A Mysterious Glossary Transcript

Caroline: Welcome to Shedunnit. I’m Caroline Crampton.

One of the things I love about reading detective fiction from the 1920s and 1930s – what we call “the golden age” – is what I learn about that time period just from its whodunnits. There’s so much social and cultural history contained in the pages of even the most seemingly superficial of stories. 

Most of the time, this process of imbibing the contemporary context is entirely enjoyable. But occasionally a word or phrase comes along that I’ve never seen before, and I’m reminded anew that almost a century separates the publication of these books and me deciding to read them. These are expressions that would clearly have made complete sense to the 1920s reader, but are now completely opaque to us in the 2020s.

And so, I decided to make a glossary of sorts in an attempt to gain a better understanding of what golden age detective novelists were really trying to say in their stories. And to do this properly, I’ve called in an expert – long time friend of Shedunnit, Helen Zaltzman. Helen is host of the Allusionist, a marvellous podcast about language, and generally an enthusiast of all kinds of linguistic curiosities. 

All of the words and phrases that you’re going to hear us discussing today are ones that I’ve either encountered during my own reading, or they are ones that have been sent in by members of the podcast’s paid membership community, the Shedunnit Book Club. If you’d like to be in on creating future episodes like this, you can become a member now by heading to shedunnitbookclub.com/join. There’s also a bonus episode with about half an hour of extra word discussion that will be published later this month just for members to enjoy, so if you’d like to hear more of our conversation, you can do that once you’ve joined too.

Now, let’s get into the glossary.

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So the first word or phrase that we’re going to try and define for you today is this pair of ack emma and pip emma, which my understanding is that it’s something to do with time. It comes up, I think Peter Wimsey says it a fair amount as a kind of stylized way of referring to a rendezvous of the time for, but it also I think lots of listeners might have come across in Agatha Christie’s A Murder Is Announced where there are actually characters with names that reference these particular phrases. So Helen, is this something that you’d come across before? 

Helen: I didn’t retain it if I had, but once I read what it meant, I thought, oh, that is obvious.

Because ack emma is am as in morning and pip emma is pm as in afternoon. And it was early 20th century signallers’ names for the letters A, P and M. 

Caroline: So sort of signallers as in military, artillery type signaling, right? 

Helen: Yes. British army. They didn’t yet have the NATO spelling, alphabet that we have now, you know, I always forget what it is like alpha, bravo.

But it was like a precursor to that from the late 19th century. And I think in 1898, the war office issued it. But they didn’t have words for every letter yet, they only had ones for letters that were easily confused. So ack, they had beer or bar for B, but then nothing until Emma for em. And then pip for P, esses, tock and vick and then they kind of develop that during the first world war. And after that they had words for every letter. I suppose now you wouldn’t have Emma for M because people will be confused cause they’d be expecting the letter M to be represented by a word that begins with m. But in 1898, they weren’t held back by that kind of expectation. 

Caroline: Yeah. I’m also imagining I could be wrong that this might stem from a time when you were using the voice more in communications like this. So it was more people saying stuff over the radio rather than spelling it in morse or whatever, I don’t know if that’s right, but that’s what I’m imagining, but I suppose that makes sense with Peter Wimsey then who famously has this backstory of, you know, having served and being very traumatized by his time in the trenches and in the first world war. So he’s still peppering his conversation with phrases that would have been common then. 

Helen: Yeah. Although conversationally that you could just say afternoon. But also, I just think that outside of the mystery novels of that period, thinking of like reading children’s books from the forties, fifties, sixties that were still using this kind of world war, military slang.

So I guess kids picked it up because war fiction would have been, you know, very heroic and all of that. So it lasted a really long time. I don’t know how long people were saying pip emma for, but as a genre of things people dropped into conversation rather than in just military context it seems to have had decades of use.

Caroline: Yeah, no, I would agree. I feel like I’ve definitely come across it in school stories as well as in whodunnits, anything that’s got that either, actually from that period or people trying to hark back to it by being archaic in their slang.

Helen: Right. I can imagine a lot of people in our current cabinet would be trying to sneak it back in.

Caroline: Yeah, I bet they say pip emma. Okay. Well, that’s, that’s very interesting. Thank you very much for enlightening me on that. So this next one I know is one that you know about, cause I think I’ve heard you talk about it on Answer Me This.

