitality, enthusiasm or sex appeal [1935–40]


Fr., mischief, frolicsomeness.

three squares

A square meal is a nourishing or filling meal [1830–40]

sock and buskin

The distinguishing mark of actors in ancient Rome. The buskin was a high-heeled, platform shoe which gave the actor presence and was worn with long socks. [NTPM]

knockabout Pat and Mike cross-talk act(s)

were enormously popular in the USA and UK from about 1870 to the 1930s. They were a staple of the vaudeville/Music Hall scene and audiences reveled in the appalling puns and jokes and the slapstick comedy. They relied heavily on mocking national characteristics and jokes about Cockneys, Scots, and Irishmen in the UK, and of Irish, Dutch, Germans, and Jews in the US. [NTPM/NM]

Groucho Marx

(1890–1977) and the Marx Brothers, vaudeville and film troupe, known for their anarchic comedy; Groucho was particularly known for smart-aleck or wise comments and retorts.

His brow was sicklied o’er

And thus the native hue of resolution
Is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought...

Shakespeare’s Hamlet, III, i: the “to be or not to be” soliloquy

Russian drama

PGW frequently parodies Russian literature as overly gloomy:

Vladimir specialized in grey studies of hopeless misery, where nothing happened till page three hundred and eighty, when the moujik decided to commit suicide.

“The Unexpected Clicking of Cuthbert” (1921)


Common Br. 19th century term for a person, usually a man; Good egg, bad egg, etc. [NTPM]

Book of Revelation(s)

The last book of the New Testament; also called the Apocalypse; features plagues, famine, a violent earthquake; the sun turns black, the moon turns red, stars fall from the sky, the sky disappears, corpses lie in the street, and there are dragons, beasts, and fiery pools.


eager, interested, enthusiastic [1930–35]

Farmer Giles

The only reference I can find is “Farmer Giles of Ham,” (1949) by J.R.R. Tolkien (1892–1973); a medieval fantasy in short story form set in Great Britain.

[PGW and Tolkien were both drawing on nineteenth-century children’s fiction such as this tale of kindness to animals; by the turn of the century political essayists were using the name as a stand-in for rural citizens. —NM]


avocation, area of interest, hobby


a rustic, country bumpkin [1805–1815]

Yeoman’s Wedding Song

A song popular in England in late 19th and early 20th century, written by Josef Poniatowski (1816–1873) and Maria X. Hayes in 1871. [The sheet music can be found online at this link. —NM]

“Yeoman” has several definitions: a) a farmer who cultivates his own land; b) one of a class of lesser freeholders, below the gentry, who cultivated their own land, early admitted in England to political rights; c) a servant, attendant, or subordinate official in a royal or other great household; d) a subordinate of a sheriff or other official in a craft or trade. From 1919’s A Damsel in Distress up to Bachelors Anonymous in 1973, PGW’s characters often mention the song when a wedding is in the air:

Ding dong, ding dong, ding dong,
I love the song,
For it is my wedding morning,
And the bride so gay in fine array,
For the day will be now adorning.

Tho’ I’ve little wealth but sov’reign health,
And am only a yeoman free,
When heart joins hand, there’s none in the land
Can be richer in joys than we.

Ding dong, ding dong, we’ll gallop along,
All fears and doubting scorning.
Through the valley we’ll haste, for we’ve no time to waste,
As this is my wedding morning.

brass hat(s)

A high-ranking military officer (referring to the gold braid on officers’ caps) [1890–95]

shot wasn’t on the board

“Shot on the board” refers to the betting odds in horse-racing, as, for example: “—— had not raced in nearly a year. He was the longest shot on the board at odds of 27–1.” PGW uses the phrase to mean that something is not going to happen.

tote board

An mechanical or electronic board, usually in the infield of a track, which posts the odds, amount of money bet, results of a race and the wagering pay-offs.


Here’s the only reasonable reference I can find:

It’s the Chateau de la Caze, usually called the Castle of the Nymphs, for instead of one, eight beautiful nymphs lived in it. But their beauty was their undoing. I don’t quite know why they were called ‘nymphs,’ for nymphs had gone out of fashion when they reigned here as Queens of Beauty, in the sixteenth century. But perhaps in those days to call a girl a ‘nymph’ was to pay her a compliment. It wouldn’t be now, when chaps criticize the ‘nymphery’ if they go to a dance! Anyhow, these eight sisters were renowned for their loveliness, and all the unmarried gentlemen of France—according to the story—as well as foreign knights, came to pay court to them. The unfortunate thing was, when the cavaliers saw the eight girls together, they were all so frightfully pretty. It wasn’t possible to choose between them, so the poor gentlemen fought over their rival charms, and were either killed or went away unable to make up their minds. The sad end was, if you’ll believe me, that all the eight maidens died unmarried, martyrs to their own incomparable charms.

From The Motor Maid (1910), by Alice Muriel Williamson (1869–1933).

[Wodehouse used the term only one other time, for the quality of being nymph-like, in Ice in the Bedroom (1961). —NM]

little ball of worsted

Literally, woollen yarn wound in a ball, as for knitting; figuratively, a cute object of adoration. One wonders if the use of yarn balls as playthings for cats influenced this figurative sense. [NM]

(whisky and) splash

soda water, especially as dispensed from a soda syphon, which squirts carbonated water into one’s glass using the pressure of the carbon dioxide gas in the top of the bottle. [NM]


The remainder of something; the rest, the dregs [1665–75]

touch the spot

slake the thirst for an (usually) alcoholic drink; from a 1903 patent medicine advertisement [NTPM]

(down the) hatch

the throat; originally a nautical expression; ships have ‘hatches’ rather than doors; when provisioning or loading a ship, you would put supplies including barrels of liquid (water/rum/ale) ‘down the hatch’ into the hold (main storage area below decks). “Down the hatch” is commonly said before swallowing intoxicants.

West End stuff

In this case, the “real thing”: West End theatre is a popular term for mainstream professional theatre in London as opposed to amateur summer stock. [Parallel to “Broadway” in American theatrical parlance —NM].


Truncation of “punch line,” the climatic phrase or sentence in a joke or story that produces the desired effect [1920–25]


to resist, object, or complain

semi-detached villa

A residence which shares one wall with an adjoining residence; the equivalent American term would be half of a duplex house. The UK text continues “called Balmoral” (named after the UK royal family’s Scottish castle); in the US book the nurse’s villa is unnamed. [NM]


Br. slang meaning “damned” [before 1100]
[A milder substitute for the stronger adjective “bloody” as in swearing “by God’s blood.” —NM]

wiser counsels prevailed

A decision was amended on second thought; better advice was taken; the phrase has a long history.

reign of Queen Elizabeth [I]

1558–1603 — Catsmeat is exaggerating the age of the aunts by about three hundred fifty years. [At the time of writing, the present Queen Elizabeth II was still a princess. —NM]


slang for head, usually used disparagingly; probably originated during WWI

sixty quid a week

Quid—one pound sterling; sixty quid would equate to about $221 in 1949 dollars [or about £2000 or $2500 in 2017. —NM]

doing down

getting the better of, cheating, swindling [1900–1905] [NM]

income tax

For many years, PGW had multiple ongoing problems with both UK and US tax authorities, and several of his characters, notably Tom Travers in the Bertie/Jeeves books, complained about taxes. PGW’s essay Thoughts on the Income Tax was published in London’s Daily Mail in 1929 and reprinted in Louder and Funnier (1932).

the bird

To receive a poor reception from an audience, to be hissed at (as by a goose); dates to the 1500s [NTPM]

no dice

A refusal to accept a proposition; US, early 20th century. Gambling with dice was illegal in many states and so gamblers went to some pains to hide the dice when challenged by the police. Courts would sometimes throw out cases if the dice weren’t offered in evidence. There are several court records where gamblers were alleged to have swallowed dice to avoid arrest. The Texas newspaper The Port Arthur Daily News, April 1921, contains the first reference I can find to ‘no dice’ with the ‘nothing doing’ meaning: “It’s ‘no dice’ when the bones can’t be found, according to a local court decision. Six men arrested Tuesday by Officer W. D. Moore and charged with gaming with dice. ‘Did you see them shooting dice?’ queried the city attorney. ‘No, I did not see the dice.’ said the officer. The men were acquitted.”

chain gang

a group of hardened convicts chained together, usually when working outside [1825–35]

something not quenching something

“Oh Captain Shaw, type of true love kept under!
Could thy brigade with cold cascade quench my great love, I wonder!”

Gilbert and Sullivan’s Iolanthe (1882) [NTPM]

the plot...was about to thicken

about to become more complex or layered:

“The plot thickens,” he said, as I entered; “I have just had an answer to my American telegram.”

A Study in Scarlet (1886) by Arthur Conan Doyle (1859–1930)

A classic melodramatic cliché; also the name of a 1936 film. [Wodehouse’s novel Pearls, Girls and Monty Bodkin (1972) was published in America as The Plot that Thickened (1973). —NM]


A fiendish person [before 900]

rally round

to draw or call persons to come together for a common action or effort

clench(ed) teeth

To speak through clenched teeth is to utter something tersely.

Home Wrecker

One who, usually by romantic liaison with a spouse, is responsible for the breakup of a marriage; PGW uses capitalization here to parody sensational newspaper headlines of the day, as in “Hatchet Fiend Slays Six”.

raw work

brutally harsh or unfair machinations

a Greek god (in appearance)

A young, exceptionally handsome man. Probably refers to Adonis, a youth slain by Zeus but permitted to pass four months of every year in the lower world with Persephone, and four with Aphrodite. I guess he rested up the rest of the time.

the rush of a lifetime

rush: to heap attention on, to court intensively

flitting and sipping butterfly

A gigolo, one who romances many women; the simile refers to a butterfly extracting nectar or pollen from many flowers.

See The Code of the Woosters.


An irritating or exasperating person. A gumboil is a painful abscess on the gum, originating in an infection in the pulp of a tooth.

pure womanhood

Victorian euphemism for virginity

South American Joe

A derogatory term for Latin lovers in 1930s films who pressed their unwanted attentions on the heroine. They were distinguished by their Latin accents, heavily greased hair, thin moustaches, and smooth talk. [NTPM]
[Also the title of a 1935 popular song by Cliff Friend and Irving Caesar, recorded by Harry Roy and his orchestra and by Bert Ambrose and his orchestra. The lyric of the Harry Roy version begins “Look out for your wife, look out for your girl.” —NM]

press one’s suit

to woo or court a woman

Lovers’ Leap

A high area overlooking the sea, as on a cliff, from which frustrated or grieving lovers jump or are reputed to have jumped to their deaths; a clichéd trysting point for lovers in Gothic literature; the promontory from which Sappho (620–565 B.C.), a poetess who flourished in a very early age of Greek literature, threw herself into the sea is now called Santa Maura; Sappho was passionately in love with a beautiful youth named Phaon, and failing to obtain a return of affection, she threw herself from the cliffs of Leucadia into the sea, under a superstition that those who should take that “Lover’s-leap,” would, if not destroyed, be cured of their love.

if a man you’ve been at private school...with

In Plum Sauce, Richard Usborne discusses the “Code of the Woosters” (the Code, not the book), and says one of its two main commandments (the other being “Thou shalt not scorn a woman’s love”) is: “ ‘Thou shalt not let down a pal’; Bertie has a genuinely kind heart...he really is made happier when he can do a good turn for a friend...” Throughout the canon, old school friends of Bertie’s are continually reminding him, when asking for favors (usually outrageous ones), that they were at school together, which, under the heading of noblesse oblige (another part of the Code), requires that Bertie acquiesce, no matter the difficulty, legality, or potential for embarrassment he might face:

“Bertie! You wouldn’t let down a pal?"
“Yes, I would.”
“But we were at school together, Bertie.”
“I don’t care.”
“The old school, Bertie, the old school!”
“Oh well, dash it!”


British interjection, a colloquial form of cheerful assent; “Right you are!” is a similar expression [1895–1900]

on the spot

the very place in question

working like a beaver

(busy as a) beaver: to work very hard or industriously

off my feed

Reluctant to eat, as an animal; without appetite, due to being ill or not feeling well

mug’s game

A foolish, useless, or ill-advised venture, fit for a mug — a gullible person, dupe, or fool [1905–10]

poulet rôti au cresson

Literally, roasted chicken with watercress

a rag and a bone and a hank of hair

A fool there was and he made his prayer
(Even as you and I!)
To a rag and a bone and a hank of hair
(We called her the woman who did not care)
But the fool he called her his lady fair—
(Even as you and I!)

Rudyard Kipling (1865–1936), The Vampire (1897)

dark thoughts may be diverted

Thy soul shall find itself alone,
’Mid dark thoughts of the grey tomb-stone...

Edgar Allan Poe (1809–1849), Spirits of the Dead (1827)

a spot (of dinner)

Br. informal, a small quantity of anything

Heaven bless you

“Heaven bless you, my child,” said she, embracing Amelia, and scowling the while over the girl’s shoulder at Miss Sharp.

Vanity Fair (1847) by William Thackery (1811–1863)

what the morrow was to bring forth

Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring forth

Proverbs 27:1

Chapter 3


cop (it)

to catch, to get something distasteful [1695–1705]

quiet evenfall

Evenfall is the twilight.

Alas for her that met me,
That heard me softly call,
Came glimmering thro’ the laurels
At the quiet evenfall...

Maud (Part II) (1855) by Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809–1892)


English reform school for juvenile offenders founded in 1900

a song on my lips

“So give me a strong right arm for a wrong’s swift righting;
Stave of a song on my lips as my sword is smiting;
Death in my boots may-be, but fighting, fighting”

The Song of the Soldier Born by Robert Service (1874–1958)


state, condition of being well-knit, all right [1300–50]

bung(ed him in his train)

bung: Br. slang, to throw or shove carelessly or violently [1815–25]

Queen’s Club

London athletic club founded in 1886 by Lord Desborough


racquetball. Desborough also founded the Bath Club, PGW’s source for Bertie’s famous swing across the ropes over and into the pool in faultless evening dress. [NTPM]

God wasn’t in His heaven and all right with the world

Morning’s at seven; the hillside’s dew-pearled;
The lark’s on the wing; the snail’s on the thorn;
God’s in his heaven—all’s right with the world.

Robert Browning (1812–1889), Pippa Passes (1841)

bitter awakening

A week of delightful dreaming followed, and then came a bitter awakening. One evening Diana found Anne in the porch gable, with suspicious-looking eyes. On the table lay a long envelope and a crumpled manuscript.

Anne of the Island (sequel to 1908’s Anne of Green Gables) by Lucy Maud Montgomery (1874–1942)

stuffed eelskin

A leather tube containing sand or shot, used by Victorian villains to stun their victims.
[Equivalent to a blackjack or cosh. —NM]


to beat hard, punish severely;


the back part of the head or skull

Quorn or the Pytchley

Leicestershire is generally considered to be the birth place of “fox hunting on a modern system,” and Hugo Meynell (1753–1800) who lived at Quorn, near Loughborough was known as “the father of fox hunting.” By the mid 1800s the fashionable “Shire” packs of fox hounds including the Quorn, Cottesmore, Pytchley, and Belvoir were firmly established, and influenced other hunts.

fussy man

The King sobbed, “Oh deary me!”
And went back to bed.
He whimpered,
“Could call me
A fussy man;
I only want
A little bit
Of butter for
My bread!”

A. A. Milne (1882–1956) “The King’s Breakfast” (1924)

Boris Karloff

stage name of William Henry Pratt (1887–1969), British actor famous for work in horror movies, most notably as Frankenstein’s monster (1931); PGW knew Karloff during his time in Hollywood.

took the eye

so attractive as to cause notice; to draw or attract attention

Gertrude Lawrence

(1898–1952) English comedy actress—triumphed in the Wodehouse/Bolton/Gershwin musical Oh, Kay (1926). Guy Bolton said of her: “She had everything; she could play sophisticated comedy, low comedy, sing every possible type of song, and she looked enchanting.”


slang, the face [c.1900]

Hedy Lamarr

stage name of Hedwig Kiesler (1914–2000), Austrian-born American film star, once called “the most beautiful woman in films.”

Sam Goldwyn

(1879–1974), U.S. movie producer, originally Samuel Gelbfisz or Goldfish. Norman Murphy devotes two pages to him in A Wodehouse Handbook. He hired PGW in 1930 as a screenwriter, and PGW’s Hollywood experiences are captured in a number of stories and articles. In 1936, Goldwyn’s studio MGM filmed Piccadilly Jim, adapted from PGW’s 1918 novel. Murphy believes that Goldwyn was a source for PGW’s fictional movie mogul Jacob Schnellenhamer, who appeared or was mentioned in six stories.

[McCrum’s biography is wrong on this point. Wodehouse’s time at MGM did not coincide with Sam Goldwyn; in fact, Samuel Goldwyn was ousted from Goldwyn Pictures in 1922, two years before the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer merger. Goldwyn headed his own independent production company, Samuel Goldwyn Productions, from 1923 through 1959, and Wodehouse never worked there. —NM]

Battersea Home

Battersea Dogs and Cats Home, founded in 1862 in London and still active as an animal shelter


Cockney catchphrase from around 1895, became slang for “goodbye” in 1920 and is also used as a greeting


a stupid person, a dolt [1695–1705]

apple of her eye

Something or someone very dear: “He kept him as the apple of his eye” [Deuteronomy 32:10], and in Shakespeare: “Flower of this purple dye, hit with Cupid’s archery, sink in apple of his eye,” [A Midsummer Night’s Dream]. Recorded examples can be found in the works of King Alfred (849–899) at the end of the ninth century.


Custom for characters who had gained a monopoly or renown in some field, as in Titan, Czar, etc.

of the Underworld

the criminal element of society [NTPM]

The Shadow

One of the most famous of the fictional pulp heroes of the 1930s and 1940s, created by Walter B. Gibson (1897–1985). Best regarded for the radio years, 1931–1954, during which Orson Welles, among others, played the character. Even after decades, the unmistakable introduction from The Shadow, intoned by announcer John Archer, has earned a place in the American lexicon: “Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows!”


a coin worth six pennies. [1/40 of the pound before decimalization. In early 1949, US equivalent would have been about ten cents. (Coincidentally, nine days after the publication of the UK first edition, Sir Stafford Cripps devalued the pound to $2.80 US.) Approximate equivalent in 2017 would be £0.83 or $1.05. —NM]


Persons who always express agreement with those who have authority over them [1910–15]
[In Wodehouse’s Hollywood stories, he elaborates their ranks, describing senior Yes-men, Vice-Yessers, junior Yes-men, and mere Nodders. —NM]

drawing pin

Chiefly Br., a thumbtack

force majeure

Fr., in law, an unexpected and disruptive event that may operate to excuse a party from a contract; a superior or overwhelming force


Fr., mixture [1645–55]


Br. slang, uncomplimentary, a policeman [1890–95]

(mass of) contusion(s)

An injury, as from a blow with a blunt instrument, in which the subsurface is injured but the skin is not broken; a bruise.

Both Sir Henry and Good were a mass of contusions, and I was by no means free.

H. Rider Haggard (1856–1925), King Solomon’s Mines (1885)

alabaster purity

Alabaster is a white, translucent variety of high-purity gypsum used for ornamental objects or work, such as lamp bases, figurines, etc. Towards the end of the eighteenth century British artists in particular represented their female sitters with pale, white skin which invited the viewer to attribute to the woman portrayed profound and pure internal virtues. The phrase became a clichéd metaphor for “virtuous womanhood” as popularized in American dime novels of the early 20th century:

Her feet are clad in dainty slippers and her shirt opens to reveal a breast of alabaster purity.

Charles W. Webber (1819–1856) Deadwood Dick on Deck; or, Calamity Jane, The Heroine of Whoop-Up. A Story of Dakota (1878)


A bluebottle is a type of large fly that feeds by using its long tentacles to ensnare small crustaceans, perhaps thus leading to the adaptation of the Cockney term as slang for a policeman.

thorn in the flesh

And because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger from Satan to buffet me...

2 Corinthians 12:7

Bertie’s Prize for Scripture Knowledge

In the Bertie/Jeeves stories and novels, Bertie mentions as one of his achievements in life the winning of a Scripture Knowledge prize at his preparatory school. J. S. Morris, in Thank You, Wodehouse, says

It is quite true that...Bertie does parade his knowledge of the Bible and especially the Old Testament. He knows that Mrs. Lot was turned into a pillar of salt, and why; that there was writing on the wall at Belshazzar’s feast (a gag he thought had been worked with mirrors); that Job had boils, and Nabob a vineyard; that manna descended from the skies of the children of Israel in the wilderness; that Daniel entered the lion’s den, and Shadrach, Mesach and Abednego the burning fiery furnace; that Jonah had a whale, and Balaam an ass which was inclined to enter nolle prosequis, dig its feet in, and refuse to play ball; that Jezebel was eaten by dogs, and that deaf adder stopped its ears and would not hear the voice of the charmer. He has heard of Hittites, Hivites and Jebusites; of the parable of the talents of the prodigal son; and of Samson and Delilah, but not what they did to each other. He knows that Jael, the wife of Heber, dug spikes into the guest’s coconut while he was asleep.

Jonah and the Whale

And the Lord appointed a great fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was in the stomach of the fish three days and three nights...Then the Lord commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah up onto the dry land.

Jonah 2

...where Cain got his wife

“And Cain knew his wife, and she conceived, and bare Enoch.” [Genesis 4:17] The question asked by atheists is that up to then, no daughters have been mentioned, so where could Cain have gotten his wife?


to uphold, follow closely, or conform to

to the line

a course of action, procedure, or thought; see two items below, Let the chips fall where they may


Br., a term of endearment for a girl or a child. [Also Phyllis Mills’s pet name for her dachshund in Jeeves in the Offing/How Right You Are, Jeeves. —NM]

Let the chips fall where they may

“Never mind the consequences — speak your mind or do what you think must be done.” 14th-century proverb: “Hew not too high lest the chips fall in thine eye.” The term alludes to chopping wood and is usually joined to a statement that one should do what is right (that is, the woodcutter should pay attention to the main task of cutting logs and not worry about small chips). [Late 1800s] Roscoe Conkling, a political boss and U.S. Senator from New York, said in a speech in 1880, “He [President Grant] will hew to the line of right, let the chips fall where they may.”

God Save the King

The National Anthem and Royal Anthem of the United Kingdom, traditionally played as the closing number of events such as this village concert

in-and-out running

Horse racing term, also known as reversal of form; the form is the recent performance history of a horse, included in race books in an effort to help punters (bettors) select the horse most likely to win. Reversal of form refers to a horse in a race who performs so differently from previous races as to cast suspicions that the horse has been held back in previous races so as to raise the odds against him in a subsequent race, thus allowing gamblers with inside knowledge to benefit unfairly. Rules prohibit this activity: “The trainer of a horse shall ensure that such horse does not run in a inconsistent manner (also referred to as ‘reversal of form’ and ‘in-and-out running’).”

