This fall, we’ve decided to leave the country, and go and live for a while in that Scepter’d Isle, that Green And Pleasant Land, also known as England. We thought it would give us a chance to experience a foreign land as only the inhabitants can. And, perhaps more importantly, we would avoid the deluge of political advertising prior to the election in November. Yes, while you poor suckers are inundated in a veritable torrent of attack ads, dirty tricks, and negative campaigning, we’ll be in Old Blighty, grousing about the rain and drinking pints of bitter. As Nelson would say, “Hah-hah!” And, in this case I am referring to Nelson from the Simpsons, and not Admiral Horatio Nelson, hero of the British Empire. Though I’m sure old Hory would probably enjoy a little snigger himself.
Anyway, as part of my acclimation scheme, so that I hit the ground running when we arrive in London, I’m trying to get conversant with British slang. And by that I mean the kind of slang that only the upper class toffs use. I think it’s important to fit in. And since I want to fit in with all the right sorts, I decided to intensively study P. G. Wodehouse and his terribly fascinating and true-to-life characters, Wooster and Jeeves. Mary has been issuing some vague and ill-defined warnings about the use of language in the P. G. Wodehouse literary canon. Something about it being out of place in the Twenty First century, and even most of the Twentieth. Pish, posh I say. It’s cracking good stuff and I’m going to soak up as much of it as I can before we leave.
This is what I’ve learned, so far:
When you need to indicate that your emotional state is animated, you can say something like – “Absolutely, by Jove! Quite pipped about it!”
When you are taking your leave of a dear old chum, or even just a brief acquaintance, you might say something like – “Ripping! I’ll be toddling up, then. Toodle-oo, Bertie, old man. See you later.”
A simple greeting – “What ho!” or better yet, “Halloa! Halloa! Halloa! What?”
Dismay, or disagreeable surprise – “It was a deuce of a shock.”
An indication that someone is experiencing a personal crisis – “And what’s more, he can always be counted on to extend himself on behalf of any pal of mine that happens to be to all appearances knee-deep in the bouillon.” Granted, the exact circumstances in which this phraseology might be applied is a little unclear, but I think we can all agree that being ‘knee-deep in the bouillon’ is unpleasant, even if it isn’t boiling hot.
An unexpected personal crisis can be described as – “I’m not absolutely certain of my facts, but I rather fancy it’s Shakespeare – or, if not, it’s some equally brainy lad – who says that it’s always just when a chappie is feeling particularly top-hole, and more than usually braced with things in general that Fate sneaks up behind him with a bit of lead piping.”
And finally a peculiar method of phrasing for which I can, in the manner of the esteemed Sherlock Holmes, only deduce an approximate meaning – “Having seen what I did, I wasn’t particularly surprised to meet Bobbie at the club the next day looking about as merry and bright as a lonely gum-drop at an Eskimo tea-party.”
Okay, we can deduce that Bobbie is at the club. Apparently, all fellows good and hale, should be referred to by their diminutives, rather than their given names. Thus Robert is Bobbie, Mr. Bickersteth, is Bicky, and Wilmott is Motty. I may be at a bit of a disadvantage then as Michael becomes Mikey, which I despise, ever since that displeasing television advert, and Mr. Waring becomes, well as best I can guess, Ol’ Wart, and as much fun as it would be to have the fellows at the club refer to me thus, I’ll have to give it a pass.
Returning to the analysis begun above, we have the phrase ‘looking about as merry and bright’, which we can assume means looking glum and unhappy, because of context. That’s pretty simple. I am dashed though, if I can figure out what the idiom, ‘as a lonely gum-drop at an Eskimo tea-party’ means. Contextually, it appears that the lonely gum-drop is not a happy sight at an Eskimo tea-party. But what is a single gum-drop doing at a tea-party and what is an Eskimo tea-party? I guess I’ll have to wait till we get to England to find out
Oh, and all credit to P.G., his stuff is top notch.