Helen: Doesn’t mean I’ll remember what I said. 

Caroline: A very long time ago. But this is a word that I had never come across before seeing it in the Agatha Christie short story collection, The Thirteen Problems. Banting. From context, I’m going to say it’s a kind of diet. Someone is described as banting when they won’t eat pudding, I think.

Helen: Yeah. Well it was basically what people used to say at the time before they would say dieting to mean what you weren’t eating rather than just diet as in food you did eat. And it’s an eponym named after William Banting who was a big deal in undertaking in the 19th century, had the Royal warrant for undertaking, and he also wrote a booklet in 1863 called Letter On Corpulence Addressed To The Public, which was an open letter it was basically like an infomercial for a diet that he had done. And he was saying, I did all these unsuccessful fasts and regimes and spa breaks and exercises, and this is what worked. So he didn’t invent it. He was bestowed this by someone else, but it was essentially a popularization of low carb dieting. It was eating meat and vegetables and fruit and dry wine and avoiding starch, fat and sugar. And it was a very popular diet for a long time and people are still doing spins on it. Although the word banting is maybe a little too comical to have stuck. 

Caroline: That’s so interesting because the story that it comes up in is one that’s concerned with poisoning. But so there’s three people who eat the meal that is poisoned, but then the detectives are able to say, oh, well, you know, this person didn’t eat this element of the meal because she was banting. And that’s sort of the explanation as to why she didn’t get sick when the others did if I remember rightly and yeah, without knowing what that word meant, it’s a little a little hard to follow, but no, that’s really interesting. So there was in fact, a Mr. Banting 

Helen: There was very much so, and it’s interesting that this that he wrote, in his sixties, sort of overshadowed the work he did for decades in undertaking, but I suppose you don’t remember the celebrity undertakers of any era. And he donated all of the profits of his bestselling diet book to charity. 

Caroline: Well, I guess good for him. 

Helen: Bonus banting fact, he is distantly related to Frederick Banting, the Canadian physician who jointly won the Nobel prize in 1923 for work on insulin. 

Caroline: That one was very informative. I am glad that I got confused by that word. It’s interesting. Isn’t it? Okay. So then the next two, I think they go together and this again is something that I can’t point to a single story or book where it comes from, I just think it’s everywhere. And this is bee’s knees slash cat’s pajamas. If I was going to use it in a sentence, I would say Helen is the bees knees. 

Helen: Well, it was very sweet. It was I can’t find the specific origin because, well, there’s often the way with slang. Just people are saying it long before it is written down.

Typically pre-internet where people now write a lot more like they talk, but this probably comes from the late 18th century, bee’s knees, bees knees was first and it meant something very small and insignificant because a bee has small knees, right? 

Many people would interpret this to mean something that doesn’t exist like chocolate teapot. It was that kind of slang category at the time. Canary’s tusks was another one, flea’s eyebrows. But bees do have knees to be fair to bees, they have leg joints. I think bee’s knees stuck more than canary’s tusks because it rhymes and we’re simple people that like patterns in things.

It was initially yeah, something that didn’t exist and then something that was very, very small, but then in the 1920s, it became part of this sort of fanciful slang of the people of the roaring twenties, meaning things that were great. So that’s like the cat’s pajamas as well. The snake’s hips. another one that didn’t stick around. The kipper’s knickers. 

Caroline: That’s my favorite. 

Helen: It’s a little smelly maybe? The monkey’s eyebrows. So those all meant excellent things. I wonder why cat’s pajamas though, because I would imagine few, if any cats have pajamas. 

Caroline: And if they do, they deeply resent being made to wear them.

Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. I don’t know. I suppose it’s now in that sense, it’s a hyperbolic expression for something being really good. So I suppose maybe what you’re getting from the hyperbole is the unlikeliness of the pairing and the phrase like kipper’s knickers, not a thing. So, you know, your greatness is only one removed from this fanciful object or something, yeah. 

Helen: Right. It’s a next step divinity, I suppose, partly counts pajamas might have stuck a bit more because cat was also a flapper slang for a fashionable young woman. And then you get like a cat becoming a jazz term like ha. Still doesn’t explain the pajamas. Cause it could be anything couldn’t it could be the sorry.