...the inexplicable in-and-out running of horses....if horses never ran in and out, where would be ‘the glorious uncertainty of the sport?’...Why, gents all, which of us wouldn’t do it, if he had the chance to put the pot on handsome, human nature being what it is, especially considering the lowness of the market odds as you have often to be content with.

Old Friends: Essays in Epistolary Parody (1890) by Andrew Lang (1844–1912)

hadn’t, as it were, done right by our Nell

“Nell” is a classic heroine’s name from Victorian melodrama; “hasn’t done right by” alludes to breaking a woman’s heart, trifling with her affections, having dishonest intentions, deserting her, etc. Charles Dickens’ The Old Curiosity Shop (1840) is the perfect example of Victorian melodrama, the story of Little Nell, a beautiful and virtuous young girl who lives with her grandfather in his shop of curiosities. He Ain’t Done Right by our Nell (1919) was an early silent animated film featuring the comic strip characters Mutt and Jeff; it was produced by Pathé Exchange, which also produced the 1920 film The Prince and Betty, from the 1912 PGW book of the same name. In 1940, the musical comedy Panama Hattie (Cole Porter/Herbert Fields/B. G. De Sylva) featuring the song “They Ain’t Done wrong by our Nell” opened on Broadway, starring Ethel Merman (1908–1984) and Arthur Treacher (1894–1975), both of whom performed in PGW-related properties.


A lover of many women; Giacomo de Seigalt (1725–98), adventurer and libertine, whose autobiography Memoires delighted and shocked many readers. [NTPM]

cast...aside like a worn-out glove

His heart was sore to breaking-point; he was sick with longing, and deep, angry wonder that he, of all men, should be cast aside like a worn-out glove.

John Galsworthy (1867–1933), from The Country House (1907)

she came clean

to have admitted to deceit or wrongdoing; told the truth

what eases the soul is confession

The maxim “Confession is good for the soul” has been around for centuries.

spilling the inside truth

divulging or disclosing the true facts; to come clean

Little Lord Fauntleroy

The character of an angelic child with ringlets appeared in 1885, from a story written by Mrs. Hodgson Burnett; his suit was of velvet with a lace collar (said to be based on her meeting with Oscar Wilde in 1882). [NTPM]


fastening devices for securing the hands or feet [before 1000]

(to) put (one’s) foot down

to take a firm stand; be decisive or determined

chew the carpet

to lose emotional control; to throw a tantrum


smelled bad


a thin, plain cotton or linen fabric of fine close weave, usually white.

There, there little woman

A condescending, unwieldy attempt by a man to comfort; Victorian origin; “There, there, little woman! Light of my eyes and core of my heart! If you don’t stop this pretty soon, I very much fear I shall be compelled to join you...”

Opening line from Elsie’s Kith and Kin by Martha Finley (1828–1909) one of the popular series of Elsie Dinsmore books. Finley was born in Chillicothe, Ohio, the hometown for little Joey Cooley in Laughing Gas.

Coolness of the feet

Cold feet: A loss or lack of courage or confidence; an onset of uncertainty or fear [1890–95] Cold feet as a synonym for “timid” seems to date from the late 19th century, but its exact origin is uncertain. Experts suspect the phrase might have something to do with the military, and that “to get cold feet” originally referred to soldiers who exempted themselves from battle by complaining that their feet were frozen.

Another possibility dates back to the 17th century, when “to have cold feet” meant “to have no money,” referring to someone being so poor as to lack shoes. The transition from the “no money” sense to the modern “timid” sense of “cold feet” may be found in an 1862

German novel in which a card player withdraws from a game claiming that he has “cold feet” (i.e., no money), when in fact he has merely lost his nerve. “To get cold feet,” goes the theory, then eventually came to mean backing out of any risky situation, whatever excuse was given.


Br. slang, crazy or eccentric. [1805–15]


Associated with decay or dampness

Three-volume novel

The three-volume novel (three-decker) was a development of the modern Western novel as a form, being a standard form of publishing for British fiction during the nineteenth century. In a time when books were relatively expensive to print and bind, publishing longer works had a particular relationship to a reading public who borrowed books from commercial circulating libraries: a novel divided into three parts could create a demand (Part I whetting an appetite for Parts II and III); the income from Part I could pay for the printing costs of the later parts; and the librarian had three volumes earning their keep, rather than one. The particular style of mid-Victorian fiction, of a complicated plot reaching resolution by distribution of marriage partners and property in the final pages, was well adapted to the form.

The county

The upper-class or titled inhabitants of a county, particularly in rural areas.


Family coat of arms; To soil or blot the escutcheon is to bring dishonor on the family by one’s actions [1470–80]

Scarlet Woman

“So he carried me away in the spirit into the wilderness: and I saw a woman sit upon a scarlet coloured beast, full of names of blasphemy, having seven heads and ten horns. And the woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet color, and decked with gold and precious stones and pearls, having a golden cup in her hand full of abominations and filthiness of her fornication: The great whore... the mother of harlots and abominations of the earth” [Revelation 17:3–5]

also: Nathaniel Hawhorne’s (1804–1864) gothic romance The Scarlet Letter (1850) perpetuated the association of the word “scarlet” as descriptive of a woman of loose morals.

Hidden depths

Emotional profundity that is not obvious or apparent

Ewe lamb

“But the poor man had nothing, save one little ewe lamb, which he had bought and nourished up: and it grew up together with him, and with his children; it did eat of his own meat, and drank of his own cup, and lay in his bosom, and was unto him as a daughter.” [2 Samuel 12:3]

Abandoned hope

Dante’s (1265–1331) Divine Comedy (1306); the inscription on the gates of hell: “Before me things create were none, save things Eternal; and eternal I endure. All hope abandon ye who enter here”

Pity and Terror

“A tragedy is the imitation of an action that is serious, and also, as having magnitude, complete in itself...with incidents arousing pity and terror” Aristotle (384–322 B.C.)



Death rattle of a hundred expiring hyenas

This one has proven to be elusive—after searching exhaustively, I can’t find anything even remotely close to it. I first thought it was something from Shakespeare, then thought perhaps Kipling—but still no dice.

Annotator par excellence Terry Mordue is baffled as well. I am certain, though, that it is not a PGW invention—it just doesn’t scan—and someday someone will find it.

Diego Seguí notes that it does look like a quotation, but in his opinion it is only one in a series of similes for sounds. He adds some context:

“like a death-rattle” alone:

His first action was to remove his hand from Miss Blossom’s hair with a swiftness which he could scarcely have excelled had that hair been as red hot as it looked; his second to utter a careless laugh. Finding, however, that this was coming out more like a death-rattle than the jolly guffaw for which he had intended it, he switched it off in its early stages and a silence fell upon the state-room.

The Luck of the Bodkins ch. 12 (1935)

“I laughed lightly. At least, I tried to. As a matter of fact, the thing came out more like a death rattle.”

Joy in the Morning ch. 8 (1947)

Horror made her words come out in a dry whisper, preceded by an odd, crackling sound which it would have taken a very sharp-eared medical man to distinguish from a death rattle.

Spring Fever ch. 23 (1948)

“Oh, hullo, Mrs. Lehman,” he said, and hoped that the words had not sounded like a death-rattle.

Barmy in Wonderland (1952)

“How did that sound, Jeeves?”
“Barely adequate, m’lord.”
“More like a death rattle?”
“Yes, m’lord.”

Ring for Jeeves ch. 4 (1953)

She emerged from the kitchen as he opened the front door, and he greeted her with a “Hullo, Ma” which he hoped did not sound too much like a death rattle.

The sound that had escaped him had been more like a death rattle.

A Pelican at Blandings ch. 6, ch. 13.4 (1969)

“like the death-rattle of...”:

“Bertie,” he said in a hollow voice, skidding on the fourth crotchet from the left as you enter the second bar and producing a distressing sound like the death-rattle of a sand-eel, “I’ve seen her!”

“Fixing It for Freddie” (Carry On, Jeeves, 1925)

“Have you ever met him?” asked Mr. Gedge, speaking in a thin, faint voice like the death-rattle of one of the smaller infusoria.

Hot Water ch. 12 (1932)

Lord Emsworth emitted a low, gargling sound, like the death rattle of that dying duck to which his sister had compared him.

“The Crime Wave at Blandings” (1937)

Old Bassett, who had gone into a coma again, came out of it and uttered a sound like the death-rattle of a dying duck.

The Code of the Woosters ch. 9 (1938)


It should be emphasized here that dying duck does not refer to an actual bird, but an inflatable rubber toy, similar to the Dying Rooster in Uneasy Money:

The man permitted the dying rooster to die noisily.
“Buy a dying rooster, gov’nor,” he advised. “Causes great fun and laughter.”

Norman Murphy, in A Wodehouse Handbook, compared this to a Whoopie cushion, designed to make a humorous noise as it deflates. Edmund Crispin, in The Glimpses of the Moon (1977), describes a similar cheap toy, the Dying Pig:

“You know the thing I mean, of course: it’s a sort of small balloon which you blow up with a view to letting the air out and producing, by means of an ingenious device in the neck, one of the most hideous and realistic bubbling screams you ever heard.”


Another class of dying sounds parallel to those listed above:

Pongo uttered a curious hissing sound like the death-rattle of a soda-water syphon.

Uncle Dynamite (1948)

I heard Madeline utter a sound like a dying soda-water syphon.

Stiff Upper Lip, Jeeves, ch. 23 (1963)

It was a sensational announcement, and it caused Sandy, the weaker vessel, to give a gasp that reminded Gally of the death rattle of an expiring soda syphon.

Galahad at Blandings ch. 11.3 (1965)

So intense was his righteous wrath that he could not speak, merely standing there making a noise like the death rattle of an expiring soda syphon, and Mr. Trout proceeded.

Bachelors Anonymous ch. 11 (1973)

Splitting the welkin

The welkin is a chiefly literary reference to the sky, “the vault of heaven” [before 900] “A prolonged and piercing yell of wind split the welkin from end to end” Manalive (1912) G. K. Chesterton (1874–1936) [TM]

What price the word

...What is the value of your promise? The locution “what price” is used to question someone’s motives or to infer impropriety of one’s actions

Hopeless desolation

Melodramatic Victorian cliché; “A confused, indescribable sense of utter loneliness, and yet awful presence, was upon me, mingled with a dreary, hopeless desolation, as of burnt-out love and aimless life.” The Portent and Other Stories (1909) by George Macdonald (1824–1905)


Staring with open or wide-bulging eyes [1350–1400]

Lover’s tiff

A slight or petty quarrel between two romantic partners

Heavy sister

A variant on the term “heavy father,” the form in which it is usually found in literary and dramatic analysis. See Money for Nothing. [Thanks to Peter Stanford for suggesting this note.]

Comparing its blues...

Limehouse Blues [Furber/Braham] was introduced in Andre Charlot’s Review of 1924 by Gertrude Lawrence:

“Oh, Limehouse kid, Oh, oh, Limehouse kid,
goin’ the way that the rest of them did
Poor broken blossom and nobody’s child,
haunting and taunting, you’re just kind of wild
Oh, Limehouse blues I’ve the real Limehouse blues,
Can’t seem to shake off those real China blues,
Rings on your fingers and tears for your crown,
that is the story of old Chinatown”


Arrested; mid 16th century slang, (in the sense of holding one painfully)

Without the option (of a fine)

A jail sentence, usually coupled with some strong remarks from the bench; PGW used the phrase as a title for a 1925 story in The Saturday Evening Post.

Lovers meeting at journey’s end

“Journeys end in lovers meeting, Every wise man’s son doth know” Shakespeare, from Twelfth Night


a tray used for serving food or beverages

Chapter 4

Malvern House, Bramley-on-Sea

Bertie’s preparatory school (and Wodehouse’s) located at Kearnsey, just outside Dover; According to Murphy: “Bramley-on-Sea (fictional) is the same place as Bingley-on-Sea. One or other occurs in [several of PGW’s stories and books]. All are resorts on England’s south coast. Although there is no Bramley or Bingley on the south coast of Britain, all we need to to call out all the south coast resorts beginning with B, and there answer is obvious: Bexhill-on-Sea.


U.S. slang, chiefly derogatory; having a round, flat face or a blank expression; stupid [1910–15]


a term of imprisonment

Sir Philip Sidney

(1554–1586) Poet, courtier and soldier, one of the Elizabethan Age’s most prominent figures. During the Battle of Zutphen in 1586, assisting the Dutch against the Spaniards, he was shot in the thigh and died twenty-six days later at the age of 31. According to the story, while lying wounded he gave his water-bottle to another wounded soldier, saying, “Thy need is greater than mine.”


prison; probably based on the Romany, or Gypsy, word “stariben,” often shortened to “star,” meaning “prison."


Of great importance, as in being worthy to be printed on the front page of a newspaper

Get (one’s) goat

Idiom, c.1900; to anger, annoy, or frustrate a person. According to H. L. Mencken (1880–1956) this phrase is from American horse racing. Trainers would put a goat in a racehorse’s stall to calm it and keep it company; if the goat was removed, (someone got the horse’s goat) the horse would likely become agitated and perform poorly.

Ack emma

AM; from the phonetic alphabet used by radio signalers in the First World War [NTPM]

Alfred Duff Cooper

(1890–1954) England’s Minister of Information, forced the BBC to allow a broadcast condemning Wodehouse for his wartime broadcasts from Germany. [NTPM] I expect this dig caused some head-scratching in Herbert Jenkins’ legal department.

Skipping like the high hills

“Why hop ye so, ye high hills?” [Psalms 68:16] [NTPM]

also “The voice of my beloved! Behold, he cometh leaping upon the mountains, skipping upon the hills.” Song of Solomon, 2.88 [TM]


to disclose one’s thoughts, feelings, etc. to another person; to confide one’s private affairs [1580–90]

In re

Lt., in the matter of

Bandy(ing a woman’s name)

To exchange, to toss to and fro, as in this case details concerning a woman’s reputation. Strictly against the code.


The word for which Bertie is groping is “synopsis.”

The thing started at Brinkley Court

See Right Ho, Jeeves (1934)

Stick (one’s neck out)

Colloquialism from the early 1900s, to take a risk or expose oneself to danger; e.g. by inviting the hangman to slip on the noose or alluding to a chicken extending its neck before being slaughtered.


Fr., an informal preliminary conference


A stupid, foolish or stubborn person

(...that had made) peril lurk

Melodramatic cliché; “By the wayside of the greedy doth peril lurk.” The Story of Sigurd the Volsung by William Morris (1834–1896)

Hand him his hat

To dismiss someone, to end a relationship

Gussie...presented the prizes

See Right Ho, Jeeves (1934)


Removed, as a horse from the race before the event

Purer, loftier spirit

"I may say that I understand boys, and I feel that he is a rare, a fine, a pure, a lofty spirit. I say spirit, for spirit is the word I hear spoken of him.” Penrod (1914) by Booth Tarkington (1869–1946)


Jail, prison; Middle English, jugge


slang, familiar with or informed about (1900–05)

Bum’s rush

A forcible and swift ejection from a place; a rude or abrupt dismissal

The Voice That Breathed O’er Eden

Hymn often associated with 19th century weddings; w. John Keble (1857) “The voice that breathed o’er Eden! That earliest wedding-day, The primal marriage blessing, It hath not passed away... As Eve thou gav’st to Adam, Out of his own pierced side Be present, gracious Saviour, To join their loving hands, As thou didst bind two natures In thine eternal bands” etc.


Bertie was middle-named Wilberforce, according to Aunt Agatha in Much Obliged Jeeves (1971), because the “day after his christening his father won a packet on an outsider of that name in the Grand National”


something or someone wonderful; an excellent or remarkable thing; A pippin is a seedling apple of good quality

Pin-up (girl)

A photograph of a pretty or sexually attractive young woman [1940–45]


A tricky or concealed drawback to a situation


Br. term of derision for a person whose manners, dress, bearing or some other personal characteristic are so out of the ordinary as to invite ridicule.


Overripe, mushy, as a fruit;


overly sentimental, mawkish

Christopher Robin and Winnie-the-Pooh °

Fictional children’s characters created by A. A. Milne (1882–1956), based on Milne’s son and his stuffed toy bear. Milne and Wodehouse, once friends, had a falling out over Milne’s comments on Wodehouse’s war broadcasts; subsequently, Wodehouse parodied Milne’s writing.

Ask the man who has

Colloquialism referring to an expert in some field


blame or punishment, as for a crime; take the rap (beating) [1300–50]

What can you do except marry her?

Part of Bertie’s code is that it is impermissible to spurn a girl who has said she will marry him

Number fourteen hat

Bertie is grossly exaggerating here — the average man’s hat size is 7¼; In The Code of the Woosters (Chapter 12) Jeeves tells Bertie his hat size is 8.

Eats tons of fish

Bertie attributes Jeeves’ intelligence to his consumption of fish. An old wives tale, now being proven true by studies indicating that the fatty acid (DHA) in certain kinds of fish improve one’s powers of reasoning. [NTPM]

Moves in a mysterious way his wonders to perform

“God moves in a mysterious way, his wonders to perform; He plants his footsteps in the sea, and rides upon the storm” William Cowper (1731–1800) Olney Hymns 33.

As intelligent as dammit

As can be

Knitting the brow

To contract the forehead into folds or wrinkles; to worry

Leper colony

a remote outpost for the exile of the so-afflicted; a leper can also refer to a person who has been rejected or ostracized for unacceptable behavior, opinions, character, or the like

A hollow, mirthless laugh

A rueful or forced laugh; “The man laughed—a hollow, mirthless laugh. A Spinner in the Sun (1906) Myrtle Reed (1874–1911));

also: “Laugh!” He snapped, and the guests laughed—hollow, mirthless laughs.” Lost on Venus (1935) Edgar Rice Burroughs (1875–1950)

See also A Damsel in Distress for more Wodehousean usages.

No...a thousand times no

Classic demurral by a Victorian melodrama heroine, resisting the advances of the villain, paid tribute to in a song sung by Betty Boop in a 1935 cartoon:

“She was a child of the valley, an innocent maiden was she He was a desperate Desmond who owned all the town property He would pursue her through hills and through dells, but she was wise to his game Each time he threatened ‘You’ll wed me or else’ These were the words she’d exclaim ‘No! No! A thousand times no! You cannot buy my caress! No! No! A thousand times no! I’d rather die than say yes’"

Shuddering horror

“Thus roving on in confused march forlorn, th’ adventurous bands, With shuddering horror pale, and eyes aghast, viewed first their lamentable lot, and found no rest.” John Milton (1608–1674) Paradise Lost (1642?] a dose of salts

Happen rapidly; a “dose of salts” is a quick-acting laxative.



Smiling, the boy fell dead

This is the last line of Robert Browning’s poem “Incident of the French Camp” (1842):

The chief’s eye flash’d; but presently
 Soften’d itself, as sheathes
A film the mother-eagle’s eye
 When her bruis’d eaglet breathes;
“You’re wounded!” “Nay,” the soldier’s pride
 Touch’d to the quick, he said:
“I’m kill’d, Sire!” And his chief beside,
 Smiling the boy fell dead.

A Broadway musical by David Baker and Sheldon Harnick (1961) and a novel by Michael Delving (1966) have the same title, but both are later than The Mating Season. [Note by Diego Seguí]


Theatrical stage direction for unspoken movement or action, either to advance the story line or to occupy the characters

Tired Nature’s sweet restorer

“Tired nature’s sweet restorer, balmy sleep! He, like the world, his ready visit pays where fortune smiles; the wretched he forsakes.” Night Thoughts Edward Young (1683–1765)

(And you said a) mouthful

A spoken remark of great truth, relevance, effectiveness.

Road Company Number Four

A road company is a theatrical group that tours cities and towns, usually performing a single play that is or has been a success in New York or London; multiple companies e.g., Numbers one, two, three, etc., are designated in order of the size of the cities they play as well as the strength of the cast; thus, a number four road company would play the smallest of towns.

We shall meet at Philippi

“Then, with your will, go on; We’ll along ourselves and meet them at Philippi”. Shakespeare, Julius Caesar; Near Philippi was fought the battle in 42 B.C. which resulted in the victory of Antony and Octavian over Brutus and Cassius, the assassins of Julius Caesar.

Nolle prosequi

Lt: do not prosecute (1675–85) In law, it is used to indicate that one of the parties in a case does not intend to proceed—in other words, to drop the case. As used repeatedly by Bertie throughout the Bertie/Jeeves stories and books, it means “I am not willing.” Bertie issues “nolle prosequis” when presented with propositions he at first disdains to do (e.g., favors for friends or aunts that involve putting him in dangerous or embarrassing positions) but that he usually, through appeals to his sense of noblesse oblige, or threats of blackmail, does; A firm “nolle prosequi” by Bertie is a harbinger that he will soon be doing the thing he has just declined to do.

Marcus Aurelius

(Antoninus Augustus) (121–180] Roman Emperor from 161 to his death. He is considered one of the most important stoic philosophers. While on campaign between 170 and 180, Aurelius wrote his Meditations as a source for his own guidance and self-improvement. Meditations is revered as a literary monument to a government of service and duty.

Lazar house

A house for diseased persons, especially lepers (from Lazarus, a sore-ridden beggar in the parable of the rich man [Luke19–31] [TM]


Chapter 5

Arab steed

The Arabian horse is traced to the arid, desert region in the Arabian Peninsula, a harsh environment in which the basics of life, food and water, were scarce, and existence was challenged in the extreme; Both “horse” and “steed” denote the same animal, but “steed” has a different connotation, deriving from the chivalrous or romantic narratives in which the word was once often used: “My beautiful! My beautiful! That standest meekly by, with thy proudly-arched and glossy neck, and dark and fiery eye! Fret not to roam the desert now with all thy winged speed.” The Arab’s Farewell to His Steed, Caroline Elizabeth Sarah Norton (1808–77]



Childe Roland to the Dark Tower came

“The knights who to the Dark Tower’s search addressed their steps, that just to fail as they seemed best; and all the doubt was now should I be fit?” Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came (1855) Robert Browning (1812–1889)

also: “Child Rowland to the dark tower came, His word was still ‘Fie, foh, and fum, I smell the blood of a British man.” Shakespeare, King Lear

Early Victorian vintage

The Victorian period was 1855–80; so in 1949, the oldest Aunt could have been 94.

Tudor architecture

Architectural style in England (1485–1558) that made lavish use of half-timbering, as well as oriels, gables, decorative brickwork, and rich plasterwork

Sixteen stone

224 pounds


Fr. Idler, dawdler, drifter


The animals of a given region or period considered as a whole.

Shoot (one’s) cuffs

to tug one’s shirt cuffs below those of one’s coat

Gooseberry eyes

“On our arrival in London, Mr. Bruff was accosted at the terminus by a small boy, dressed in a jacket and trousers of threadbare black cloth, and personally remarkable in virtue of the extraordinary prominence of his eyes. They projected so far, and they rolled about so loosely, that you wondered uneasily why they remained in their sockets. They call the poor little wretch “Gooseberry” at the office."

The Moonstone (1868) by Wilkie Collins (1824–1889)

South London dog

South London (known colloquially as ‘South of the River’) is the area of London south of the River Thames. It is less densely built-up and has more open public spaces and parks than the north but is perhaps better known for its high-crime rates. Londoners tend to consider themselves as belonging to one or the other side of the city. Some South Londoners complain that people from North London look down on and ignore them and their region. Supposedly, South Londoners returning from a night out in the West End will be unable to find a cab driver willing to accept their fare, the stock response being “Sorry mate, I don’t go south of the river"

First crack out of the box

Joining of two similar locutions; “first crack” meaning “first attempt,” and “right out of the box” meaning “from the beginning.”

Using a fish fork for the entrée

A social faux pas (to use the wrong fork at a formal dinner)


A foolish, stupid, or inept person; in the 1900s, when PGW would have heard (the term) in New York, it mean a tough guy, synonymous with bozo. It came to mean a young woman in the 1920s. PGW always applies the term to a man. [NTPM]

Crack beneath the strain

To suffer a mental or emotional breakdown as a result of a difficult situation or crisis

Rising on stepping-stones

“Truth with him who sings to one clear harp in divers tones that men may rise on stepping stones of their dead selves to higher things.” Tennyson, In Memoriam [NTPM]

Slings and arrows of outrageous fortune

“To be or not to be, that is the question—

“Whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or to take arms against a sea of troubles, and by opposing, end them.” Shakespeare, from Hamlet

In there swinging

Sports metaphor meaning in the game, in the match e.g., boxing

Slap (on top of that)

Directly, straight, smack [1625–35]

Everything went blank

To be dumbfounded, to lose one’s normal thought processes, as a result of a sudden emotional trauma

Feeling like a tramp cyclist

The Oxford Companion to the American Theater cites a “tramp cyclist act”: “He would wander on stage downtrodden and lugubrious, forlornly trying to fix a cuff that would not stay put. Soon he would discover a bicycle which he would ride...until piece by piece it fell apart.” [NTPM] Bertie’s self-consciousness alludes to his dress; tramps in circuses and entertainments wear exaggerated clothing with large mended patches, holes, oversize shoes, etc.

Bolt (my rations)

To swallow one’s food or drink hurriedly




British slang, a look or a glance [1890–95]; Indian origin

Surging sea of aunts

“A ruddy drop of manly blood, the surging sea outweighs; the world uncertain comes and goes, the lover rooted stays.” Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803–1882)

Shakespeare would have liked her

Reference to the soliloquies (an utterance or discourse by a person who is talking to himself or herself, or is disregardful or oblivious to any hearers present, often used as a device in drama to disclose a character’s innermost thoughts) abundant in Shakespeare

Drink(ing) her in

To take in through the senses, esp. with eagerness and pleasure.

A touch of Wallace Beery in her makeup

(1880–1949) US film actor called “The Lovable Slob;” He was a huge, solid hunk of man with a “face like a giant fist.” Beery’s rough-hewn features led to his casting as gruff characters and villains; best known for his portrayal of Long John Silver in Treasure Island (1934).

(She) had what it takes

Something that enables one to achieve success or attain a desired end, as good looks, ability, or money:

In an old garden on twilight evenings

“They lingered in the old garden until twilight, sweet as dusk in Eden must have been, crept over it.” From Anne of the Island (1915) by Lucy Maud Montgomery (1874–1942)

Under the ether

Spellbound, captivated; Ether is a liquid chemical compound once used as an inhalant anesthetic to cause one to lose consciousness preparatory to undergoing surgery; “Under the ether” means that one is oblivious to normal outside influences, and cannot rationally and objectively distinguish what he or she would otherwise due to their obsession with a person or thing; hypnotized


Any slight or initial support, influence, advantage, progress, or the like.


A person who is offensive to others because of stupidity, coarseness, etc. [1930–35]

Spitting blood

Idiom, enraged or impassioned

Dumb brick

a thick-headed or obtuse person (thick as a brick).

Trappist Monk

A member of the Cistercian order, whose members traditionally lived in isolated or remote enclaves and were reputed to have taken a vow of silence.

A cold hand seemed to clutch at my heart

Melodramatic hyperbole

Gadarene swine

“And they came to the other side of the sea, into the country of the Gadarenes...Now there was a big herd of swine feeding there on the mountain...and the demons entreated Him, saying ‘Send us into the swine so that we may enter them’; and coming out, the unclean spirits entered the swine, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the sea, and they were drowned in the sea.” Mark 5:1–13

Within a toucher

Nearly; as in close enough to touch

Hand in my portfolio

To resign, quit


A woman in charge of a private school;


To ridicule or criticize severely or mercilessly;

the pants off him

to the extreme

How sharper than the serpents tooth

“How sharper than a serpents tooth it is, to have a thankless child.” Shakespeare, King Lear


Br. slang, a cheap cigarette

Boat Race Night

“Gentlemen. If you ever find yourself in England on Boat Race night there are some things which it is absolutely necessary that you understand, if you mean to survive. Boat Race night is that night of nights when Oxford rows against Cambridge.

What is important is the adherence to certain cultural protocols. For example, you must be well dressed. If your tailor is anything other than special you may as well not annoy the ancient day with your presence. Once you have succeeded in adding to the beauty of the landscape, you must find yourself a couple of equally well dressed chaps and plunge out in search of one of those most blessed merchants who deal strictly in the wines and spirits. You must be merry. As the psalmist said, “the wines must meet your heart and make it glad.” However, there is a line you must not cross. Yes, you must be somewhat floating in potent fluid, but you cannot impair your mental or physical abilities. You need to be able to walk, and more importantly . . . run. Now remember, this is still before the actual race. You will have ample time to imbibe after the race as well, so pace yourselves. If you drink too much before, then you will have to turn down drinks afterward. I recommend drinking to that perfect equilibrium, where one decides to eschew the consequences and knuckle down to spreading sweetness and light. You now attend the race. Yell and holler until your throat needs a second moistening, and then unaware of the victor, return to the beverages. Here you will remain until the most boat-raced member of your party announces that the time has come to meet the lesser magistrate. It is important that you have removed all means of identification from your person before this phase. It is also crucial that you not be arrested for disturbing the peace just yet, so attempt to restrain yourself from enacting the Barber of Seville for the time being. As I suspect this is your rookie Boat Race, you will be called upon by the others as the first to enact the most ancient and honored tradition the island kingdom has to offer.

You will be told to pinch a policeman’s helmet. Now some might have ethical qualms about such a deed. Put these aside, if the alcohol has not already done it for you, and move on like a man. If policemen didn’t want their helmets stolen, then why, I ask you, would they wear them on Boat Race night? Bear in mind that the policemen enjoy it in much the same way foxes probably enjoy being hunted. Approach the policeman from the rear. You will of course have to rob whatever policeman the boys have selected but remember that the bigger he is the slower he probably is. The smallish ones can be a bit tricky because they are generally able to run one down after the removal of the helmet.

Do your best to disappear. This of course means that you must stop laughing. Even the morning dew has trouble disappearing on those spring mornings when it’s forever giggling. After assuming a position to the rear of your quarry, and in that last moment of truth, remember above all things not to simply grab the helmet and pull straight back. In such a case the policeman comes with it. This is utter failure. One must always pinch the helmet and never the policeman. If you were to steal a policeman, what on earth could you ever do with him? As for the helmet, when successfully purloined, it will be an heirloom of your family’s for generations to come. So remember, thrust forward on the helmet first, for this disengages the strap from the chin, and then pull back. At this point you run away. But as is normally the case, you will more likely find yourself in a cell for the rest of the night and standing before the local magistrate in the morning. When in the courtroom remember what name you gave the constable when you checked into the facilities the night before. I suggest that you have a name in readiness before the day begins so you are less likely to make one up off the cuff and forget it in the morning. You must now plead guilty as charged and settle for whatever the magistrate imposes. Some will settle for a mere reprimand which is quite reasonable for a night’s entertainment, accommodation, and breakfast in the morning. A most unreasonable fellow will send you up the river for three days, or soak you for five pounds. Upon exiting the courtroom, you are a free man. You may return from whence you came with one Boat Race beneath your belt, now part of a history that runs all the way back to Brude, King of the Picts. Stand tall. [Nathan Wilson (portions excised for brevity)]

Strip-tease dancer and the performing flea

Irish dramatist Sean O’Casey once called PGW “English Literature’s performing flea.” Not one to take insults seriously, Wodehouse said afterward that he believed O’Casey meant it to be complimentary, “for all the performing fleas I have met have impressed me with their sterling artistry and their indefinable something which makes a good trouper.” [NTPM] PGW called his 1953 book Performing Flea. Alas, Bertie never tells the joke. Bertie teases with the stockbroker and the chorus girl in “Bertie Changes His Mind” (1922) but he doesn’t tell that one, either.


Fr. Tale, story

Horse’s laugh

A loud, coarse laugh, especially of derision

Lay an egg

Theatrical term meaning to fail wretchedly in front of an audience; to bomb; also, in the game of cricket, if a batsman gets out without scoring any runs, he is said to be out for a duck . The origin of this term is unclear, but commonly rumored to be because the ‘0’ next to his name on the scorecard resembles a duck egg, thus he has “laid an egg.”

Browsing and sluicing

To browse is to eat, nibble at, or feed on foliage, as in grazing in a pasture; Sluicing refers to the movement of water; here, to mean drinking.

Chapter 6

Rose gardens

Known in the PGW world as a dangerous trysting place, particularly in the moonlight; once the girl gets the fellow alone in the Rose Garden, it’s all over but the wedding


A fellow, especially a big, strong stupid one [1915–20]

One of those faces... which are known as Byronic

After the poet Lord Byron (1788–1824). “He is like a solitary peak, all access to which is cut off not more by elevation than distance. His mood reminds us of the fabled Titans... taking up ordinary men and things in their hands with haughty indifference. He exists not by sympathy, but by antipathy.

He scorns all things, even himself. Nature must come to him to sit for her picture: he does not go to her. There is no ease, no unaffected simplicity of manner, no golden mien. All is strained, or petulant in the extreme.” William Hazlitt (1778–1830) English critic, on Lord Byron. In Chapter 19, Bertie refers to Byron as “A gloomy sort of bird, taking things the hard way.”

All-in wrestler

All-in is a type of wrestling without restrictions, with virtually every type of hold permitted.


A residential and academic district of London. Artists, writers and students living there have given it a reputation as an intellectual center. The membership of the Bloomsbury group — active from ca. 1904–1939 — is generally taken to include Lytton Strachey, Virginia Woolf, Leonard Woolf, E. M. Forster, Vita Sackville-West, Roger Fry, Clive Bell, and John Maynard Keynes.

Crawling (to his aunts)

To behave in a remorseful, abject, apologetic or cringing manner

(Facing the toughest aunt and making her) say Uncle

To concede defeat; a delicious Wodehousian pun

Carbon paper

Thin, flimsy paper faced with a preparation of carbon or some other material used between two sheets of plain paper in order to reproduce on the lower sheet that which is written or typed on the upper. [1875–80]


a sufficient amount of liquor to cause intoxication [1860–65]


a town in southeast England

These are the times that try men’s souls

“These are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph.” English-born US statesman Thomas Paine (1737–1809) from The American Crisis, no. 1 (1776)

(My soul is on the) rack

An archaic instrument of torture consisting of a framework on which a victim was tied, often spread eagled by the wrists and ankles, to be slowly stretched by spreading the parts of the framework

Accept the rough with the smooth

Adage meaning that one has to be prepared to accept the disadvantages as well as the advantages of something


Greatly liberal, lavish, magnificent


A refusal to talk or listen to someone; abrupt or final dismissal or rebuff


fair play, honorable conduct


person who has withdrawn from normal, rational behavior and activities to pursue one interest or obsession;

of the first water

the highest quality, highest rank

Knock(ed) me down with a feather

An expression of utter surprise, probably from the German”I am so tired and exhausted that it only takes a feather to knock me down.”

Twin souls

Persons who have a strong affinity for each other; soul mates [1815–25]


To brush off: Eroo: a suffix that creates familiar, usually jocular variations of semantically more neutral nouns; e.g., smackaroo, switcheroo


A star that shows the way, something that serves as a guide or on which attention is fixed [1325–75]

Handed me my papers

Same as handed me my hat


Br. Informal; happy, elated, pleasantly encouraged [1905–10]


From jammy: Br. informal, Very lucky, pleasant, easy, desirable [1850–55]

Cheering me to the echo

Applauding or showing appreciation for a performance for an extended period, long after the last note or word has been spoken or played

Like a breeze

To win or accomplish effortlessly

Divine fire

inspiration, creativity; a “lightning bolt from heaven”


That part of a song following the introduction and preceding the chorus


Empty or foolish talk [1815–25]

Bring(s) home the bacon

To accomplish a task; to be successful or victorious; to earn a living sufficient to support oneself or others

Hullo hullo hullo hullo

...a hunting we will go: Traditional hunting song, now thought to have been written by Henry Fielding (1707–54] though five more with the same title were published between 1911 and 1937 [NTPM]

I’m going to telephone my baby things

Bertie is undoubtedly thinking of this one:

“I’ve got a little baby but she’s out of sight, I talk to her across the telephone; I’se never seen my honey but she’s mine, all right; So take my tip and leave this gal alone; Ev’ry single morning you will hear me yell, Hey Central! Fix me u along the line; He connects me with ma honey, then I rings the bell, and this is what I say to baby mine: Hello! Ma baby, Hello! Ma Honey, Hello! Ma ragtime gal, Send me a kiss by wire, baby, my hearts on fire! If you refuse me, Honey you’ll lose me, then you’ll be left alone; Oh baby, telephone, and tell me I’se your own!” Hello Ma Baby (1899) by Howard and Emerson

Pom Pom

Nonsense syllables to indicate beats or musical accompaniment to a song

On the night

Theatrical term referring to the first performance, as in opening night


A sign of expression of dislike or derision; a loud, abrasive spluttering noise made with the lips and tongue to express contempt [1615–25]; known as a Bronx cheer in America


Br. Slang, a contemptible, worthless person; a scoundrel or rascal [1815–25]


Cockney term from 1860s, to make rude noises, to jeer or deride. [NTPM]

Make a noise like tearing calico

I can’t find the origin of this phrase, or an exact definition, only the following references: “The machine-guns make a noise like a giant tearing calico... but the Bugatti was the sports model, a racer which made a noise often compared to that of tearing calico, or a mainsail splitting in a gale....from the most powerful fortissimo when you feel that the whole orchestra can erupt when it wishes to and the effect is so strong, it’s like tearing calico...the owls night cry is described as a noise like tearing calico... The Sabre sound was said to resemble the noise of tearing calico (i.e. a ripping buzz). .the voice came over the sea, a voice like the clamour of a hundred gulls, thin, rending, fierce as the sound of tearing calico...shouting in their fury, emitting a sound “like the tearing of calico,” they begin to laugh ... four days into her journey, at 11:40 P.M. on the night of April 14, she struck an iceberg. Her fireman compared the sound of the impact to “the tearing of calico, nothing more."


a place overgrown with bushes, bramble or cane

and thorn

a wood of spiny trees; “Soon the throng of the forest heard the horn of the boat; then they started up from the brake and thorn; and hastening away by the light of the morn, they fled from cavern and moat.” From Victor Roy, a Masonic poem by Harriett Annie Wilkins 1882


A slang word for trousers, which are the bags of the body

Queen of a monarch of Babylon

“Belshazzar the king made a great feast to a thousand of his lords, and drank wine before the thousand. Belshazzar, whiles he tasted the wine, commanded to bring the golden and silver vessels which his father Nebuchadnezzar had taken out of the temple which was in Jerusalem; that the king, and his princes, his wives, and his concubines, might drink therein. Then they brought the golden vessels that were taken out of the temple of the house of God which was at Jerusalem; and the king, and his princes, his wives, and his concubines, drank in them. They drank wine, and praised the gods of gold, and of silver, of brass, of iron, of wood, and of stone” Daniel 5:1–4 This banquet, given by Belshazzar, may well be the prototype of the “Babylonian orgy” to which Wodehouse periodically refers. It was during this meal that the “writing on the wall” appeared, announcing Belshazzar’s downfall. [NTPM]


A cowardly, contemptibly timid or pusillanimous person [1175–1225]

Six Weeks on Sunny Devils Island

For comic effect, PGW capitalized it as though it were a travel brochure; Devils Island (actually a group of islands off the coast of French Guinea) housed an infamous, disease-infested French penal colony from 1852 until 1953

Rev. Aubrey Upjohn

Bertie’s old headmaster at Malvern House, mentioned throughout the Jeeves/Wooster canon, and remembered by Bertie mostly for the night: “I used to sneak down to (his) study at dead on night in quest of the biscuits he kept there in a tin on his desk, and there came back to me the memory of the occasion when...I had entered the sanctum in pyjamas and dressing gown, to find him seated in his chair, tucking into the biscuits himself. The What-does-this-mean-Woostering that ensued and the aftermath next morning—six of the best on the old spot—has always remained graven on the tables of my mind...” Jeeves in the Offing (1960) Murphy says that the character is based on PGW’s headmaster when he was at Malvern, Richard Harvey Hammond.

Captain Bligh

Infamous Royal Navy Officer (1784–1817) and subject of Mutiny on the Bounty, written in 1831 by Charles Nordhoff and James Norman Hall.

Prelim boy

boxing jargon, a “prelim boy” being a boxer who isn’t good enough to take part in any but the preliminary bouts on the program. Also called a “four-round” prelim boy, that being the length of the bouts preceding the main event. Robert E. Howard (1906–1936) used the phrase in a short story from 1931 entitled Kid Galahad. Thanks to [TM]

Memory returning to its throne

“Reason still keeps its throne, but it nods a little, that’s all.” from George Farquhar’s (1678–1707) The Recruiting Officer (1706) [NTPM]

See also Aunts Aren’t Gentlemen.

A quick take-um

A rapid or surprised second look at a person or situation whose significance has not been completely grasped at first; a double-take.


Preliminary or initial work, such as the gathering of data, on which further activity is to be based.

Pulling my leg

When you pull a person’s leg you are spoofing or making fun of him, usually in a good-humored way. The expression first turned up in Scotland about a hundred years ago; the best theory of its origin is that by tripping a person — pulling his leg — you can throw him into a state of confusion and make him look foolish


Sane; from non compos mentis, Lat. , not of sound mind, mentally incapable of managing one’s affairs

(You’re a better man than I am), Gunga Din

one of Rudyard Kipling’s most famous poems, perhaps best known for its oft-quoted last line. The poem is a rhyming narrative from the point of view of a British soldier, about a native water-bearer who saves his life.

In a later chapter, Bertie says he used to recite it at school.

Far, far better

“It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done,” a sentence from the end of A Tale of Two Cities (1859) by Charles Dickens


poetic “before”

Fried to the tonsils


...waterfront saloon when the Fleet is in

Alludes to the reputed rowdy behavior of sailors on shore leave in the low dives in the vicinity of the docks

Mot juste

Fr, the exact appropriate word


Chapter 7


Fr. , a lord, especially a feudal lord

Middle Ages

the time in European history between classical antiquity and the Italian Renaissance, from about 500 A.D. to about 1350

Calling for my pipe and my bowl and my fiddlers three

English nursery rhyme:

“Old King Cole was a merry old soul, a merry old soul was he; he called for his bowl in the middle of the night, and he called for his fiddlers three; Every fiddler had a fine fiddle, a very fine fiddle had he; O, there’s none so rare as can compare with King Cole and his fiddlers three”



Turn my face to the wall

“Then Hezekiah turned his face toward the wall and prayed unto the Lord.” Isaiah 28.2; PGW used this phrase in the sense of gloom because he assumed his readers would know that the previous verse had said Hezekiah was “sick unto death” [NTPM]


A person who assumes responsibility for another’s behavior; a person who guards or watches; esp. in a prison or asylum

(Something) fishy

Improbable or unlikely, i.e., “smelling bad,” as a story [1540–50] the title of PGW’s 1957 novel

Tearing off your whiskers

To unmask, as one in a disguise is identified; a Victorian melodrama cliché as when the hero, disguised for any number of reasons, finally reveals his true identity in a dramatic scene at the end



My bones turned to water

“I stammered and stuttered. My bones turned to water.

I staggered and stumbled. I sit back and wait for Doomsday to descend on our attackers” Habakkuk 3

The effect King Solomon had on the Queen of Sheba

“And she said to the king, It was a true report that I heard in mine own land of thy acts and of thy wisdom. Howbeit I believed not the words, until I came, and mine eyes had seen it: and, behold, the half was not told me: thy wisdom and prosperity exceedeth the fame which I heard” Kings 10:6–7


The point, gist, or heart of something [1585–95]

Picnic egg

Hard-boiled egg


Br. slang, damned; a euphemism for bloody [1840–50]

The mixture would be too rich

In an internal combustion engine, carbon monoxide is produced during incomplete combustion. Anything that leads to incomplete combustion increases CO production, causing a rich fuel mixture (more fuel than is needed) and would prevent the running of the engine [1900–10]


Br., an establishment licensed to serve only liquors fermented from malt, as beer, ale, and the like. [1485–95]


to be fretfully discontented

Sal volatile

The chief ingredient in smelling salts

Hair in a braid

Ready for anything; ready for the fray; possibly a reference to the Spartans who tied their hair in a braid before going into battle. [NTPM]

Tomas Prenkert pointed out in a 2016 article, along with several literary and Biblical references, that Murphy’s second edition of A Wodehouse Handbook also raised the possibility that the source was the song “Queenie with Her Hair in a Braid,” which turns out to be an interpolated number with words by John Hazzard and music by W. T. Francis, from the 1908 New York production of The Girls of Gottenberg (not in the original 1907 London production nor its vocal score).

The sheet music is online.

Diego Seguí comments:

I’m pretty sure that the song is the key here. To begin with, Wodehouse knew and appreciated it; see “The Summer Drama” (Vanity Fair, Oct 1916):

Jack Hazzard, writing under the pen-name of John E. Hazzard, was Mr. Smith’s collaborator in “Turn to the Right,” and brought to the task that knowledge of human nature and instinct for character-delineation which made his “Queenie was there with her hair in a braid” and “Put on your slippers. You’re in for the night” such classics in their line.

The next use by PGW is in “Keeping Up With Terpsichore” (Vanity Fair, Oct 1919):

“The Phrygian Corybantes danced in honor of Cybele, and every time the festival of Rhea Silvia came around the ancient Roman hoofers were there with their hair in a braid.”