It could be in thinking it could be the cat’s gloves or I’ll pull the clothes capstone where there are so many options. Cats brogues. Yeah. 

Hmm. Yeah, I, I, I think every time I read that, now I will say. Fleas eyebrows. Why didn’t you say that please? Eyebrows is pretty funny. Yeah, I do like that one. 

Caroline: So on, onto something I think a little bit different and this one, I genuinely don’t know what it means. I don’t think this is a phrase I came across it in Josephine Tey’s the franchise affair, but again, I feel like. Anything, not even just crime fiction from 1920s, thirties, you could find this phrase.

And this is a description. I think it’s a character you’re describing something about someone’s character. When you say butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth. Yeah. What does that mean? 

Well, it’s, it’s it’s basically someone who has such a cool. And to me, that suggests fodder that someone is too cold for butter to even melt in the, the usually warm hatch of mouth.

But I suppose it was meant to refer to people who were so good. It’s usually you know, it usually seems to be referring to young women who are so virtually. That they wouldn’t generate anything as vulgar as body heat and thus caused the melting of butter. But it’s, but to me it just suggests that they are so Chile.

Yeah. It’s an old phrase though. There, there are written examples of it from the 1530s. Wow. It’s stuck remarkably. 

Caroline: That’s so interesting. Yeah, I, I think I would probably without knowing any of that have maybe pegged it as a kind of synonym for goody two shoes or something like that. Yeah. 

Helen: Which actually doesn’t make that much sense when you think about either.

I also have to use 

Caroline: get me. Yeah. Fascinated that that is so old, but I suppose butter has been basically the same for many 

Helen: centuries. So the technology has not really had to be up to. 

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Caroline: We’ll be right back with more words and phrases after the break – including an attempt to finally understand Lord Peter Wimsey’s strange speech patterns.

It’s a new year, and I’m sure lots of you have resolutions or intentions about what you’re going to read this year. You may well already have a bulging shelf of books waiting to be read, but if you are shopping around for some new titles, I want to tell you about a way of doing that which also supports this very podcast. Shedunnit has an affiliate relationship with Blackwell’s, an independent bookseller here in the UK, so that if you buy any book from them via the podcast’s link, the show gets a small commission for referring you. The price stays exactly the same for you, but you’re making a little donation to Shedunnit while you’re shopping. Any of the links to books in the episode description will do this, or you can head to shedunnitshow.com/blackwells as well. I do all of my own book shopping with Blackwell’s, because they’re an independent, family run bookselling business with really nice shops and a good digital operation. They also ship books outside of the UK at no extra cost, so if you’re based elsewhere in the world and keen to read whodunnits that are so far only available in Britain, using their website is a really affordable way of getting the books you want. So next time you’re buying a new book, consider supporting Shedunnit at the same time by shopping at Blackwell’s. Visit shedunnitshow.com/blackwells or any of the book links in the episode description to get started now.

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Okay, so this next one, I think was a bit of a puzzle. Wasn’t it? This is companion and the sense in which I think you encounter this in golden age, detective fiction, and maybe fiction of the late 19th century as well is in the sense of age.

A woman, he often a woman, I’d say definitely a woman who lives in a household, but isn’t either servant or master, you know, she’s a kind of hanger on who’s there just for her company. 

Helen: That was an interesting phenomenon. Wasn’t it? I is that, isn’t that one on in-depth on denial? Yes. 

Yeah. I don’t know much about it. Cause I suppose that’s more about societal structures whereby you might have an older unmarried woman who therefore was thought to be in need of companion. Well, do you think the masculine equivalent would be just calling someone, your secretary? 

Caroline: I think so. Yeah. So I think, and again, you do see that in books, like yeah.

Death on the Nile murder on the orient express, any of the sort of traveling murder, mystery ones where you you get so someone who’s a solo traveler, maybe an older gentleman or lady. They wouldn’t travel alone. So they have a companion slash secretary who isn’t their maid or their valid. So they’re not responsible for washing or dressing them, but they do maybe look after the tickets and make sure the luggage gets put in the right train and that kind of thing.