Note that he doesn’t quote the title but the refrain (“Queenie was there with her hair in a braid”). Here are the full lyrics:

Queenie was a country lass and rated rather slow,
Queenie came to New York town and there she joined a show.
She lived as quiet as a mouse
To keep her country bloom.
Why any night, if you could peep within her little room,

  Why! Queenie was there with her hair in a braid.
  All ready for bed in her nighty arrayed.
  Far away from the men
  In her own little den.
  Why Queenie was there with her hair in a braid.

Bill Jones’ wife to Europe went, so Bill was making hay,
He met Queenie in the twilight of a matinee.
Bill’s wife returned from Europe and
She knocked a rat-tat-tat.
And when Bill opened up the door the party just fell flat.

  Cause Queenie was there with her hair in a braid.
  The greeting she got was a trifle frappéd.
  Queenie’s named in the suit
  And Bill’s gone on a toot.
  Cause Queenie was there with her hair in a braid.

Queenie dear had never been out in a motor car,
So when first she rode she said: “What lovely things they are.”
They struck a Western Union tree
As do all of those fly’rs.
They searched the ground for Queenie, then, they looked up at the wires.

  Why Queenie was there with her hair in a braid.
  Just her collar and shoes that was all that had stayed.
  “While I’m up here,” she said,
  “I’ll just wire ahead,
  That Queenie is here with her hair in a braid.”

The phrase stuck as “I’ll be there with my hair in a braid.” After 1908 there are many examples. A few early ones selected at random:

Supt. Yost, of Station C, was there with his hair in a braid.

The Union Postal Clerk, February 1910, p. 11

Miss Harting hinted delicately that she would be at home all evening.
 “I’ll be there with my hair in a braid!” Lefty returned promptly.

Lefty o’ the Blue Stockings, 1914, p. 56

When the first Crash of Music came through the hothouse Palms, Walter would be out on the Waxen Foor with his hair in a Braid.

George Ade: “The Intermittent Fusser”, Cosmopolitan, November 1912 p. 700, and in Ade’s Fables (1914)

“Huh! I’ll be there with my hair in a braid!” said Buck.

Ch. E. Van Loan, “Man-Afraid-of-His-Wardrobe,” Saturday Evening Post, July 26, 1913, p. 53

“I’ll be there with my hair in a braid.”

F. X. Finnegan, “Birdie’s Sane Christmas,” Collier’s, Dec 19, 1914, p. 9:

Finally, about the Spartans’ supposed custom of tying their hair in a braid before a battle. As a matter of fact, the best known sources (from which this kind of tradition could spring) say exactly the opposite: the Spartans were famous for wearing their hair long, especially in battle. A. Powell in Athens and Sparta (Routledge, 2001) observes:

The famous long hair of Sparta’s soldiers was meant to be conspicuous and intimidating; according to Xenophon, “Lykourgos ... allowed the hair to be grown long, thinking that in this way [Spartans] would appear as larger and be more frightening.” With the leonine Spartans we may compare the French grenadiers and British guardsmen of the nineteenth century, with their large hats.

I think the idea that they used braids is an assumption made from a famous passage in Herodotus, Histories VII, 208–209. The spy sent by Xerxes to the Greek camp before the battle of the Thermopylae observes that:

Others, however—and it happened at this time to be the Lacedaemonians [= Spartans]—were posted outside, where their arms and armour lay in front of the wall, and he was able to take stock of them. He watched them in a variety of occupations, such as exercising naked and combing their hair; this surprised him, but he took careful note of their numbers and then made his way back to Xerxes, without meeting any opposition. No one set out after him, and in fact he met with total indifference. When he got back he gave Xerxes a thorough report on what he had seen.

Xerxes listened to what the scout had to say, but he could not understand that in actual fact the Greeks were getting themselves ready to kill or be killed to the best of their ability. Their behaviour struck him as laughable. He sent for Demaratus the son of Ariston, who had accompanied the expedition, and asked him about everything in the scout’s report, item by item, in an attempt to understand what was going on with the Lacedaemonians. ‘I told you about these men before,’ Demaratus said, ‘when we were setting out for Greece. You laughed at me then, and found my ideas about what would happen in this war absurd, just because I take pride in nothing so much as in trying to be honest to you, my lord. But listen to me now. These men have come to fight us for the pass and they are getting ready to do just that. It is their custom to do their hair when they are about to risk their lives. [Transl. R. Waterfield, O.U.P. 1998.]

The first paragraph says that they were combing (ktenizoménous) their hair, but the second says that they beautify their heads (tàs kephalàs kosméontai, translated “do their hair” above) without specifying how. From here, people have speculated that they made up their hair in a bun that helped pad the helmet, or in braids that added a layer of defence against a sword thrust. See further E. David, “Sparta’s Social Hair,” Eranos 90 (1992) pp. 11–21, who quotes more or less all the available evidence. For the modern thoughts about Spartan braids and dreadlocks, see this blog post. At any rate, I’m sure there wasn’t any tradition about Spartan braids in the early 20th century from which “with my hair in a braid” can have stemmed. [DS]

(Col. Robert) Ingersoll

(1833–1899) Lecturer and advocate of agnosticism [NTPM]

She’s the top

Song, You’re the Top (1934) by Cole Porter, from Anything Goes:

“You’re the top! You’re the Colosseum, You’re the top! You’re the Louvre Museum, You’re a melody from a symphony by Strauss, You’re a Bendel bonnet, A Shakespeare sonnet, You’re Mickey Mouse, You’re the Nile, You’re the Tower of Pisa, You’re the smile on the Mona Lisa, I’m a worthless check, a total wreck, a flop, But if, baby, I’m the bottom, You’re the top!”

Helen of Troy

In Greek mythology, the beautiful daughter of Zeus and Leda whose abduction by Paris was the cause of the Trojan War.

Leg it

To walk rapidly or run


A spot or stain


Sociable, friendly [1825–35]

Dying Rooster

A sort of whoopie cushion; a rubber container that was inflated like a balloon; the outrushing air produced a funny noise [1890–1900] [NTPM]

The key of the cellar

Reference to the wine cellar


Mistakes; possibly a reference to a corpse found floating in a body of water

The bluebird

The mythology of the bluebird has deep roots, going back thousands of years. Indigenous cultures across the globe hold similar myths and beliefs about the bluebird. It’s the most universally accepted symbol of cheerfulness, happiness, prosperity, hearth and home, get well soon, congratulations on the new baby, the renewal of springtime, any and all positive sentiments can be attached to the bluebird with practically no negative aspects. Bluebird mythology in Europe is noted in a fairy tale called L’Oiseau Bleu (The Blue Bird) by Madame d’Aulnoy (1650–1705) This seems to be the root source of most modern accounts of bluebird symbology and myth. In 1908 The Blue Bird was made into a stage play by Maurice Maeterlinck. (1862–1949) that he also called L’Oiseau bleu; an allegorical fantasy conceived as a play for children, it portrays a search for happiness in the world. In a fairy-tale-like setting, two children, the son and daughter of a poor woodcutter, are sent out by a fairy to search the world for the Blue Bird of Happiness. In a complex tale, they visit many magical places, including the Land of Memory, the Palace of Night, and the Kingdom of the Future. Only when they return home do they discover that the Blue Bird has been in their bird cage all along. True happiness, the children learn, is usually found close to home. It comes from making the journey, not from reaching the destination; from seeking and not from finding; and from acting unselfishly, without thought of reward. The Blue Bird was adapted for a 1919 film of the same name by Maurice Tourneur, one of the masters of early cinema. The Blue Bird was made into a successful film in 1940 starring popular child actress Shirley Temple (1928-] In 1916, The Bluebird, a musical composition by Clare Kummer, was exceedingly popular, and there were a rash of “bluebird songs” from Tin Pan Alley in the 1920s: Swanee Bluebird, My Blackbirds are Bluebirds Now, My Bluebird Was Caught in the Rain, Hello Bluebird, My Bluebird of Happiness, etc.


Goose flesh is a roughening condition of the skin resembling that of a plucked goose, induced by cold or fear [1375–1425], also known as goose bumps or goose pimples. The term goose-flesher, not contained in OED, may be a Wodehouse creation, which he uses to describe a thriller type of mystery novel so enjoyed by Bertie, so frightful and chilling as to cause goose-flesh (goose bumps). Literally, then, a goose-flesher makes the skin crawl

Murder at Greystoke Grange

A fictional book is a non-existent book created specifically for (i.e. within) a work of fiction. Such a book may provide the basis of the novel’s plot, add verisimilitude by supplying plausible background, or act as a common thread in a series of books or the works of a particular writer or canon of work. A fictional book may also be used as a conceit to illustrate a story within a story, or be essentially a joke title, thus helping to establish the humorous or satirical tone of the work. For Bertie’s library of goose-fleshers, PGW also created The Case of the Poisoned Doughnut, Inspector Biffen Views the Body, Murder in Mauve, The Mystery of the Pink Crayfish, all by an author he called Rex West. The plot scenarios, when given, are parodies of the genre. With Murder at Greystoke Grange, PGW may well have been paying a tribute to Edgar Rice Burroughs, whose stories he admired in his younger days. The ancestral home of Tarzan, whose parents were shipwrecked off the cost of Africa, was Greystoke and Tarzan was, in fact, The Earl of Greystoke.



Lark on the wing

See God wasn’t in his heaven, Chapter 3


A trace of something destroyed [before 900]

One over the eight

Br. slang, drunk. It derives from the old superstition that one always becomes drunk after the eighth drink and not before


Immediately, at once; from Medieval Latin, urgently

Like Billy-o

An extreme standard of comparison. For example, "It rained like billy-o; we were all soaked through.” One theory of its the derivation is said to be from Joseph Billio, a Puritan preacher at the United Reformed Church in Market Hill, Maldon, Essex, c. 1696. He was an enthusiastic “hellfire and damnation” preacher and, given his name and reputation, ought to be a serious contender as the source of the phrase. They are certainly convinced in Maldon, and it must be true — they have a plaque to prove it.


Chapter 8

What ho!

Often used by PGW’s younger English characters as a greeting. Probably originated 1860s as a lower-class greeting to call attention to something [NTPM]; equivalent to “Hi there!” a call to excite attention or to give notice of approach. “What noise there, ho?” and. “Ho! who’s within?” [Shakespeare]


An apparition of a living person supposed to portend his or her death; a visible spirit [1505–15]

Horsing around

Fooling around, indulging in horseplay, rough or boisterous play

Cleaving to the roof of my mouth

“If I do not remember thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth; if I prefer not Jerusalem above my chief joy. Psalm 137:6

Unfit for human consumption (on an empty stomach)

A legend, first use unknown, used in a legal sense in the regulation of processors and purveyors of food for sale.

Paling beneath the tan

Becoming so aghast as to whiten:

Smith turned his eyes upon me momentarily, only to look away again in the direction of Fu-Manchu. My friend’s face was slightly pale beneath the tan, and his jaw muscles stood out with unusual prominence.

The Return of Dr. Fu Manchu (1916) by Sax Rohmer (1883–1959)

An eye like Mars, to threaten and command

“An eye like Mars to threaten and command. A station like the herald Mercury” Shakespeare, Hamlet; Bertie thinks the quote is “An eye like Ma’s.” F. Anstey’s 1897 book Baboo Jabberjee contains the original emendation used here by Bertie, according to Usborne.

Diego Seguí provides some earlier sources for the pun:

The first instance I can find is in George Daniel’s Merrie England in the Olden Time, first serialized in Bentley’s Magazine vol. 9 (1841) p. 267 and then in book form (1842) p. 192:

Master Muff.
“A eye like Ma’s to threaten and command—”

It recurs several times during the 19th century. See also Ch. Dickens in The Haunted Man (1848):

 “You know, ’Dolphus, my dear,” said Mrs. Tetterby, “that when I was single, I might have given myself away in several directions. At one time, four after me at once; two of them were sons of Mars.”
 “We’re all sons of Ma’s, my dear,” said Mr. Tetterby, “jointly with Pa’s.”
 “I don’t mean that,” replied his wife, “I mean soldiers—serjeants.”
 “Oh!” said Mr. Tetterby.

Plum makes a similar pun at least in one other place, “A Woman is Only a Woman” (The Clicking of Cuthbert):

 “I wish you had seen me at the lake-hole. I did it one under par.”
 “Was your father playing?”
 “You don’t understand. I mean I did it in one better than even the finest player is supposed to do it.”

A child of blood and iron

Otto von Bismarck (1815–1898) was known as the “Man of Blood and Iron,” after he made a speech in the Prussian House of Deputies in 1886 in which he said that Prussia’s future would be won by “blood and iron.”


Fish, especially herring, that has been cured by salting, drying, and smoking


Gory, bloody, gruesome

You’re telling me

“I already know what you’re talking about, and I agree”; Catchphrase of the 1930s and 40s


something of high quality; a lulu

The quality of mercy is not strained

“The quality of mercy is not strain’d, It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven upon the place beneath...It blesseth him that gives and him that takes and becomes the throned monarch better than his crown”...Shakespeare, Merchant of Venice

Five quid

About $18.43 in 1949

Brass(ed up): Br. Slang, money


Truth, reality, or fact [before 900]


Br. Slang; a judge, magistrate; the origin has not been definitively determined.

The first written use is in the 1750 book The Blind Beak by John Fielding. Perhaps derived from “beck” an archaic term for a constable.

Walking on eggshells

To walk with great care, lightly, tippy-toe, taking precaution not to offend. The original phrase was “walking on EGGS,” which makes more sense. In 1866, the abolitionist Wendell Phillips ridiculed Senator Henry Wilson as “of that cautious class who could walk upon eggs without breaking them.” In 1621, author Robert Burton wrote of a man “going as if he trod on eggs.” And around 1510, the Italian Ludovico Ariosto used the phrase “to tread on eggs” — not eggshells.

Hibernia (n)

Lat. , Ireland [1625–35]

One of those whited sepulchers

“Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness” Matthew 23:27

(The) Lost Weekend

1944 novel by Charles R. Jackson produced as a popular motion picture in 1945; The novel, set in a rundown neighborhood of Manhattan during the early 1930s, broke various taboos for its time by exploring a five-day alcoholic binge

St. Bernard dog

A breed of very large dogs bred in the Swiss Alps as guide dogs and used to rescue lost, snowbound travelers


Br. a wrench; “‘Put (or throw) a spanner in the works’ refers to the calamitous effects of throwing a spanner into the gears and pistons of an engine. The American equivalent is to “throw a monkey wrench into the works”. [See the notes to Leave It to Psmith for earlier Wodehouse uses beginning in 1920. —NM]

Ernie (Ernest) Bevin

(1881–1951) British Foreign Secretary in the mid-1940s

Stop Press news

from “Stop the Presses!” catchphrase in which press operators are ordered to cease printing a current edition of a newspaper because new, more important news has occurred

Sitting Pretty

In an advantageous position. Also the title of the 1924 musical comedy written by Bolton/Wodehouse/Kern.




Hunky-dory: About as well as one could wish or expect; satisfactory [1865–70]

In the bag

Virtually assured; certain, definite


Mental depression or hypochondria [1325–75]

Threw off the yoke

“And by the sword shalt thou live, and shalt serve thy brother; and it shall come to pass when thou shalt have the dominion, that thou shalt break his yoke from off thy neck”. Genesis 27:40

Play ball

Accede, go along with

Get it up his nose

To become full of oneself; to become excited by a situation. See Lord Emsworth and Others.


A group of persons hired to applaud an act or performer; [1860–65]

Ruined mill

A staple in gothic and 19th century adventure stories and melodrama; often a place where mystery abounded, secret lovers met, crooks headquartered; “To Villains: don’t go down to the scenes of your crimes in the last act. You always will do this...But take our advice and don’t go... The police know your habits from experience. They do not trouble to look for you. They go down in the last act to the old hall or the ruined mill where you did the deed and wait for you. Jerome K. Jerome (1859–1927), from Stageland (1889). Also: “I have met her by some ruined mill, Where trailed the crimson creeper, serpentine, On fallen leaves that stirred and rustled chill” Madison Cawein (1865 –1914]

Chapter 9


To put in good humor. [NTPM]

The Oxford English Dictionary cites “gruntled,” Wodehouse’s back-formation from “disgruntled” in The Code of the Woosters (1938), as the first usage of the word. [NM]

a pretty state of things

A possible allusion to “Here’s a pretty state of things!” from the song “Here’s a how-de-do!” in W. S. Gilbert’s libretto for The Mikado. [NM]

Keep the tail up

Allusion to the colloquialism “With one’s tail between one’s legs:” utterly humiliated, defeated

Storm clouds might lower

A metaphor for peril, danger, or sadness

Lester de Pester

Cartoon character described as having a parakeet nose, bulging eyes and a shrimpfish appearance, appeared in the comic strip “Betty” (1920–43) by Charles A. Voight. [NTPM]

one of the New York papers

“Betty” started in the New York Herald in 1919 or 1920 (sources vary; the image above seems to read 1919, though) and continued in the New York Herald Tribune after the 1924 merger of the two papers. [NM]

The iron entered my soul

Resolve, firmness, strength; “Whose feet they hurt in the stocks; the iron entered into his soul” Psalms 105.18

Smash-and-grab (man)

A type of crude, blatant theft in which the perpetrator smashes a window, display case, etc., grabs the desired item, and quickly leaves the scene.

(Made my name) mud

Scandalous or malicious assertions



Stout denial

A staunch refusal to admit guilt or culpability; bravado, esp. when circumstantial evidence exists


Anything that heals, soothes, or mitigates pain [1175–1225]

Stubbed their toe on the brick of Fate

An inane and lovely PGW metaphor

Poured kerosene on the flames

made things worse, after “add gasoline to the fire”

“The thing is absolute drivel. It has no dramatic coherence. It lacks motivation and significant form.”

This is a parody of Bloomsbury-style literary criticism, especially the concept of “significant form” developed by Clive Bell (see Wikipedia). Other instances:

In Jeeves and the Feudal Spirit ch. 3: Florence Craye “was an intellectual girl who wrote novels and was like ham and eggs with the boys with the bulging foreheads out Bloomsbury way,” though in ch. 1 Jeeves regards her Spindrift as “a somewhat immature production lacking in significant form.”

“Beyond a question one senses in the patine a lack of vitality. And vitality must never be sacrificed. The artist should use his palette as an orchestra. He should put on his colours as a great conductor uses his instruments. There must be significant form. The colour must have a flatness, a gravity, shall I say an aroma? The figure must be placed on the canvas in a manner not only harmonious but awake. Only so can a picture quite too exquisitely live. And, as regards the patine...”

“The Man Who Gave Up Smoking” (Mr. Mulliner Speaking)

See also Wodehouse’s 24 August 1932 letter to Bill Townend, excerpted in McIlvaine N56.47, in which he mentions two bad reviews of Hot Water, containing the character Blair Eggleston, “a modern young novelist, one of the Bloomsbury crowd, at whom I laugh a good deal, and I believe this led to both those reviews, as both writers sounded to me like Bloomsbury ticks.” [Note by Diego Seguí.]


Fr. A knowledge of just what to do in any situation; tact [1805–15]


A curry-flavored soup of East Indian origin, made with chicken or meat stock [1775–85]


Irish euphemism for God; Faith and


A mild oath for God


(John Millington) (1871–1909) Riders to the Sea (1904) commonly held to mark the revival of Irish theater [WM]

They talk about their souls and mist and so on;

“His voice was like hollow wind in a cave: his eye a light seen afar. He told the tale of grief. The soul of Nathos was sad, like the sun in the day of mist, when his face watery and dim. Peace to thy

soul, in thy cave, chief of the isle of mist!

James Macpherson (1736–1796) The Works of Ossian (1765)


British monetary unit equal to twelve pence

Blue-pencil (led)

Ch1iefly Br. an editor uses a blue pencil to mark out for deletion portions from a manuscript [1885–90]

Play fast and loose

To act in an irresponsible or inconsiderate manner to gain one’s ends a million dollars

Extremely attractive; origin uncertain, probably American 1920s

Balaam’s ass

“And the ass saw the angel of the Lord standing in the way, and his sword drawn in his hand: and the ass turned aside out of the way, and went into the field: and Balaam smote the ass, to turn her into the way.” Numbers 22.23; The ass that Balaam was riding saw the angel of the Lord in front of him, and as any sensible ass would do, stopped dead. Balaam, to whom the angel was invisible, beat him to get him going again.

Only after the ass had stopped three times did the angel reveal himself to Balaam.” [NTPM]


Interjection used to attract attention; a shout or hail [1350–1400]


Slang term for a mongrel [NTPM] alluding to dogs’ fondness for cheese (?)


greatly pleased; “I’m tickled to death to find some one with what they call human emotions.” St. Nicholas Magazine (1907)

Treatment A

The best, first-class treatment


An actor or performer who overacts with exaggerated emotion [1880–85]


Sp., A wine shop


Sc. A boy or young man; recorded since 1546): known since c.1300 as ladde “foot soldier,” also “young male servant” PGW’s classic knut Ukridge uses the term

Time, the great healer

See Right Ho, Jeeves.

V-shaped depressions

When UK newspapers started printing weather forecasts in the 1930s, the areas which would see a “depression” i.e. a fall in barometric pressure and rain, were marked on a map by a line with V-shaped black marks along it. [NTPM]

Chapter 10

Silver lining

A sign of hope in an unfortunate or gloomy situation; came into common usage 1870–75; From a proverb often heard, “Every cloud has a silver lining,” which refers literally to the storm clouds which are often very dark and threatening but which often may have a silver gleam of sunlight along one edge John Milton’s masque Comus (1634) gave rise to the current proverb with the lines, “Was I deceiv’d, or did a sable cloud turn forth her silver lining on the night?” Charles Dickens, in Bleak House (1852) recalled the lines with “I turn my silver lining outward like Milton’s cloud” and the American impresario P. T. Barnum first recorded the wording of the modern saying in Struggles and Triumphs (1869) with “Every cloud” says the proverb, “has a silver lining.’” PGW’s lyrics to the song Look for the Silver Lining from Sally (1920) contain this chorus: “Look for the silver lining, When e’er a cloud appears in the blue, Remember somewhere the sun is shining, And so the right thing to do is make it shine for you. A heart full of joy and gladness, will always banish sadness and strife, So always look for the silver lining, and try to find the sunny side of life.”

Down among the wines and spirits

Originally thought to liken someone’s low spirits to being “down in the cellar” but it comes from Music Hall stage bills in the UK. At the bottom of each poster were advertisements for the wines and spirits available at the bar. The bills showed the acts in order of importance, one below the other; if you were unknown or unimportant, you were put “down among the wines and spirits.” By transference, this came to mean that you were gloomy and “down” as well. [NTPM]

Trapped in a den of slavering aunts

Slavering: letting saliva run from the mouth; slobbering;

“Before-taking” pictures

Among the advertisements in every popular British or American magazine from 1900 to 1939, there was always a picture of a woman/man tormented with pain “before taking” the advertised remedy. The second picture shows the patient radiant with relief from headaches/arthritis/rheumatism/whatever “after taking” the product advertised. [NTPM]

My soul darkened by a nameless fear

From Tennyson’s Maud: “Back from the Breton coast, sick of a nameless fear.”

Toad(s) beneath the harrow

From Kipling’s Pagett MP: “The toad beneath the harrow knows exactly where each toothpoint grows.” The expression goes back at least 500 years before Kipling; it meant anybody under constant persecution or oppression. [NTPM] A harrow is an agricultural implement with spinelike teeth, drawn over plowed land to level it, break up clods, root up weeds, etc.

Prey to the liveliest apprehension

Melodramatic cliché

Madder than a bull-pup entangled in fly-paper

Fly-paper is a paper designed to destroy flies by catching them on its exceptionally sticky surface [1840–50]; According to Norman Murphy, “When he and Ethel moved to Bellport, Long Island, after their marriage, they soon acquired two cats, one dog, and two parrots, joined in 1917 by a bulldog which Wodehouse named Sammy after the bull terrier in Mike.” From Mike (1909) “Sammy, short for Sampson, was a young bull-terrier belonging to Mr. Downing...He was a large, light-hearted dog with a white coat, an engaging expression, the tongue of an ant-eater, and a manner which was a happy blend of hurricane and circular saw. He had long legs, a tenor voice, and was apparently made of india-rubber.”

Like a ton of bricks

Very heavily, without subtlety. The allusion is to the considerable weight of such a load. [Early 1900s]

Idle fancy

A visionary scheme; a wild conceit


When talking films were introduced in the late 1920s, cinemas rushed to fit sound equipment. “Wired for sound” became a popular advertising phrase. [NTPM]

Blinding and stiffing

Terry Mordue provides the following: “... a response from Norman Murphy:” “ (Blinding) — swearing; probably refers to an archaic usage ‘God Blind Me’ still heard in ‘Cor Blimey’). I apologise for omitting “binding and stiffing” from Volume 2 of my Wodehouse Handbook. I did so reluctantly, only because I could not prove my views. Roughly, Wodehouse was paraphrasing the lower-case terminology to cover bad language, which included the term “Gorblimey!” — which is short for “God blind me” This covers the blinding bit, but over 30 years, I have not found the “stiffing” origin. I am sure it goes back a long way, like “Gadzooks,” which stems from “God’s hooks.” (Don’t ask!) I’m sorry to be able to answer only the “blinding” part of the question, and although I suggest that “stiffing” may be another Cockney term for someone who has been struck dead (a stiff), I can’t prove it!” Terry goes on: “There were then various suggestions relating to horse-racing and “the big stiff,” before Norman Murphy weighed in again: “I spent this morning in the London Library and trawled through the complete Oxford English Dictionary AND all its supplements; ‘Blinding was there, as I knew it would be. It is the old oath ‘God blind me’, shortened nowadays to ‘Gawblimey’ or just ‘Blimey’. Stiffing was nowhere to be found in the OED (though stiff and its offshoots take up three pages) nor in fourteen more dictionaries of slang on the shelves. These covered Services (Army/ Navy) slang, school and university slang, gipsy/ tramp/ hobo/criminal slang from 1700 onwards for both US and UK — but nothing there.

The word stiffing does not officially exist. But I kept on coming across another phrase that I have known all my life — ‘effing and blinding’ described simply as ‘a colloquial expression to cover bad or foul language’ and I suddenly got the message. I now believe that Wodehouse coined stiffing and and blinding himself! The expression ‘effing and blinding’ is not a term one would use in mixed company, though it is obviously milder than the terms to which it refers. Stiffing and blinding conveys exactly the right expression of meaning and the change is an obvious one when you remember PGW’s skill with words. He may have heard it from somebody, he may have read it somewhere but the OED hadn’t. Until someone comes up with a better theory, I shall maintain that stiffing and blinding is simply PGW’s version of effing and blinding.”

“Quite by chance, (Mordue continues) a few weeks later I was able to refute Norman’s last observation: Last evening I was reading a few of the “Plain Tales from the Hills” (published 1888) and there, in the story “The Taking of Lungtungpen,” I came across the following: “Thin the boys gave wan devastatin’ howl, an’ pranced into the dhark, feelin’ for the town, an blindin’ and stiffin’ like Cavalry Ridin’ Masters whin the grass pricked their bare legs.” This morning, a quick search through my Kipling e-texts revealed another example, this time from “With the Main Guard,” one of the stories in “Soldiers Three” (published 1899): “Faith, me son, ye said ut, thin. I kep’ this little man betune my knees as long as I cud, but he was pokin’ roun wid his bay’nit, blindin’ an stiffen’ feroshus.” Both examples occur when Kipling is imitating the speech of rank-and-file soldiers, leading me to conclude that it was a phrase he heard being used by soldiers when he was in India. The notes on the Kipling Society’s web page state merely that the phrase means “cursing and swearing” (which, I fancy, even the meanest intellect is capable of working out for itself).” So there you have it. Wodehouse probably borrowed the phrase from Kipling (one of his favourite authors) and Kipling probably got it from soldiers’ slang. There was one other interesting contribution that, for some reason, elicited no reaction. If “blinding” relates to a corrupted form of the oath “God blind [or blight] me,” so “stiffing” could relate to the corruption of another oath “by God’s death” (which was often shortened to “’s death"). I quite like this explanation, which is by no means far-fetched, as the history of yet another oath shows: “God’s truth” was shortened to “’s truth” and eventually became the slang word “strewth.” So there you have it.

[Kipling gives the explicit definition in From Sea to Sea (1899):
  It should be explained for the benefit of the uninitiated, that … “stiffin’ ” is using unparliamentary language.


An iron hook with a handle used for spearing fish [1275–1325]


The mistress of a castle or of an elegant or fashionable household [1835–45]


Military, “Absent With Out Leave.” Away from duties without permission.


A bag for feeding horses, placed before the mouth and fastened around the head with straps [1790–1800]

Ruin, desolation, and despair

Melodramatic Victorian cliché:

“But inexorable death parted father and daughter, in one of those sharp, sudden partings which are like the shock of an earthquake—instantaneous ruin, desolation, and despair.”

The Cold Embrace (1860) by Gothic novelist Mary Elizabeth Braddon (1835–1915)

Sleeve across the windpipe °

The windpipe, of course, is the trachea; Terry Mordue says:

“OED defines ‘sleeve across the windpipe’ as ‘an assault or severe blow (usually figurative);’ sadly (for our purposes) it gives only two citations for this usage, both from Wodehouse! (Barmy in Wonderland and Pearls, Girls and Monty B.) I’m slightly surprised to find that this isn’t from someone like ‘Sapper’ (Bulldog Drummond) or Edgar Wallace. I don’t know what Wodehouse had in mind, but the image I have is of someone being attacked from behind, the assailant delivering a blow with the forearm across the victim’s throat, rather than a straightforward punch.”

Deepthi Sigireddi finds the probable source in George Ade’s fables:

Wherever he stopped, a smiling Hotel Manager gave him the Sleeve across the Wind-Pipe.

“The Fable of the Hungry Man from Bird Center and the Trans-Atlantic Touch” in Forty Modern Fables (1902)

If Selena happened to admire a Trinket or some outre Confection with Lace slathered on it, a perfumed Apache in a Frock Coat would take Edwin into a side room, give him the sleeve across the Wind-Pipe, and bite a piece out of his Letter of Credit.

“The Dream that Came Out with Much to Boot” in Cosmopolitan, v. 54, p. 857 (1913)

Also used by Wodehouse in Full Moon, Spring Fever, and Cocktail Time.

(Off her) onion

To be distraught, distracted to the point of frenzy;

Wrestling with a secret sorrow

“She hideth close within her breast her secret sorrow’s root” — from Arthur Brooke’s 1562 poem The Tragical History of Romeus and Juliet [the source for the Shakespeare play].

Straight from the shoulder

without evasion, directly, candidly

Frisking and bleating

Frisk: To dance, leap, skip, frolic; gambol; Bleat: to babble, prate; Gussie is acting like a sheep!

Put the wind up

Frighten, intimidate

(Who) for two pins

Very readily; if given the smallest reason or encouragement, etc.

“For two pins, I’d flatten your nose in to teach you manners” How She Lied to her Husband (1931) George Bernard Shaw (1856–1950)


Slang, head [1570–80]

Ad lib

Lt., ad libitum; To improvise all or part of a speech

Dame of the British Empire

The official title of a female member of the Order of the British Empire, equivalent to that of a knight.

Talking through the back of her neck

To describe someone who has no idea what he or she is talking about. The more common version in Britain is “talking out of the back of your head”

Frightfully white of you

According to the OED the meaning of “white” here is “Honourable; square-dealing.” It says the usage is originally from the U.S., and cites it from 1877 on. It cross-refers to “White man — A man of honourable character."

(The old) oil

Unctuous hypocrisy; flattery

Edgar Allan Poe residence

EAP (1809–1849) American writer, who was known for his gothic horror stories and mysteries. Bertie is probably thinking of the Fall of the House of Usher (1839) which establishes an atmosphere of dreariness, melancholy, and decay. The story takes place in the Usher family mansion, isolated and located in a “singularly dreary tract of country.” The house immediately stirs up in the narrator “a sense of insufferable gloom,” and it is described as having “bleak walls, vacant eye-like windows, etc.” It presents a narrator thrust into a psychologically intense situation in which otherworldly forces conspire to drive at least one of the characters insane.


Br. Slang, A deliberate reduction of working speed and production by workers to express their discontent [1895–1900]

Froze the blood and made the toes curl

More goose-flesher murder-mystery hyperbole.

Licked to a custard

In context, this means clearly that Bertie is disheartened and down among the wines and spirits. Terry Mordue says: “The only other reference I can find (apart from a couple of modern ones) is to Right Ho, Jeeves. As one meaning of “to lick” is “to whip, to beat,” and as that’s how one makes custard, I’m guessing that the phrase arose as an intensified equivalent of “beaten, whipped,” though in context here your alternatives seem more appropriate.” I expect that some day we will find other references to this phrase.

Fons et origo

Lt, source and origin

Oh, Woman, Woman

“O woman, woman! When to ill thy mind is bent, all hell contains no fouler fiend...” Homer’s Odyssey, Alexander Pope (1688–1744) Norman Murphy finds this from Thomas Otway (1652–1685) The Orphan (1680): “What mighty ills have not been done by woman! Who was’t betrayed the Capitol?—A woman! Who lost Mark Antony the world?—A woman! Who was the cause of a long ten years’ war, And laid at last old Troy in ashes?—Woman! Destructive, damnable, deceitful woman!”

Preux chevalier

Fr., literally valiant knight; The phrase appears in numerous books and stories of the 1800s, always in the context of men performing heroic, unselfish or gentlemanly deeds; “You need not be ashamed,” said Madalina. “I have heard how well you behaved on that occasion. You were quite the preux chevalier; and if any gentleman ever deserved well of a lady you deserved well of her.” Anthony Trollope (1815–1882) The Last Chronicle of Barset (1867) In A Wodehouse Handbook, Murphy quotes Jeffrey Richards: “By a variety of means, there evolved the image of a gentleman as the idealized medieval knight, an embodiment of the virtues of bravery, loyalty, courtesy, generosity. Modesty, purity and compassion. He was endowed with a sense of noblesse oblige towards women, children, and social inferiors.” Bertie possesses all of these qualities, except maybe that bit about children.

Delilah stuff

“And it came to pass afterward, that he loved a woman in the valley of Sorek, whose name was Delilah. And the lords of the Philistines came up unto her, and said unto her, entice him, and see wherein his great strength lieth, and by what means we may prevail against him, that we may bind him to afflict him: and we will give thee every one of us eleven hundred pieces of silver” Judges 16:4–22. Samson’s wife Delilah betrayed the secret of his great strength — namely that his head had never been shorn — to the Philistines, lulled him to sleep in her lap, and summoned a man who sheared Samson’s hair. The Philistines were so enabled to seize him and put out his eyes

Fellows who tried to charm the deaf adder

“The wicked are estranged from the womb: they go astray as soon as they be born, speaking lies. Their poison is like the poison of a serpent: they are like the deaf adder that stoppeth her ear; which will not hearken to the voice of charmers, charming never so wisely” Psalm 58:3–5

Wednesday matinee audience

Wednesday matinees are traditionally trying experiences for actors. Group ticket sales brings large groups, often retired person, clubs, and children on field trips who are inattentive to and unappreciative of the performance.

Ida Lupino

(1914–1995) American film actress; She appeared in the film version of Anything Goes (1936)

Rumble seat

A seat recessed into the back of a coupe or roadster, covered by a hinged lid that open to form the back of the seat when in use. [1910–15]

Like a goldfish staring at an ants egg

Since Gussie does resemble a fish, it’s only fitting he should be staring at fish food

(Getting down to) brass tacks

The most fundamental considerations, essentials, realities [1895–1900] and

beating about no bushes

To beat around the bush is to avoid coming to the point, to delay in approaching a subject directly.



I’ll be blowed

“I’ll be damned,” or some such

Looked like a mule

Ostensibly, adopted a stubborn, unresisting countenance

Gentlemen’s agreement

An unwritten agreement, binding only as a matter of personal honor [1885–90] Comical to hear of one with a female participant

Buck and wing(ing)

A tap dance derived in style from black and Irish clog dances, popular with minstrel performers of the 19th century consisting of vigorous hopping, flinging of the legs, and clicking of the heels [1890–95] The pigeon wing was a dance step in which the dancer raised one leg and used it to tap the rear calf of the other leg. [TM]


Vaslav Nijinsky (1890–1950) was a Russian ballet dancer and choreographer of Polish origin. He became celebrated for his virtuosity and for the depth and intensity of his characterizations, and his ability to perform seemingly gravity-defying leaps

Chapter 11


A broad-bladed kitchen implement with a long handle for serving fish at the table. Wodehouse’s traditional wedding gift.


Foolish, silly; trifling, useless [1895–1900]


Associating with on friendly terms [1595–1605]

You can’t press your suit and another fellow’s trousers simultaneously

One verb with two different objects, one idiomatic, and a hilarious pun at that


Shabby, despicable [1520–30]

I shall watch your future progress with considerable interest

PGW uses this phrase in the sense of saying goodbye to someone whom you hope not to see again. [NTPM]


To lay aside for use or reference at a later time [1570–80]

Aid-and-comfort line

Probably adapted from English law with reference to treason, i.e., “giving the enemy aid and comfort in time of war.” Became well known during the Boer War (1899–1902). [NTPM]

See also A Damsel in Distress.

You could have flattened me with a toothpick

Idiom probably derived from “You could have knocked me down with a feather;” something said to emphasize great surprise of a development or event

Splashing about in the gumbo

in trouble; “in the soup”; see The Inimitable Jeeves. Also see broth and bouillon below.

He put his ears back

PGW is imparting a quality of a mule to Gussie; a mule with ears folded back is angry, and likely to bite or kick; kind of a reverse personification

Off his rocker

Insane, crazy


An intense but usually short-lived infatuation

This is springtime....

“In the spring a livelier iris changes on the burnish’d dove; In the Spring a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love.” Tennyson, Locksley Hall That’s a perfectly nice quote, but I prefer this one: “Oh! Springtime is a happy season, of which poets make a fuss; the pleasant sunshine brings the peas on, and ripens the asparagus” The First Day of May [Wodehouse/Kern 1917] from Oh, Boy!

No need to rake up the dead past

“Trust no future, how’er pleasant! Lead the dead past bury its dead.” Longfellow, A Psalm of Life

More to be pitied than censured

Pathetic song and poem (1891) by W.B. Gray: “She is more to be pitied than censured, she is more to be helped than despised; She is only a lassie who ventured, On life’s stormy path ill advised, etc...”



Couldn’t put Gussie on ice

to put to one side, to decide to deal with the person or thing it a much later date. From the storage of food, where literally putting some perishable item on ice meant that you could indeed come back to it at a later stage. From ‘The Honorable Peter Stirling (1894): ‘They say she’s never been able to find a man good enough for her, so she’s keeping herself on ice."

Sticking the harpoon into

A harpoon is barbed, spearlike missile attached to a rope and thrown by hand or shot from a gun, used for capturing large fish or whales.

Under the seal of the confessional

Privately, as in the religious ritual of some faiths


Of little or no practical meaning or value; purely academic

The word in season

“...and a word spoken in due season, how good it is.” Proverbs 15.23

Fed to the eye teeth

Impatient, disgusted to the point where something will no longer be tolerated; "Fed up to the back teeth,” having overeaten and being so stuffed that the top layer of food hasn’t been able to get past; Eyeteeth are canines of the upper jaw, under the eyes. So “fed to the eyeteeth” is even more dissatisfied.

Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of the party

The probable origin of this well-known phrase is: “The time is come which all good men have wished for, that the gentlemen of England may serve the Church of England.” The Shortest Way With The Dissenters (1702), Daniel Defoe (1659?–1731] The phrase was reportedly used by U. S. Grant in his 1868 presidential campaign, but it was not the official slogan of that campaign. Its most commonly known as a typing test to measure accuracy and speed beginning in the late 19th century and on through the years, but it’s original form said:

"Now is the time for all good men and women to come to the aid of their party"

Good box office

Theatrical; entertainment popular enough to attract paying audiences and make a profit


(As easy as) extremely easy or simple

Get a jerk on

To prepare, dispense, or serve


Policeman (flatfoot)

Passing through the furnace

“The emergence from the fiery furnace unharmed of the holy men Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, convinced Nebuchadnezzar that their God was more powerful than his . Daniel 3.20

Ginger(ed) up

To impart piquancy or spice

Stuck out like a sore thumb

The OED, which defines the phrase as meaning being conspicuous or obvious, quotes for its two earliest examples Erle Stanley Gardner, author of numerous books about lawyer Perry Mason; 1936’s Case of Sleepwalker’s Niece: ‘No,’ he said, ‘that’s the one thing in the case that stands out like a sore thumb, now that I stop to think of it. and 1941’s Case of Haunted Husband ”A private detective in that atmosphere would stick out like a sore thumb on a waiter serving soup.” PGW admired Gardner’s writing.

Hogged the show

Upstaged, appropriated selfishly, took more than one’s share


Chapter 12

Heart-to-heart talk

An exchange of innermost thoughts and feelings

Louella Parsons (1880–1972) and Hedda Hopper (1890–1966)

Hollywood film gossip columnists

Lammas (Eve)

A former festival in England, held on August 1, in which bread made from the first harvest of corn was blessed

How many Warner Brothers there are

Heads of Hollywood film studio Warner Brothers: Jack (1892–1978) Harry (1881–1958) Albert (1884–1967) Sam (1888–1927)

Wodehouse wrote about his experiences working for Warner Brothers and compared it to he and his fellow writers being treated “like convicts at Sing Sing.” He satirizes this experience in the short story The Castaways from 1933.

How many times Artie Shaw has been married

American big band leader, (1910–2004) he was married eight times.

One of those women in the Old Testament

“Then Jael, Heber’s wife took a nail of the tent, and took a hammer in her hand, and went softly unto him, and smote the nail into his temples, and fastened it to the ground; for he was fast asleep and weary. So he died.” Judges 4.21 [NTPM]

Expiring quack of a duck dying of a broken heart

The image and sound of the expiring quack of a dying duck is funny enough—except to the duck of course — to which PGW adds hard consonants and alliteration, almost making a tongue-twister out of it — but then, to give the duck the human quality of a broken heart—known as anthropomorphism—makes this the kind of sentence that people laugh out loud at, and have to try to explain it to those who have overheard. PGW at his best.


a short or diminutive person [1300–50]

(Slip her the) lowdown

The real and unadorned facts; the true, secret or inside information



In vino what’s-the-word

Lt, In vino veritas, In wine there is truth


a little lamb; a person who is exceptionally sweet, young, and innocent [1570–80]

Bis! Bis!

Again; used interjectionally as an enthusiastic call for the repetition of a musical performance [1810–20]

Dust beneath their chariot wheels

From Laurence Hope’s [Adela Hopkinson, 1865–1904] Indian Love Lyrics, sung in every Edwardian drawing room. [NTPM]

“Less than the dust beneath thy Chariot wheel,
Less than the rust that never stained thy Sword,
Less than the trust thou hast in me, O Lord,
Even less than these!” etc.

Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings

“Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings hast thou ordained strength because of thine enemies, that thou mightest still the enemy and the avenger” Psalms 8:2

Rosie M. Banks

The fictional authoress featured in many PGW stories and books; she is introduced in the story “Bingo and the Little Woman”, first published in Cosmopolitan Magazine in December 1922, and weds Bertie’s pal Bingo Little; Daniel Garrison, in Who’s Who In Wodehouse, describes her thusly: “Among her heartthrob fiction for the masses are novels in which marriage of young persons with inferior social status is held up as both feasible and admirable, e.g. Only a Factory Girl, All for Love, A Red, Red Summer Rose, The Courtship of Lord Strathmorlick, The Woman Who Braved All, By Honor Bound, and ’Twas Once In May...some of the most pronounced and widely read tripe ever put on the market.” The character of Rosie M. Banks was based on the writer Ruby M. Ayers (1883–1955) according to Murphy.

Gaspard the Miser

The villain in the French operetta Les Cloches de Corneville, which was a hit in Paris in 1877. It had one season in London in 1878 under the title The Chimes of Normandy. [NTPM]

An additional (ten fish)

Ten pounds

The Souls’s Awakening

Archetypal Victorian painting from 1888 by James Sant (1820–1916), depicting a young girl looking up to heaven with a prayer book in her hand. The sentimentality of the subject appealed to the Victorian public and the painting was widely reproduced in engravings and prints. [TM]

I have the place in my pocket

Under one’s influence

Plaything of an idle hour

Someone being used in a temporary dalliance or insincere flirtation

Fate that is worth than death

Term from Victorian melodrama, often used when the pure heroine is being threatened with the loss of her innocence or marriage to the villain.

Bertie often describes marriage as such. [NTPM]

I was grateful to the man, of course, for having saved me from the fate that is worse than death, but one has to check this sort of thing.

Thank You, Jeeves, ch. 13 (1934)

“That’s what I’m trying to do. Well, there you are. You have been warned,” said Gally, and stumped out, feeling that he had done all that man could do to save a loved brother from the fate that is worse than death.

Galahad at Blandings, ch. 10.3 (1965)

Furthermore, she could scarcely not be relieved to learn that a loved nephew had escaped the fate that is worse than death—viz. marrying Honoria.

“Jeeves and the Greasy Bird” (in Plum Pie, 1966/67)

‘He saved me from the fate that is worse than death. I allude to marriage with the Bassett disaster.’

Much Obliged, Jeeves, ch. 16 (1971)

‘Because she thought she was going to marry you.’
‘I see. The fate that is worse than death, you might say.’

Aunts Aren’t Gentlemen, ch. 18 (1974)

Hideous peril that looms

“And it seemed to him that the only way of averting that hideous peril was by establishing, in some sane impartial mind, the proof of his guilt.

Even if he had not been so incurably sick of life, the electric chair seemed now the only alternative to the strait-jacket” . The Bolted Door (1909) by Edith Wharton, (1862–1937)

A great weight had been lifted from my mind

“Suffolk told his gentle daughter that her brief reign was now closed and the little ‘Queen,’ a great weight lifted from her mind, passed silently out of the State Room to her own chamber.” Incidents in the lives of some of the Goodrickes of Yorkshire from 1490 to 1833 (1885), Charles Alfred Goodricke;

A Stage sea

Theatrical effect simulating undulating waves

Oh, my sainted aunt!

Interjection; exclamation of disbelief or surprise. Sainted in its adjective sense usually means “of a holy character”; the OED first records it as a “trivial expletive” from Mark Twain in The Innocents Abroad (1869): “Oh, my sainted mother!” The oldest Google Books citation for “my sainted aunt!” as an exclamation is from 1906.

Wodehouse was not far behind:

“Oh, my sainted aunt!” he moaned, clutching at the banisters. “Now I am in the soup!”

The Intrusion of Jimmy/A Gentleman of Leisure (1910)

“Oh, my sainted aunt!”
Archie’s cigarette smouldered, neglected, between his fingers.

“The Wigmore Venus” (1921; in Indiscretions of Archie)

“My sainted aunt! Not——”
Jeeves inclined his head gravely.
“Yes, sir. By an odd coincidence it is the same young person that young Mr. Little——

“Jeeves in the Springtime” (1921; in The Inimitable Jeeves, 1923, as chs. 1–2)

“Absolutely! Hay-fever.”
“Oh, my sainted aunt!”

“The Great Sermon Handicap” (1922; in The Inimitable Jeeves, 1923)



Chapter 13

Pale, careworn face

Literary cliché used by many, including Alexandre Dumas, Bret Harte, R.M. Ballantyne, and Edward Bulwer-Lytton


Fr. A person who frequents the most fashionable Parisian locales

Turning to ashes in my mouth °

“To feed on ashes” means “to seek that which will be vain and unsatisfactory” (Isaiah 44:20; see Biblia Wodehousiana). Also “Then deluded with a shew of the Forbidden Tree springing up before them, they greedily reaching to take the fruit, chew dust and bitter ashes” John Milton (1608–1674) The phrase has become literary cliché used by, among others, Rex Beach, Robert Louis Stevenson, H. Rider Haggard, Herman Melville, and many others. See also The Code of the Woosters.

My heart throwing off its burden

Possibly Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” [Matthew 11:28–30]

Soft-shoe dance

Tap dancing done in soft-soled shoes, without taps [1915–20]


Thwarted; in the game of snooker, if a coloured ball lies between the cue ball and the remaining red balls, preventing it from hitting a red ball directly, then the player is snookered. The player must then play a more difficult shot, usually off the cushion although experts can make the ball swerve. The equivalent phrase in America is to be “behind the eight ball”


Hearty; in good spirits


A condition of euphoria, elation, in good spirits, imparted to people or conditions e.g., “Everything is boomps-a-daisy” Also called Bumps-a-daisy; apparently from a 1930s English novelty song by Annette Mills; with the action of bending and knocking one’s hip against that of their partner:

“Hands knees and Boomps-a-Daisy! I like a bustle that bends
Hands knees and Boomps-a-Daisy! What is a boomp between friends?
Hands knees now don’t be lazy let’s make the party a Wow!
And it’s hands knees and Boomps-a-Daisy! Turn to your partner and bow — Bow Wow!”

Recording by Vera Lynn at YouTube.


To succeed, to make a hit

Quivering in every limb

Another goose-flesher cliché, but here’s a very early use:

“Irus’ heart was badly shaken. But the servants girded up his clothes and led him up. He was afraid—his flesh quivering on every limb but they forced him forward.” Homer’s The Odyssey [9th century]



Dutch philosopher (1632–1677) Jeeves’ favourite philosopher, considered one of the great rationalists of 17th-century philosophy and, by virtue of his magnum opus the posthumous Ethics, one of Western philosophy’s definitive ethicists.

Let the brain out another notch

As in letting one’s belt out due to the sensation of fullness felt after hearty consumption of food

Sir Stanford Cripps

(1889–1952) English politician and Chancellor of the Exchequer after the World War II. [NTPM]

Ball of fire

A highly energetic or dynamic person or thing; A fireball is a shooting star.

As sick as mud

Distressed, downhearted, discouraged; PGW used the phrase fairly often to great effect as he does here; the entire paragraph sets the reader up for the unexpected tag line at the very end, and the imparting of the human feeling to tigress greatly enhances the comedic effect. I can only find one other use, from an obscure 1934

English fantasy story

Dictation speed

More slowly than normal conversation, as in dictating to a stenographer

He t’chk-t’chked impatiently

t’chk t’chk: interj. A sympathetic cluck in response to sobering news. “Struck down,” said the Rector, “struck down by this wretched scourge of influenza. Quite helpless. Delirious. They have sent for Dr. Baines.” “T’chk, t’chk,” said Mrs. Venables. Dorothy L. Sayers (1893–1957), The Nine Tailors (1934)


Inveterate, confirmed; A hearty good fellow; Cloth which is wool-

Volcanic (passions)

Potentially explosive, volatile; of a kind to suddenly erupt in a display of emotion

Dorothy Lamour

(1914–1996) American film actress

Into each life some rain must fall

“Into each life some rain must fall. Some days must be dark and dreary.” Longfellow’s The Rainy Day (1842)

Hopping mad

as in jumping up and down on one foot, being so angry that one is literally unable to keep still. [17th century]


The Antilles, a chain of islands in the West Indies

Six of the best on the old spot

a spanking

You can’t take it with you

“Be not thou afraid when one is made rich, when the glory of his house is increased, For when he dieth he shall carry nothing away: his glory shall not descend after him” Psalm 49:16–17; Traditional reproach to a man who refuses to lend you money; Title of George Kaufman’s 1936 play [NTPM]

Slap balm on that wounded spirit

When Satan threw his darts into the soul of Paul, His great Physician in Heaven applied His balm to his wounded spirit.

Like one of those chaps in Dickens

Probably the Cheeryble Brothers in Nicholas Nickleby , who PGW also mentions in Hot Water (1932)

He shrivels my immortal soul

This one remains a mystery—I can’t find anything using this particular locution.

The balloon has gone up

“When the balloon goes up” is a phrase originally used to imply impending trouble, related to the use of observation balloons in the First World War. The sight of such a balloon going up nearly always resulted in a barrage of shells following soon after; The commencement of any activity, e.g., “What time does the balloon go up?” the speaker meaning, “What time is the parade?”

Bodger’s Stores

Bodger’s of Ilford Ltd., a department store established in 1890 opposite Ilford Station, is still in business.

Chapter 14

Buried the face in the hands

- melodramatic cliche

Silly Symphony

Walt Disney’s 1930s cartoon series

Scanning the horizon like Sister whats-her-name

“When she was alone she called out to her sister, and said to her: “Sister Anne” (for that was her name), “go up, I beg you, upon the top of the tower, and look if my brothers are not coming over; they promised me that they would come today, and if you see them, give them a sign to make haste."

Her sister Anne went up upon the top of the tower, and the poor afflicted wife cried out from time to time: “Anne, sister Anne, do you see anyone coming?” Bluebeard was already a folk tale by the time Charles Perrault wrote it down and published it in 1697.

Twist the knife in the wound

To increase someone’s distress or embarrassment by constant reminders of the circumstances that caused it. “Do be silent,” cried Thuillier, stamping his foot; “you don’t say a word that doesn’t turn the knife in the wound.” “Ah!” aid Brigitte, inquiringly, “are you two quarrelling?” The Lesser Bourgeoisie (1830)

Honore de Balzac (1799–1850)

Went through with a fine-tooth comb

To examine in close detail; search thoroughly


There are nearly 100 references to Napoleon (1769–1821) in PGW’s books.

Napoleon died 60 years before Wodehouse was born, but the embedded memory of his domination of Europe, his threat to Britain, and his final defeat at Waterloo was very strong in Victorian England. [NTPM]

Cut and dried

Prepared or settled in advance, not needing much thought or discussion

(Take an early) powder

To leave in a hurry, depart without making leave, as if to avoid something unpleasant; As a verb, the word “powder” has been used in England as slang for ‘to rush, hurry’ since the 17th century. It continued to be used that way into the 20th century as gangster jargon.


A dead body, a corpse

Stuck on like limpets

Stuck: stayed; A limpet is a mollusk which adheres to rocks on the shoreline when disturbed. A felicitous PGW double-pun.


Br. Slang, bouncer; one who ejects unruly patrons from a drinking establishment; to chuck is to toss or throw with a quick motion

Musical evening

Country estate dinner parties traditionally included entertainment by residents or guests at the conclusion of the meal


To stuff with food, to swallow greedily;

and swilling

To drink greedily or excessively

Just the same as mother makes it

an advertising catchphrase meant to convey the wholesomeness or goodness of a product; late 19th century

Modus operandi

Lt, mode of operating or working

(A face like a) cassowary

A large, flightless bird of Australia, New Guinea, and adjacent islands, characterized by a bony formation, resembling a helmet, on the head

Rang the bell

Reference to an attraction common at fairs, carnivals, etc; Swinging a hammer down on a pivoted lever, connected to which is a weighty ball, the contestant tries to propel the ball to the top of a scale, at which is a bell that rings if the ball has been hit with sufficient force to reach the top. In England, cigars or coconuts were traditional prizes to be won for ringing the bell. [NTPM]

Heart bowed down with weight of woe to weakest hope will cling;

Song, The Heart Bow’d Down, from The Bohemian Girl (1844) produced at the Drury Lane Theatre, London, 1843

“The heart bow’d down by weight of woe,
to weakest hope will cling,
to thought and impulse while they flow,
there can be no comfort bring;
That can no comfort bring;
With these exciting scenes will blend,
o’er pleasure’s pathway thrown,
but memory is the only friend that grief can call its own”

Soup and fish

Full evening dress; Black tail coat, white waistcoat, starched shirt with studs and white bow tie; So named between 1900–1910, because a formal dinner always begins with soup, followed by fish [NTPM]


Fr. , at or in the home of; with

Oil out of

To back out of a commitment [1905–15]

Noblesse oblige

Lat., Nobility obliges; the moral obligation of those of high birth, powerful social position, etc., to act with honor, kindness, generosity, etc. “Nobility has its obligations”

Corky’s face wouldn’t stop a clock

“You’ve got a face that would stop a clock” is a Cockney insult.


Fox hunting, used as a cry by the huntsmen to encourage the hounds [1765–75]

and Tallyho!

The cry of the hunter on first sighting the fox: Two hundred years ago, according to a magazine of that date, the English fox-hunter’s cry was: “Tallio, Hoix, Hark, Forward,” which is a corruption of the French hunter’s call. Four hundred years ago the French hunter encouraged his dogs with the musical cry of “Thia-hilaud a qui forheur!” sometimes printed “Tya-hillaut a qui forheur!” From this the English manufactured “Tallio, hoix, hark, forward.” Later it has been abbreviated to simply “Tally-ho."

As if this dip into the past

Another delightful double-pun


diamond shaped design

(Fish-faced) gargoyle

a grotesquely carved figure of a human or animal [1250–1300]

Getting the inside from Marc Antony on the subject of Cleopatra

One of the most famous love stories by William Shakespeare.


Brand name that came into generic use for icebox, refrigerator 1920s

Looking like a dying duck

Possibly from the aphorism “If it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it probably is a duck” and its derivatives


Chapter 15

Company’s own water both h(ot). and c(old).

A British advertising phrase 1900–1930s; the Companies were municipal water companies created around 1890 and subject to medical and legal regulation respecting the purity of their water [NTPM]

Milk train

“A train that runs very early in the morning, chiefly to transport milk, but also carrying some passengers” [OED] The OED cites Wodehouse in Very Good, Jeeves, chapter 9:

Her intention by the next train, even if that train was a milk-train, stopping at every station.

The implication is that this would be a tedious passenger journey, only taken if an early-morning departure or arrival was necessary. [NM; thanks to Peter Stanford for suggesting the note]


Jail, prison [1250–1300]

Zero hour

The time set for the beginning of a military attack or operation; a decisive or critical time [1915–20]

Position one

Golfing term, referring to the first stance taken when addressing a ball

Daily dozen

A routine consisting of twelve bending and stretching exercises (I have seen the origin of this regimen for this but am now unable to find it.) Wodehouse performed them every day for over seventy years.

(Not a) hoot

The least bit of concern, interest, or thought; trifle

Fatheaded sun

A nifty anthropomorphism


trinitrotoluene; explosive chemical known as TNT, ingredient in dynamite [1910–15]

Null and void

Legal term meaning without force or effect; not valid

Adagio dance

A sequence of well-controlled, graceful movements performed as a display of skill [1740–50]

Ginger (cat)

reddish-brown, rust-colored

See this postman steadily and see him whole

Matthew Arnold (1822–88], Sonnet to a Friend (1848): “My special thanks, whose even-balanced soul, from first youth tested up to extreme old age, business could not make dull, nor passion wild: Who saw life steadily, and saw it whole, the mellow glory of the Attic stage...”

It wouldn’t have taken much to make me write a strong letter to the Times

A phrase used as an expression of righteous indignation, wherein the speaker has encountered some situation he or she deems offensive or against the public interest and threatens to publicly air the grievance by sending a “letter to the editor;” It is used in a figurative sense, as the speaker is usually just blowing off steam

The war horse that sayeth Ha! Among the trumpets

“He saieth among the trumpets, Ha ha; and he smelleth the battle afar off, the thunder of the captains, and the shouting Job 39.25

(An unforeseen) stymie

a situation or problem presenting such difficulties as to discourage or defeat any attempt to deal with or resolve it; in golf, a stymie is the placement of a ball on the green lying directly between another player’s ball and the hole. [1855–60]

I writhed with impotent fury

Sounds like Shakespeare but no reference found; “A screaming, gibbering maniac writhed in my grasp. It bit and clawed and scratched in impotent fury” The Gods of Mars, (1918) Edgar Rice Burroughs



A nymph surprised while bathing

Reference to the popular Victorian paintings of young women caught in nude or semi-nude postures. There were hundreds of these portraying tasteful “classical” semi-nude nymphs/goddesses/shepherdesses being surprised by satyrs/shepherds, etc. Rubens did such paintings as “Diana and Her Nymphs Surprised While Bathing,” and Watteau did “Nymph Surprised By a Satyr,” “Nymphs of the Spring,” and many others like them. Manet, Diaz and Bouguereau all turned out pictures of nymphs bathing or being surprised by satyrs. Most were based on the legend of Actaeon, who surprised Artemis bathing and was properly punished for it by being turned into a stag. [NTPM]

No nymph surprised while bathing could have been quicker off the mark.

The Luck of the Bodkins, ch. 13 (1935)

How long I cursed and she smoked I couldn’t say, but I was just wondering if this degrading exhibition was going on for ever when she suddenly leaped, looked hastily over her shoulder and, hurling the gasper from her, legged it round the side of the house. The whole thing rather reminiscent of a nymph surprised while bathing.

The Mating Season, ch. 15 (1949)

“And with that she whipped out a whacking great decanter and brought it whizzing down on the exact spot where my frontal bone would have been, had I not started back like a nymph surprised while bathing.”

Ring for Jeeves/The Return of Jeeves, ch. 7 (1953/54)

Then suddenly, with a quick “Oh, golly!” she was off like a nymph surprised while bathing, and a moment later I understood what had caused this mobility.

Stiff Upper Lip, Jeeves, ch. 15 (1963)

“A man whose soul is at rest does not leap like a nymph surprised while bathing when somebody tells him he’s there.”

“Sticky Wicket at Blandings” (in Plum Pie, 1966/67)

“We tell him that he came, took one look at the house and was off like a nymph surprised while bathing.”

Company for Henry, ch. 9.3 (1967)

In taking this view, however, I was in error, for scarcely had I uttered the first yip of astonishment when the Glendennon popsy, echoing it with a yip of her own such as might have proceeded from a nymph surprised while bathing, disentangled herself and came whizzing past me, disappearing into the great world outside at a speed which put her in the old ancestor’s class as a sprinter on the flat.

Much Obliged, Jeeves, ch. 13 (1971)

Mr. Trout went to the instrument, and the first words he uttered caused Mr. Llewellyn to stiffen from head to foot like a nymph surprised while bathing, for they were “Good evening, madam,” and they froze him to the marrow.

Bachelors Anonymous, ch. 10 (1973)

And so saying he legged it like a nymph surprised while bathing, and I picked up my By Order Of The Czar.

Aunts Aren’t Gentlemen, ch. 18 (1974)

Joie de vivre

Fr. , joy of living; a delight in being alive; keen, carefree enjoyment of living

A tide in the affairs of men

“There is a tide in the affairs of men, which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune.” Shakespeare, Julius Caesar

Whose sex life had recently stubbed its toe

Another nice anthropomorphism


Exhausted, worn out

Position at the turn

Horse racing term, order of entrants at the first turn of the track

Several lengths separated 2 and 3

Length: The distance from end to end of a horse, boat, etc, as a measure of distance in a race

Chapter 16


A snug place or position; comfortable or cozy room [1805–15]

Son(s) of Toil

A term coined or popularized by Denis Kearney (1847–1907) US labor leader, in an 1878 speech [NTPM]


Sleight of hand [1400–50]

Speaking likeness

A realistic, exact copy, known in America as “spitting image.” first recorded in 1901; “So alike that even the spit out of their mouths is the same"

Let conscience be his guide

From the Koran; after receiving the surrender of Jerusalem, Caliph Umar (634 C.E.] was returning to Medina and led the prayer: “And speak the truth. Do not hesitate to say what you consider to be the truth. Say what you feel. Let your conscience be your guide. Let your intentions be good, for verily God is aware of your intentions.”


A highwayman or robber who goes on foot [1675–85]


Vacuum; For most of the early-and-mid-1900s, the Hoover brand dominated the electric vacuum cleaner industry, to the point where the “hoover” brand name became synonymous for vacuum cleaners and vacuuming in the United Kingdom and Ireland.

Stag at Bay

Sir Edwin Henry Landseer’s (1802–1873) enormously popular painting.

Stag at Bay, (1846) pictured a stag under attack by hounds

All of a doo-dah

flustered, upset about a troublesome situation; NTPM and OED attribute it to the Stephen Foster song Camptown Races, but I’m not so sure. An alternative meaning is ‘dithering,’ for which the OED cites Wodehouse: “Poor old Clarence was patently all of a doodah”. Pigs Have Wings (1952) [TM] It sounds more to me like a knut locution or a 1920s jazz-age catchphrase, but I can’t locate any pertinent references. I also wouldn’t be surprised if it’s an Anglicization of some foreign word meaning turmoil, or the like.

Substantial sofa...I was behind it with perhaps two seconds to spare

Norman Murphy analyzes this device which PGW used to great effect in a number of his books:

“I believe it was his theatrical experience that gave PGW the idea of having his characters hiding behind settees and desks. It was good comedy stagecraft, enabling the audience/reader to “know” what the people on stage do not know, i.e. that there is someone listening to them. It gave him the opportunity to develop four aspects: Firstly, a man diving behind a settee is funny anyway. Secondly, it enabled him to move the plot forward through the narrator listening to other people discussing the situation—thus making them narrators as well. Thirdly, the discovery of the small wooly dogs...was comic as well....Fourthly, it allowed the narrator to reflect on his plight...”

Soupy voice

Overly sentimental, mawkish

...and treacly voice

with contrived or unrestrained sentimentality


Nonsense [before 900]


A person employed to write what another dictates or to copy what has been written by another [1610–20]


Somewhat silly or foolish in a quirky way [1900–05]

Press you to my bosom and cover your lovely face with burning kisses

Gothic sentimentality; PGW’s romantic heroes generally perform this act before all is said and done

Leg-before-wicket rule

In the sport of cricket, leg before wicket (LBW) is one of the ways in which a batsman can be dismissed. An umpire will rule a batsman out LBW under a complex series of circumstances that primarily include the ball striking the batsman’s body (usually the leg) when it would otherwise have continued to hit the wicket. It is designed to prevent a batsman simply using his body to prevent the ball from hitting the wicket (and so avoid being bowled out) rather than using his bat to do so


A fool, dupe

Give the air

To reject, as a lover


a contemptible person, especially an unethical one [1910–15]

Finer feelings

There are two kinds of finer feeling: the feeling of the sublime and the feeling of the beautiful, according to German philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724–1804)

who gives many particular examples of these pleasant feelings: the sight of flower beds, grazing flocks, and daylight, etc; Feelings of the beautiful “occasion a pleasant sensation but one that is joyous and smiling.” To wound someone’s finer feelings is to offend their so-called refined sensibilities in some way


a plate of iron

A dull, sickening thud

Literary cliché; Often used to describe a sound (such as a blunt instrument being used to hit someone on the head) that conveys that a disaster has occurred

Status quo

Lt, state in which; the existing state or condition


Br, worn or marred, as goods exposed in a store; shopworn

Mayfair men

Thieves or burglars; A phrase coined by newspapers in 1937 when some upper-class young men carried out a violent jewel robbery in London. Mayfair is an exclusive district in that city. [NTPM]

A dog’s chance

A very slight probability


Fr., head to head; a private meeting between two people

Chapter 17


awkwardly difficult

Sepia and silver-gray wash

Finishing processes in photography development

Sotto voce

Latin, under the voice: In a soft voice as to not be overheard, as a low, quiet comment to someone that a third party is not intended to hear; Since Madeline isn’t speaking at this point, the use of the term seems incorrect

Silent tomb

The phrase was coined by William Congreve, in The Mourning Bride, (1697): “The silent Tomb receiv’d the good Old King; He and his Sorrows now are safely lodg’d within its cold, but hospitable Bosom. Why am not I at Peace?” Usborne points out that the phrase Bertie sometimes employs “I became once more sotto voce and the silent tomb” is taken from F. Anstey’s 1897 book Baboo Jabberjee, B.A.

The sell like hot cakes

Hot cakes (pancakes) have been popular from earliest times in America. First made of cornmeal, the griddle cakes or pancakes were of course best when served piping hot and were often sold at church benefits, fairs, and other functions. So popular were they that by the beginning of the 19th century ‘to sell like hot cakes’ was a familiar expression for anything that sold very quickly effortlessly, and in quantity

Mervyn Keene, Clubman

see Rosie M. Banks, Chapter Twelve

Coldstream Guards

a prestigious guard regiment of the English royal household


British slang for prison or a punishment [1570–80]

The pace that kills is a slow casual walk across a busy street

The Pace That Kills. The Modern Street Traffic Problem Discussed is an article dated January 1913 I found on the internet, but authorship and publication are uncredited. It appears to be the exact source.


Speech or writing that is false or worthless; rubbish [1885–90]

Bilge (water)

Foolish, worthless or offensive talk or ideas; nonsense [1700–10]

Give yourself a pat on the back

1929 song [Butler/Wallace] “Yesterday was full of trouble and sorrow, but nobody knows what’s going to happen tomorrow; So give yourself a pat on the back, pat on the back, pat on the back Say to yourself, in jolly good health, I’ve had a good day today!”

She said in a low, roopy voice

Roopy: Sc., hoarse, strained


a tiresomely disagreeable person

Old cock

Slang for man


Bounding, as a rabbit

Chapter 18

Branch line

Britain’s rail system consisted of main lines from London, which connected with regional rail centers, which in turn connected with subsidiary branch lines. According to [NTPM] “The branch lines may not have been fast, but they got you there”


British interjection, an expression of surprise [1375–1425]

James Cagney: (1899–1996)

US film actor noted for his “tough wise-guy” portrayals

Edward G. Robinson

(1893–1973) another “tough wise-guy” actor; PGW became friends with Robinson when he worked in Hollywood.

Like something the cat brought in

Disheveled, unkempt; the saying stems from the habit of cats for bringing dead birds, mice, etc. into the house


Venom, treachery, insidiousness


Br. slang, a blackjack; bludgeon [1865–70]

State of hash

A mess, jumble, or a muddle

Singing like a linnet

A small finch; Just so we have the atmosphere right, the song of the linnet is described as “a cheerful, musical, quite varied warble-cum-twitter, interspersed with scratchy and twanging notes which suggest plucking of loose-stringed instrument.” [TM]

Cup of joy

“Poisons no more the pleasure it bestows:
All bitterness is past; the cup of joy;
unmingled mantles to the goblet’s brim,
And courts the thirsty lips it fled before”.

Shelley, The Fairy

Something excavated from Tutankhamen’s tomb

Tutankhamen was ruler of ancient Egypt from 1336–1327 BC. When he died at the age of about 18 years, he was buried in a hastily-prepared tomb in the Valley of the Kings, close to the Nile, opposite Luxor.

Unlike most pharaonic tombs, Tutankhamen’s tomb remained undiscovered for over 3000

years, until 1922, when it was excavated, sparking a worldwide craze for Egyptian design, songs, ornamentation, etc. [TM]

Scratch(ed) the surface

Lightly touch upon; discuss only generally

Death where is thy sting

“O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?”

1 Corinthians 15:55; There was a very popular “coon song” from 1920 called Oh Death, Where Is Thy Sting? (Clarence Stout); the cover illustration shows a preacher in the pulpit lecturing on eternal damnation, while a congregant, also the narrator, looks on and wonders if hell is full of vices, such as alcohol, gambling, and loose women, “Oh death where is they sting?”

Straight from the horses mouth

On good authority; from an original or trustworthy source; Horse racing, traditionally used by a tout to claim inside information on a race


Interjection, Praise ye the Lord; a shout of joy, praise, or gratitude

Desire of the moth for the star

“The desire of the moth for the star, of the night for the morrow” Shelley, To One Word Is Often Profaned

deeper in the broth than I was before

in the soup; in trouble or difficulty; see The Inimitable Jeeves. Compare gumbo above and bouillon below.

(Fixed Corky with a) burning eye

“By this the love-sick queen began to sweat, For where they lay the shadow had forsook them, And Titan, tired in the mid-day heat, With burning eye did hotly overlook them; Shakespeare, Venus and Adonis

Norfolk coat(ed)

A loosely-belted, single breasted jacket with box pleats in front and back [1865–70]


Chapter 19

Safety First

Slogan originated with the British railway companies in the 1890s; Motto of the Conservative Party in 1922. [NTPM]


A pair; couple

Situation in the Balkans

The Balkan Wars began in 1912, involving Serbia, Bulgaria, Greece and Rumania. The Balkan “situation” involved the dissolution of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1919 [NTPM]

Green-eyed monster

“O! Beware, my lord, of jealousy; it is the green-eyed monster which doth mock The meat it feeds on.” Shakespeare, Othello


A practical joke in which a match, inserted surreptitiously between the sole and upper of a victim’s shoe, is lighted and allowed to burn down [1250–1300]

His brow darkened

At these words his brow darkened, and he went away sad; for he was possessed of great wealth. Mark 10.22

Slim volume of verse

PGW’s fictional poets, especially the ones deemed pretentious or artsy, are always producing “slim volumes of verse” or “verse-libre.”


A bad notice by a critic; an opprobrious written communication [1920–25]

Last whoosh of a dying soda-water siphon

A siphon is a glass container equipped with a pump suction device to dispense water or other liquids. The breathy, gurgling sound of empty suction results when the siphon is almost empty.

Trailing arbutus

a creeping eastern North American plant

Gorgonzola cheese

a strongly-flavored variety of Italian mild cheese veined with mold


a minute mite (Tryoglyhus siro) in cheese and other articles of food



Straining at the leash

Eager, raring to go, as a leashed animal attempting to run but being constrained by its leash

Justice of the Peace...

Justices of the Peace, commonly known as magistrates, represent the lowest tier in the judicial system. and were traditionally appointed from among the landed gentry; JPs, usually sitting as a “bench” of three, preside in magistrates’ courts, where they deal with criminal cases, either deciding cases and passing sentence themselves, or, in more serious matters, referring them to Crown Court. Magistrates courts also deal with such non-criminal matters as applications for liquor licences, while a magistrate’s signature is required before certain legal documents, such as search warrants, can be served. [TM] “In Wodehouse novels, a justice of the peace deals with criminals in his own sitting room (see Heavy Weather (1933), where Lord Emsworth looks forward to giving Lord Tilbury fourteen days without the option, and Uncle Dynamite (1948), where Mugsy Bostock gives Sally and Pongo thirty days. This occurred often in rural districts, although the Lord Chancellor strongly disapproved of the practice.” [NTPM]

Straight and narrow path

virtuous or proper conduct; “Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it” Matthew 7:14

On the wing

In flight; in motion, traveling, active

In the offing

At a distance but in sight

Chapter 20


Fr., to take care of; Well-groomed;

Soigné river

A pun on Stephen Foster’s

(1826–1854) song Old Folks At Home (1851): “Way down upon the Swanee Ribber, Far, far away”


Br. slang, to tolerate, endure


There is disagreement among scholars about this word. OED attributes it to PGW. Norman Murphy hypothesizes that PGW misheard the word “Ranikaboo” (a spree, lark, practical joke) and used it as “rannygazoo.” Murphy says: ‘One of the reasons so many words in the Oxford Dictionary have their first usage attributed to PGW is that he was the first British author to put them in print.” The Dictionary of American Regional English shows these variants: ranicky, rani-cum-boogerie, rannygazoo, reinikaboo, renicky (-boo). OED defines it as “a deceptive story or scheme; a prank, racket, or scam.” Another source says: The run-around, nonsense: “Don’t give me any rannygazoo,” P.G. Wodehouse era slang; Another says: “Rannygazoo” is a little known American slang term meaning “a prank”, “a trick”, “a bit of horseplay or nonsense”. The earliest citation is from 1901, where it refers to the sort of newspaper report found in gossip columns “a shadowy foundation blown out of all proportion”; McCrum says it is a “Prohibition-era idiom”; Anatole uses it in RHJ; Usborne says: Some of Psmith’s vocabulary was from early knut sources. ‘Oojah-cum-spiff’ and ‘Rannygazoo’, both knut locutions, were used by Psmith first, and later by Bertie Wooster. When Bertie Wooster used ‘Oojah-cum-spiff’ and ‘Rannygazoo’ in the 1920s, they sounded, to the reader too young to have known the knut language, like personal Wodehouse/Wooster fabrications.

My take: In context, PGW uses the term to mean “a big fuss—monkey business afoot — much ado about something; it sounds like a knut term to me and I agree with Usborne. — And, I wouldn’t be surprised to find that it is a corruption of some French word or phrase

Odds-on bet

A gambling term, being most likely to succeed

shadow of the Pen

Another use of capitalization for emphasis and comic effect

Frozen calm

Many references;” Thinking is, or ought to be, a coolness and a calmness; and our poor hearts throb, and our poor brains beat too much for that. And yet, I’ve sometimes thought my brain was very calm- frozen calm, this old skull cracks so, like a glass in which the contents turned to ice, and shiver it (Moby Dick, 1851] Herman Melville (1819–1891)


Slang for a convict, an imprisoned criminal, or one who has been released from prison. [NM]


Lt; an object or thing, the matter

Smote me like a blow

metaphoric mix of biblical (smite, smote) and slang (blow)

A hundred to eight

Long odds, unlikely to succeed


A loose, one-piece garment combining a shirt or blouse and short, bloomerlike pants, worn by young children. [1835–40]


Funny business, describes a situation where someone is “pulling a fast one” or engaging in foul play

Languishing in a dungeon with gyves upon his wrists

The word “languish”—to become feeble, to fade — is commonly used with “dungeon” “Stupid animal that I I must languish in this dungeon, till people who were proud to say they knew me, have forgotten the very name of Toad! Wind in the Willows (1908) by Kenneth Grahame) “On the eve of his wedding day Dantès is torn from his betrothed and sent to languish in a dungeon” Count of Monte Cristo (1845–46] Dumas (1802–1870)


archaic, a shackle. “Two stern-faced men set out from Lynn, Through the cold and heavy mist; and Eugene Aram walked between with gyves upon his wrists” from Thomas Hood’s (1799–1845) The Dream of Eugene Aram (1831)

See also A Damsel in Distress.

The Force

use of the upper case for effect

The powers of the High, the Middle, and the Low Justice

In Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s novel The White Company (published 1890), the phrase is explained thusly: “Though I scarce understand this high, middle and low.” “By my hilt! You would understand it if you were Jacques Bonhomme. The low justice means that you may fleece him, and the middle that you may torture him, and the high that you may slay him."


Br. slang, handcuffs, manacles (1565–75)

Try that one on your pianola

The publishers of sheet music from the 1900–1920s advertised on the back page other songs from their catalogs; The ubiquitous phrase “Try this on your piano, or try this one on your player-piano (or pianola)” appeared regularly in these ads; A pianola is an early player-piano; In 1910, Irving Berlin (1888–1989) used the phrase in a song, “Try It on your piano:”

“While I don’t doubt what you say is true,
I’m not taking chances with some love that’s new;
So Mister Manners, try it on your piano,
But you can’t try it on me”

The primrose path

A way of life devoted to irresponsibility, hedonism, often of a sensual nature; “This place is too cold for hell. I’ll devil-porter it no further: I had thought to have let in some of all professions, that go the primrose way to the everlasting bonfire.” Shakespeare, Macbeth

The sky is the limit

No boundary, anything is possible

I don’t know if you have ever been tied hand and foot

Another of Bertie’s references to the hackneyed plots of mystery thrillers

Lucky strike

Good fortune, serendipity; Originated in the gold rush days of California and Alaska (1840s) to indicate the finding of gold in a mine

His hat is on the side of his head

An expression of carefree jauntiness; to wear one’s hat tipped to the side, i.e., worn slightly askew; “My Hat’s on the Side of My Head” is a song from the 1934 musical film Jack Ahoy, music and lyrics by Claude Hulbert and Harry M Woods.

That cheers the heart

“Come, come, sweet emperor; come, Andronicus; Take up this good old man, and cheer the heart, that dies in tempest of thy angry frown. Shakespeare, Titus Andronicus

Chapter 21


Having bulky protrusions

Pharaoh and all those plagues he got... Plague of Frogs

The second of ten plagues from Exodus 8:1–4 “And the Lord spake unto Moses, Go unto Pharaoh, and say unto him, Thus saith the Lord, Let my people go, that they may serve me. And if thou refuse to let them go, behold, I will smite all thy borders with frogs: And the river shall bring forth frogs abundantly, which shall go up and come into thine house, and into thy bedchamber, and upon thy bed, and into the house of thy servants, and upon thy people, and into thy ovens, and into thy kneading troughs: And the frogs shall come up both on thee, and upon thy people, and upon all thy servants.

Plague of Lice

The third plague. “So the Lord said to Moses, “Say to Aaron, ‘Stretch out your rod, and strike the dust of the land, so that it may become lice throughout all the land of Egypt.’” And they did so. For Aaron stretched out his hand with his rod and struck the dust of the earth, and it became lice on man and beast. All the dust of the land became lice throughout all the land of Egypt”


A row of bushes or trees forming a hedge

Howl like a lost soul

Has a biblical ring to it, but I can’t identify it as such; “And blamed if she didn’t pull down the very book Bill got to make his stopper! She opened it and let out a howl like a lost soul. “It’s gone!” she screeched. “The leaf’s been torn out! I’m robbed!” from Dark Shanghai, (1932) by Robert E. Howard (1906–1936)

Loony bin...Colney Hatch

England’s largest lunatic asylum, built in 1851. The place where many people ought to be, according to someone else, in PGW.

Talent scout(s)

A person whose business it is to recognize and recruit persons or marked aptitude for a certain field or occupation; PGW’s reference here perhaps refers to psychiatrists. [1935–40]

“What’s all this?”

Said by PGW’s policemen when they come across a disturbance or something appears out-of-the-ordinary or suspicious. The phrase usually makes the perpetrator of the outrage uncomfortable. I’m certain the usage goes back a long way, but I haven’t been able to find an exact reference to it. “What’s all this?” A vast policeman had materialized from nowhere. He stood beside them, a living statue of Vigilant Authority. One thumb rested easily on his broad belt. The fingers of the other hand caressed lightly a moustache that had caused more heart-burnings among the gentler sex than any other two moustaches in the C-division. The eyes above the moustache were stern and questioning. “What’s all this?” PGW, A Damsel in Distress (1919)

The Archbishop of Canterbury

The head of the Church of England, appointed by the crown

Sort of chap likely to win friends and influence people

How to Win Friends and Influence People” (1926) popular self-improvement book written by Dale Carnegie (1885–1955)

Put the tin hat on

Br. slang, finish for good

Trying not to let a twig snap beneath my feet

James Fenimore Cooper’s (1789–1851)

The Last of the Mohicans (1826) features an Indian, Chingachgook, who moves noiselessly through forests without “letting a single twig crack beneath his feet.” PGW clearly meant this book but I haven’t managed to find this line in it. [NTPM]

Right in the middle of the fairway

An unobstructed passage, way, or area; A golf reference

Attila the Hun

(406?-453] infamous king of the Huns who invaded Europe

The Wedding Guest had the same trouble...

From Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s (1772–1834) Rime of the Ancient Mariner: In the first scene an ancient mariner stops a guest at a wedding party and begins to tell his tale. The mariner’s words then transport the reader on a long ocean voyage, returning to the wedding at the end of the poem.

Twenty-minute egg

Refers to the time it takes to boil a hard-boiled egg


The romantic lover of Juliet in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet; the name is synonymous with men who woo ardently or indiscriminately

Stage wait

Theatrical term referring to a pause during a performance, usually caused by a performer’s missing a cue

The hour produced the man

The phrase has become a well-worn cliché among sportswriters, but nobody seems to know where it originated. [NTPM]

What Woman’s constancy amounts to...

Woman’s Constancy by John Donne (1572–1631) “Now thou hast loved me one whole day, To-morrow when thou leavest, what wilt thou say? Wilt thou then antedate some new-made vow? Or say that now we are not just those persons which we were?”


Interjection used to express contempt or disgust [1535–45]

Dogs that bit like serpents

“And at last it biteth like a serpent and sting like an adder” from Proverbs 23.31; the biblical reference is to drinking, Bertie’s is to dog-biting — hence, another lovely PGW double pun

In ecstasies (myself)

Many references to this phrase, among them Hugo, Browning, London, Dickens, Verne, Dumas, et al

I loved my species

No specific reference found, but PGW also used the phrase in “The Sluggard” from 1914

The milk of human kindness

“Yet I do not fear thy nature; it is too full of the milk of human kindness” Shakespeare, Macbeth

Sir Galahad

The noblest and purest knight of the Round Table in Arthurian legend (1250–1300)

Minor prophet without a beard...started in immediately to thunder denunciations

The young prophet Jeremiah: He is called to “stand before kings, to thunder denunciations and judgments, to feel the sharp lash of their recrimination against him, to endure their anger and their power, and to suffer with his people as he sees them rushing headlong to their own self-destruction”

Fathers who know how to set about an erring daughter

Calls to mind the Victorian melodramatic cliché of the stern father casting the unfortunate daughter out into the snow; An early reference: Wagner’s Die Walküre: Wotan arrives in hot pursuit of his erring daughter; dismisses her frightened, pleading sisters; and proceeds to tell her what her punishment shall be. She shall be condemned to lie in a magic sleep on the mountain top, and be the bride of the first man who finds and wakens her.

Chapter 22

village hall stood in the middle of the High Street

American readers might misinterpret this to mean along the centerline of the street, but in British parlance being “in a street” means the same as “on a street” in American English. Here, “middle” must mean alongside the street, near the halfway point of the street as measured from end to end. [NM]

Didn’t know much about architecture but knew what he liked

Cliché, “I don’t know much about music/art/poetry/whatever, but I know what I like” is still common. Max Beerbohn made it famous in Zuleika Dobson, his splendid 1911 satire on Oxford...”


mid-Victorian jobs in glazed red brick

Compare Walsingford Hall in Summer Moonshine, ch. 2 (1938), also rebuilt in Victorian times in glazed red brick. [NM]

Whatever may be said in favour of the Victorians, it is pretty generally admitted that few of them were to be trusted within reach of a trowel and a pile of bricks.


The ending “e’s” impart a supposed quaintness i.e., Ye olde whatever;” PGW is mocking the affectation; He used the same device with Ye Panache Presse from Cocktail Time (1958)

fug (gy)

stale air, especially the humid, warm, ill-smelling air of a crowded room, kitchen, etc. [1885–90]

smelled in about equal proportions…

See The Inimitable Jeeves.

Bill of fare

the program of entertainment, as at a theater [1630–40]


Several, various, sundry; an indefinite number more than one [1200–50]


A soft drink similar to ginger ale but containing more ginger flavor [1800–10]


pity or compassion; mercy, sympathy [1125–75]

“O, let me breathe a while, and hold thy heavy hand,
My grievous faults with Shame enough I understand,
Take ruth and pity on my plaint, or else I am forlorn;
Let not the world continue thus in laughing me to scorn;

[The Marriage of Wit and Science (1570), in A Select Collection of Old English Plays edited by W. Carew Hazlitt.]

A sealed book

Something beyond understanding and therefore unknown [1810–20]

“And the vision of all is become unto you as the words of a book that is sealed, which men deliver to one that is learned, saying, Read this, I pray thee: and he saith, I cannot; for it is sealed” Isaiah 29:11

Salesmen and farmer’s daughter stories

Traditional American jokes of a risqué nature usually consisting of three episodes: The traveling salesman’s car breaks down near a farmhouse; the farmer advises him he can stay until his car is repaired, but warns him not to become intimate with his young daughter; the punch line, usually involving the salesman having or trying the have sex with the daughter

Church Organ

In the UK book, capitalized for effect as though it were a title for a sermon.

Holes in its socks

another lovely anthropomorphism

Brother-can-you-spare-a-dime stuff

A reference to the 1932 pathos-ridden Depression song by [Gorney/Harburg], in which the narrator recites all the things he has done to earn a place in society, but which are now meaningless because (due to the Depression) he doesn’t have a job and, reduced to begging, encounters an old friend:

“Oh, say don’t you remember? They called me Al; it was Al all the time. Say, don’t you remember? I’m your pal Buddy, can you spare a dime?”

Hand in its dinner pail

PGW uses it often as a euphemism for death; For ages, society has avoided direct references to subjects that are touchy or taboo: death, sex, madness, and so on. Thus we shrink from saying “He died last night” but say instead “passed away,” “left us,” “joined his Maker,” “went to his reward.” Or we try to take off the tension with a lighter cliché: “kicked the bucket,” “cashed in his chips,” “handed in his dinner pail.” I’m not sure of the origin of the phrase, but here’s a use from 1907: “Why are you so cruel to me?” asked Dorothy. “I’m a stranger in your country, and have done you no harm.” “No harm!” cried one who seemed to be their leader. Have you not a stolen dinner-pail still in your hand?” “I only picked one of each,” she answered. “I was hungry, and I didn’t know the trees were yours.” “That is no excuse,” retorted the leader, who was clothed in a most gorgeous suit. “It is the law here that whoever picks a dinner-pail without our permission must die immediately.” Ozma of Oz, L. Frank Baum

Shot in the arm

Something that results in renewed vigor, confidence, etc; stimulus

Eustacia Pulbrook

Sir Eustace Pulbrook (1881–1953), chairman of Lloyd’s of London, was president of the Dulwich (PGW’s old school) Old Boys Association immediately after the war and objected, after the WW II broadcasts, to PGW being readmitted.


a servile follower or subordinate of a person in power (1490–1500)

“My Hero” from The Chocolate Soldier

The song waltz from Oscar Strauss’ 1908 operetta (lyrics by Stanislaus Stange—who went down with the Titanic) was popular at amateur concerts for 30 years, allowing the lady singer full volume, the display of tremendous emotion, and to finish off with a note like a steam whistle. [NTPM] It’s been described as a “smarmy love song with tremolos:” “I have a true and noble lover, he is my sweetheart, all my own; His like on earth who shall discover? His heart is mine, and mine alone, we pledged our troth each to the other, And for our happiness I pray; Our lives belong to one another, Oh happy happy wedding day, Oh happy, happy wedding day; Come! Come! I love you only, my heart is true, Come! Come! My life is lonely, I long for you, Come! Come! Naught can efface you, My arms are dying now to embrace you, Thou divine! Come! Come! I love you only, Come, hero mine.”

Oh, who will o’er the downs with me

I haven’t been able to find the lyrics to this one, only a few references: “the well-known Winterbourne Glee” Oh, who will O’er the Downs with me” ... “We had no chance to learn music or play an instrument but I enjoyed singing the now old-fashioned songs like ‘There the bee sucks’, ‘Barbara Allen’, ‘Great Grey River’, ‘Where E’er you Walk’ and ‘Oh who will o’er the downs with me’ . Of course the boys used to emphasise the words ‘to win a BLOOMING bride’”...R.E. Hames of Willsbridge, composed ‘O who will o’er the downs with me?

Indian Love Call

song from the operetta Rose Marie [Harbach/ Hammerstein, 1923]

later popularized by Jeanette MacDonald in the1936 film; known for its chorus “I’ll be calling you-oo-oo-oo.”

Eton jacket

A boy’s black waist-length jacket with wide lapels and an open front, worn by students at the school [1880–85]

Ben Battle

Actually entitled “Faithless Nelly Gray” (1826) by Thomas Hood (1799–1845):

“Ben Battle was a soldier bold, and used to war’s alarms;
But a cannon-ball took off his legs, So he laid down his arms.
Now as they bore him off the field, Said he, ‘Let others shoot;
For here I leave my second leg, And the Forty-second Foot.’ ” Etc., etc.

Dangerous Dan McGrew(s)

Robert W. Service poem from 1931:

“A bunch of the boys were whooping it up in the Malamute saloon;
The kid that handles the music-box was hitting a jag-time tune;
Back of the bar, in a solo game, sat Dangerous Dan McGrew,
And watching his luck was his light-o’-love, the lady that’s known as Lou.”


A poor or unsuccessful theatrical production; flop

The act died standing up

Flopped; A sly pun

In low water

Dispirited, sad


Fr. Muslin; It’s possible that this may be a malapropism by Bertie; Gertrude, under the circumstances, would be expected to be wearing a moue, a pouting grimace.

I mourn in spirit

“Thou needest not feel sorrow in thy heart, as thou liest in thy bonds, nor mourn in spirit that men should dwell in heaven above...” Genesis

Like listening to the rain at three o’clock on a Sunday afternoon in November

This sounds too elaborate to be a PGW invention; My guess is that it’s a quote from a popular song, but I can’t find it.

Full hunting costume, pink coat and everything

Fox-hunters usually wore traditional hunting costume. Most recognizable were the scarlet coats worn by huntsmen, masters, whippers-in and other officials. These are called pinks, and there are many theories about the origin of the term. Most popular is the view that the red coats are called pinks not because of their hue, but because the original hunting coat was designed by an London tailor called Pink (or Pinke, or Pinque) who bought large quantities of material after the American War of Independence in 1783 and became popular for hunting attire.



The goods

What has been promised or paid for; what is expected


characteristic quality of sound; tone color;


It. , vigor, vivacity

You are home

Safe, as in baseball

Glee (Oh, come unto these yellow sands)

By John Bannister and Purcell, words excerpted from Shakespeare’s The Tempest: “Come unto these yellow sands, then take hands; Curtsied when you have and kissed, the wild waves whist; Foot it featly here and there; And sweet sprites the burthen bear.”

A Criterion barmaid of the old school

The Criterion was an elegant bar on Piccadilly Circus, built in 1874; Norman Murphy describes a British barmaid thusly: “They were stately, full-figured ladies of immense dignity.”

Vision of Salome

See Mark 6:21–29. Although the New Testament does not mention her name, Salome’s dancing so pleased her stepfather Herod Antipas, that he promised to give her anything she might demand, “unto the half of my kingdom.” At her mother Herodias’ request, she asked for the head of John the Baptist, who had denounced Herodias’ unlawful marriage to Herod Antipas. Wodehouse’s immediate source, however, must be Maud Allan (1873–1956), who was a huge success on the London stage, in or about 1908, with a daring number called “Vision of Salome,” inspired by Oscar Wilde’s "Salome.”

the Women’s Institute

In A Wodehouse Handbook, Murphy says that (the performance of Salome’s Dance at the Village concert discussed here was sanitized, or words to that effect) by the “Mothers Union.” In both the Jenkins and Didier first editions, it is the Women’s Institute—the “Mother’s Union” isn’t mentioned at all.

Peter Stanford comments: This is a real nationwide institution, in which women met to discuss things. Now (like so many other societies) it is trying to become with-it and relevant. But in PGW’s day it was full of stuffy matronly types giving each other lectures on flower arranging, baking and so on. They seem to call themselves “The WI” now, in a rebranding exercise.

NM is reminded that in the original Monty Python’s Flying Circus episodes, the often-used insert film clip of applause by a group of respectable-looking middle-aged women is listed in the published scripts as “Stock shot of Women’s Institute applauding.”


A knot or hitch for fastening a rope to a spar or larger rope, also called a builders hitch. [1760–70]


A ruffian, rowdy, or tough [1855–60]


A hawker of fruit, vegetable, fish, etc, who sells from a cart or a stand on the street [1505–15]


Theatrical, Extremely impressive or successful, as in a show; orig. US, Variety newspaper [1935–40]

He had slain them

Impressed strongly, overwhelmed, as an audience

Stop (ped) the show

Theatrical, to cause such a positive audience reaction by a performance that the show is delayed by the accolades and applause of the audience

I stood rooted to the spot

Fixed, immobile, as if by roots; Gothic cliche

Chapter 23

Hit Parade

A listing or category of popular songs ranked according to their popularity with listeners, usually as shown by sales of records [1935–40]

I’m sunk

Beyond help, done for, washed up


Br. slang, blimey [1895–1900]; minced oath for “God blind me”

(you have beheld Bertram Wooster) in the bouillon

in the soup, in trouble; see see The Inimitable Jeeves. Compare gumbo and broth above.

Union Jack

The British national flag, properly called the Union Flag

Skin off your nose

A drinking toast, cited in the OED from Soldier and Sailor Words (1925) as well as from Wodehouse in Young Men in Spats (1936) and in the present sentence.

Mud in your eye

A drinking toast, cited in the OED from The Smart Set in 1912 as well as from Wodehouse in the present sentence.


An error or blunder, especially an actor’s lapse in the delivery of his lines

Very feudal

Pertaining to the feudal system or its political, military, social and economic structure: In this case, referring to the loyalty of a servant (Jeeves) to his master (Bertie)

Go over Niagara Falls in a barrel

Niagara Falls is a set of massive waterfalls located on the Niagara River on the border between Canada and the United States. In October 1829, Sam Patch jumped from a high tower into the gorge below the falls and survived; this began a long tradition of daredevils trying to go over the Falls. In 1901, 46-year-old school teacher Annie Edson Taylor was the first person to go over the Falls in a barrel as a publicity stunt


proceed, go

Stars quiring to the young-eyed Cherubim

Quiring: archaic, singing, as a choir; “Sit, Jessica, look how the floor of heaven is thick inlaid with patines of bright gold; There’s not the smallest orb which thou beholds’t but in his motion like an angel sings, Still quiring to the young-eyed cherubim’s.” Shakespeare, Merchant of Venice

Cherub (pl. Cherubim): A member of the second order of angels often represented as a beautiful rosy-cheeked child with wings

Spirit gum

Glue used in fastening false hair to an actor’s skin; a solution of vegetable gum in ether and/or alcohol [1890–95]


Chiefly Br., Something of no value; trash; filth, slime, manure


Sulfuric acid; highly corrosive


A hard drinker or a chronic drunkard [1665–75]


Disapproved of, scolded, reproached (chided)


Inferior or cheap; chintzy

A beaker full of the warm south, full of the true, the blushful Hippocrene

Although this was originally water flowing from a sacred fountain, Keat’s poem “Ode to a Nightingale” turned it into a legendary red wine: “O for a beaker full of the warm South, Full of the true the blushful Hippocrene, With beaded bubbles winking at the brim.”[NTPM]

Chapter 24


British, A boy or man who works in an inn or a public house serving customers and doing chores.

Down centre

Theatrical, in front at the middle of the stage


Something having a sudden and sensational effect [1925–30]

Cornish Riviera Express

an English express passenger train, known for speed, that has run from London to Penzance in Cornwall since 1904

The Charge of the Light Brigade

Tennyson’s 1854 poem, celebrating the British cavalry attack on the Russian position during the Crimean War:

“Half a league, half a league, Half a league onward,
All in the valley of Death Rode the six hundred.”
"Forward the Light Brigade! Charge for the guns!” he said.
Into the valley of Death Rode the six hundred.
Forward, the Light Brigade! “Was there a man dismay’d?
Not tho’ the soldier knew Some one had blunder’d.
Theirs not to make reply, Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to do and die.” etc.


Lacking liveliness, vitality, spirit, or enthusiasm [1590–1600]


British slang used to express surprise or amazement [1910–15]

While there is life, there is hope

From the Latin proverb “Aegroto, dum anima est, spes est.” I am sick but while there is life, there is hope. [NTPM]

Two-pennorth of hope

Two cents worth


a drink [1520–30]

To give good men the elbow

to prod in the ribs in order to shove aside or get rid of

(Giving me the) office

Hint, signal, or warning; high sign

You have lured him on to a doom so hideous the brain reels

Combination of melodramatic clichés

The big scene in Hound of the Baskervilles

“A hound it was, an enormous coal-black hound, but not such a hound as mortal eyes have ever seen. Fire burst from its open mouth, its eyes glowed with a smouldering glare, its muzzle and hackles and dewlap were outlined in flickering flame. Never in the delirious dream of a disordered brain could anything more savage, more appalling, more hellish be conceived than that dark form and savage face which broke upon us out of the wall of fog.” Arthur Conan Doyle, 1902

(The quick) fade-out

Theatrical; a gradual decrease in the visibility of a scene until it is left in darkness

She clapped spurs to her two-seater

Figurative, as in spurring on a horse


A contestant in a race, contest, etc. who loses badly; in a horse race, one that did not win, place, or show. In sports journalism, worthy only of a name mention in a list of competitors.


Loud, deep cries or sounds

Come home on a tight rein

Horse racing, to finish a race with the jockey holding the reins taught for full control of the horse; as opposed to loose rein, letting the horse run free

A lily in the right hand

Martyrs have been traditionally depicted holding a lily in their right hands

Food for thought

Something that provides mental stimulus for thinking

Nursing in my bosom

“Did I give birth to them, that you should say to me, “carry them in your bosom, as a nurse carries a suckling child...” Numbers 11:12; Has become a metaphor for giving trust, love, friendship or comfort, and is often used when that trust has been in some way violated; “Let him go,” she said in a clear voice that carried through the tensely quiet room. “Let him go, he is a traitor, a speculator! He is a viper that we have nursed to our bosoms! Gone With The Wind by Margaret Mitchell (1936)

Muscle (guy)

A hired thug or thugs specializing in physical violence

Objet(s) d’art

Fr. An object of artistic worth or curiosity, especially a small object

Poke bonnet

A bonnet or hat with a projecting brim at the front, framing the face [1760–70]

Cocked hat

A man’s hat, worn in the 18th century, having a wide, stiff brim turned up on two or three sides toward a peaked crown

The scales fall from your eyes

“And immediately there fell from his eyes as it had been scales; and he received forthwith, and arose, and was baptized.” Acts 9.18

A fair cop

when the perpetrator has been caught dead-to-rights, in the act

The Ernest Hemingway type

American writer (1899–1961) He led a turbulent social life, was married four times, and allegedly had various romantic relationships during his lifetime; he came to epitomize a sort of prototypical machismo; an adventurousness involving outdoor activities and hard living.


A shout of exuberant joy [1875–80]

Now the labourer’s task is O’er

Hymn used in Masonic funerary services; “Now the laborer’s task is o’er; now the battle day is past; Now upon the farther shore lands the voyager at last; (John Ellerton 1826–1893]

Like nobody’s business

colloquial, with the greatest degree of success; better than anyone else

Bien être

Fr., to be well; State which includes the basic aspects of a good life, namely: freedom of choice, health and well-being of the body, good social relations, safety, serene spirit and spiritual experiment.

Sitting on top of the world

In an entirely advantageous position; Self-satisfied, happy; in 1925, Al Jolson had a great hit with the song “I’m Sitting on Top of the World,” (Lewis/Young/Henderson): “I’m sitting on top of the world, just rollin’ along, singin’ my song.” Jolson’s recording at YouTube.

Chapter 25

Fob(bing the customers off)

To cheat someone by substituting something spurious or inferior [1350–1400]

The telling phrase

A representative evocation of the whole; a statement that succinctly summarizes or characterizes a position or state of affairs


Dressage: A leap of a horse from a rearing position, in which it springs up with the hind legs outstretched as the forelegs descend

Hark for’rard!

Ancient hunting call

Sir Roderick Glossop

The brain chap, the loony doctor, in many of PGW’s books and stories

Straight waistcoat


You certainly wowed them

Delighted, surprised, overwhelmed

Cheese (it)

Cease, stop;

The tree on which the fruit of her life hung

A fractured take on: “And he showed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb. In the midst of the street of it, and on either side of the river, there was the tree of life, which bare twelve fruits, and yielded her fruit every month: and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations... Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city.” Revelation. 22:1–2

I wore the mask

Pretended; hid one’s feelings;

Give him jeweled snuff-boxes

A snuff box is a small, often ornately designed box or container in which to hold snuff; In the novel by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, "A Scandal in Bohemia” (1892), the King of Bohemia gave Sherlock Holmes a jeweled snuff box with gold accents.

The good fight

“Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life, whereunto thou art also called, and hast professed a good profession before many witnesses.” Timothy 6.12; the phrase was commonly used in the 19th century as an urging, commemoration or remembrance of an effort to achieve a noble cause. In November 1843, the Gettysburg newspaper The Republican Compiler printed a speech made to Republican forces by Joab Prout, on the eve of the Battle of Brandywine: “Soldiers — tomorrow morning we will go forth to battle ... need I exhort you to fight the good fight for your homesteads, and for your wives and children!"

Sinclair Lewis: (1885–1951)

American author, Lewis has been called “the leading chronicler the jazz age and the social change that was occurring during the roaring twenties. In A Wodehouse Handbook, Murphy says: “Why PGW should have associated Corky with this American author is beyond me.” I can’t find any record of Lewis and PGW ever having met. I don’t believe he is mentioned in any of the biographies, correspondence, or autobiographies. In 1914, Lewis was employed as an editor for George H. Doran in New York, PGW’s long-time American publisher. But Damsel in Distress (1919) was his first Doran book and whether the two ever met is unknown, as far as I can determine. Wodehouse’s only other connection to Lewis that I can find are his lyrics to the song Meet Me Down on Main Street from the 1923 musical comedy The Beauty Prize. (Lewis had published his groundbreaking novel Main Street in 1921; it has been called “the most sensational event in twentieth-century American publishing history.” In the first six months of 1921 alone, Main Street sold 180,000 copies, and within a few years sales were estimated at two million). PGW’s song was an incisive satire on the character Babbitt, from Lewis’ novel of the same name, published in 1922. Barry Day writes: “George F. Babbitt was the hero of Sinclair Lewis’s novel Babbitt, published in 1922. Its harsh indictment on middle-class American values made the term “Babbitry” a synonym for a rigidly conformist, materialistic, anti-intellectual way of life.” [The Complete Lyrics of PGW] . Wodehouse mocked Babbitt’s restrictive take on things in his lyrics: “Yankee Doodle is no more, he’s been and changed his name; They call him George F. Babbitt now, but I guess he’s just the same; We’ll eat soft shell crabs and breakfast bran, and join the Ku Klux Klan...In Main Street they’re determined to suppress what’er may come, the ravages created by well-known Demon Rum; the Prohibition Officers would have you understand the ice cream soda fountain is the bulwark of the land...” So why did PGW think Corky would be a good wife for Sinclair Lewis? Apparently, the inference is that someone like Lewis i.e., his alter ego Babbitt, would be a counter-balance to Corky’s own, shall we say, espeglerie and to “keep her in line”

Wormwood Scrubs

A London prison built 1874–90) [NTPM]

A couple of rashers

Chiefly Br., slices of bacon [1585–95]


This appears to be a tip of the hat to PGW’s friend Ira Gershwin, whose 1926 song “Sunny Disposish” abbreviated words for style and rhyming possibilities. Gershwin was a great admirer of PGW’s lyrics. He was generally given credit for inventing this device, but PGW himself used it in Oh Boy in 1917, and again in the song “In Our Little Paradise (Paradise in MO)” from See You Later in 1918: “And I’ve got a hunch I’d be a perfect ray of sunsh, in our little paradise in Mo; Or would it not be, more judish, if we our life began near Kansas City, Kan.” This went on for some fifteen verses!

They’re saying “Go” like the chap in the bible...”

The centurion said to Jesus ‘and I say to this man Go, and he goeth; and to another, Come, and he cometh; and to my servant, Do this, and he doeth’” Matthew 8.9

Blood is thicker than water

This proverb means that however binding the ties of friendship, those of family are stronger. It dates from the middle ages and the first recorded use is in 1670

Master of Hounds

Master of Fox Hounds (M.F.H.) or Joint Master of Fox Hounds operates the sporting activities of the hunt, maintains the kennels, works with (and sometimes is) the huntsman, and spends the money raised by the hunt club.

Remained on the burning deck

“The boy stood on the burning deck, whence all but he had fled” From the poem Casabianca, by Felicia Hemans (1793–1835) concerning the Battle of the Nile (1798) story of a heroic boy who stayed at his post onboard the ship L’Orient because he did not want to leave his father’s body while the rest of the crew abandoned ship. [TM]

Bing Crosby

(1905–1977) the most popular American popular singer of the 30s and into the 40s

A poor house

Theatrical, a small or unappreciative audience

Chapter 26


An often noisy or disorderly group of people or things [1350–1400]

A woman on the point of wailing for her demon lover

“As e’er beneath a waning moon was haunted, by a woman wailing for her demon lover!” Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1875–1912) Kubla Khan (1797–8]

A chump chop

a type of lamb chop equivalent to rump steak.


a tie in a race [1790–1800]

An outsider

Horse racing, a long shot; a horse thought to have a poor chance of winning

On the evening of twenty-third inst

Instant, older use, of the present month; PGW’s rozzers are inclined to speak at times as though they were testifying in court

Infants Bible Class

The Official Yearbook of the Church of England (1887) doesn’t specifically mention an Infants Bible Class, but in Sunday school classes, it appears that infants and girls were designated to attend the same classes.

A noise like rising pheasant

A pheasant is a game bird that, when flushed, bursts and rises into quick flight; the noise, presumably, would be whooshing and rushing, flapping of the wings

Tortured Souls Preferred

Capitalization for effect, as though it were the name of a stock; A preferred stock is one which, among other things, has priority over common stock in the event of bankruptcy and in the repayment of dividends (hence, the “preferred” in its name).

Stern Father

More capitalization, here inviting the image of filial authority

By Jove

An exclamation used to emphasize an accompanying remark or to register surprise; Jupiter [1325–75]

You want to get out from under

to escape, to avoid

Judge Jeffreys

George Jeffreys, 1st Baron of Wem (1645–1689) was a lawyer who prospered during the reigns of Charles II, who appointed him Lord Chief Justice. He presided over a commission set up at Winchester to try those accused of complicity in the failed Monmouth rebellion of 1865. His conduct at Winchester led to him being branded “Hanging Judge Jeffreys” and the trials are now known to history as the “Bloody Assizes"—at least 320 people were executed and hundreds more were transported to work as slaves in the West Indies after trials which, in many cases, were a mockery of justice. [TM]

Throw(ing) Catsmeat to the wolves

To “throw to the wolves” once meant to divert attention from, as in the story of the young bride and groom who were flung from a fleeing sled to keep the pursuing wolves busy while the other occupants of the sled escaped. Another origin of this phrase is found in one of Aesop’s fables, in which a nurse threatens to hand her charges over to a pack of wolves if they continued to misbehave. Today, this phrase is used to refer to being abandoned or dismissed to a bad fate.

The whole trend of modern life in England was toward a planned Americanization

“Americanization” is normally understood in terms of modern progress; the importation of American culture, media, social life and mores to a foreign society

One-act sketch

A brief comedic or dramatic entertainment, needing no intermission

Going up the river

Slang, having been or about to be sentenced to prison


Confused, lacking understanding

A darned good three-reel situation

A reel is a spool on which motion picture film is wound; In the early days of cinema, motion pictures images were copied to one, two, three, or four reels, depending on length; a “One-reeler” would have been a shorter movie; “Third reel” here represents the final or last reel, containing the end of the movie with the happy ending.

Registry office

A civil office in which a marriage can take place


In Irish folklore, a spirit in the form of a wailing woman who appears to or is heard by members of a family as a sign that one of them is about to die [1765–75]


A shout or exclamation, used to attract attention [1350–1400]

Pick at the coverlet

The pathological term for this is carphology—fumbling, plucking at straws or blankets. References seem to indicate that “picking at the coverlet” is a sign of impending death, something one does as he or she is about to pass away:

He lay almost motionless for a little while, then suddenly partly raised his head and looked about him as one who peers into a dim uncertain light. He muttered “Gone? No—I see you—still. It is—it is—over. But you are—safe...” The voice died out in a whisper; the sentence was never finished. The emaciated fingers began to pick at the coverlet, a fatal sign. After a time there were no sounds but the cries of the mourners within and the gusty turmoil of the wind without.

The Gilded Age (1873), by Mark Twain (1835–1910) and Charles Dudley Warner (1829–1900)

He had entered the room with a flare of hate for the thug whom he had come to see die...but at first sight of the broken figure he felt all animosity fall away from him; only awe remained, and a growing, traitorous pity as he watched the long, white fingers pick at the coverlet.

The Gentleman from Indiana by Booth Tarkington (1869–1946)

And finally, here is PGW himself, from a March 1917 article written for Vanity Fair entitled “The Agonies of Writing a Musical Comedy”:

This is where he begins to clutch his forehead and to grow gray at the temples. He cannot possibly shift musical number four, which is a chorus number, into the spot now occupied by musical number three, which is a duet, because three is a “situation” number, rooted to its place by the exigencies of the story. The only thing to do is to pull the act to pieces and start afresh. And when you consider that this sort of thing happens not once but a dozen times between the start of a musical comedy book and its completion, can you wonder that this branch of writing is included among the dangerous trades and that librettists always end by picking at the coverlet?

Seen it turn blue on him

Utterly fail, as a person reputedly turns blue when choking


A loud electric horn, once used on automobiles and trucks [1905–10]

In Turkey all this insubordinate stuff

“Passing through a low wide arch, the visitor finds himself in a large court, having on the right side one of four principle towers, which is used as a state prison for persons of distinction. In the lower cell of this tower is a stone tunnel, descending deep into the sea. At its mouth is a block of marble, against which the prisoners condemned to die kneel to receive the fatal stroke. The severed head falls into the tunnel and is carried away beyond the walls of the fortress. The body, which cannot then be identified, is thrown into the channel elsewhere. There is a similar arrangement in another part, connected with the “Tower of Blood” It was here that the multitudes of them were strangled by the murderous bowstring. Their lifeless bodies were then dragged down to the Traitor’s Gate, and thrown into the Bosphorus. Turkey: the People, Country and Government (1854) by Thomas Galland Horton


Chapter 27

The poet Scott

“O Woman! In our hours of ease, Uncertain, coy, and hard to please, and variable as the shade by the light of the quivering aspen made; When pain and anguish rack the brow, A ministering angel thou! Marmion by Sir Walter Scott (1771–1832)

Betty Grable (1916–1973), Jennifer Jones (1919–2009)

American film actresses; Grable had a brief marriage to Jackie Coogan, the probable model for child star Joey Cooley in Laughing Gas (1936)

I quivered from Brilliantine to shoe sole

Brilliantine was an oily substance used to make the hair lustrous (1870–75)

Blew the gaff

To give away a secret; to inform or blab


A general term for the pagans/Mohammedans etc. against whom the Crusaders fought from the 11th to 13th centuries [NTPM]

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