And yes, they may well be a a relation who doesn’t have the means to exist independently. And so they have. In between role where they are probably not paid a salary, but they get all their, their board and their meals, but they have no say over their own life, they go where the person, their companion to wants to go.

Helen: Yeah. I would imagine also that they are considered higher class than people who are validates or ladies’ maids, but still on a lower rung than the people paying for them. But it was, but it’s interesting thing that the gentleman’s companion is called something else and something that sounds a bit more businessy, maybe they’re not considered in need of friendship, unlike women.

Caroline: Yes. I think that’s a good, that’s a very good point. Yeah. I don’t think I’ve ever come across a, a man with a competitor. In the same way. And it’s, it’s a mutual thing, isn’t it? Both the woman needs to have a companion, but also the woman who is the companion, she can’t just exist on her own that what she must have, she must be appendage to somebody.

And if she’s not going to be part of a married couple. Or whatever, then she must, she must have a relation in order to have 

Helen: status or she’d failed to have children, PS defying her natural purpose. I think there were still people placing ads for companions in the lady and the old until fairly recently.

Do you think there are some uses of companion in any of these books that might be euphemisms for same-sex relations? Which at the time would have been illegal? 

Caroline: I definitely think that it’s, it’s heavily indicated in in a murder as announced actually where there’s. A couple of older women who lived together.

I’m not sure that this is truly a kind of companion relationship. They, because I think, I think they are just referred to, by other characters in the book as two friends who live together, but it’s really no stretch at all to see that they are clearly a couple and they are portrayed, I think entirely neutrally they’re not condemned or anything for it.

But I think that you could, I think you could probably. See that in quite a few of those relationships, especially where the two women are of a seminar age, or it’s not a kind of aunt Denise type companion arrangement. It’s more of a, you know, rich friend, poor frightened situation. 

Helen: Yeah. I think it’s unfortunate that the fairly recent history of queer relationships is undocumented because it kind of had to be, or that the kind of signaling or.

Wouldn’t necessarily be something that people later than that time would have nine about. So there’s a lot of ambiguity in a infection from a pre 1970 effectively. 

Caroline: Definitely. Yes. So yeah, I don’t, I don’t think you can, you can say for sure, but I, I think it’s an entirely valid interpretation to, to read.

If there’s a, and sadly they’re not all this way and I’m detective fiction at least, but if there’s a kind of amicable companion arrangement. Yeah. I think that’s, that’s an open question. And then sort of related to that actually is. Our next word, which is creature to refer to a woman. This is one that I I’m re I’ve really struggled to, to track anything down about this.

And I’ve also really struggled to work out whether it’s positive or negative or neutral or some mixture because. Sometimes it’s quite a throw away comment. Oh, she’s a silly creature. And sometimes it seems very loaded. You call it someone calling someone a water creature. She is that kind of thing.

It seems like it’s a pejorative description for someone. So perhaps it’s just flexible. But yeah, but yeah, it, it certainly strikes the modern ear. Oddly, I think, 

Helen: yeah. I thought thinking about it with my modern brain. Is this a word because essentially just means a living being is this word we need for gender free way to refer to a person without the complication of man or woman or go away.

Yeah, 

Caroline: that’s a good point. Maybe it could be a where you need a word to say, I met this person, say I liked them without, because you don’t yet know them well enough to know how they like to be described or identified yet. Perhaps we do need a word for that 

Helen: or more you ask for it. The use of it for humans.

Don’t seem a little bit like you’re talking about Golem or someone mine. 

Caroline: Yeah. I think that’s maybe why it’s sticking in my brain. It’s things like Lord of the rings and also I’ve, I’ve recently re-read Frankenstein. And I think that the, the Frankenstein’s monster in the original Mary Shelley book, I think gets referred to a lot as the creature or my creature.

I think that’s perhaps where I’m getting the oddness from. 

Helen: Does, does Mon how much does monster repair in that book? 

Caroline: I couldn’t be sure, but I’m not really at all. I don’t think. 

Helen: Yeah. Cause that, that meant it’s not great. It means a person or an animal with a birth defect. Right. Okay. Which isn’t great.

So at least creature feels a bit more neutral and he also meant a whiskey in the 1630s, Creech, 

Caroline: And whiskey. Yeah. 

Helen: Well, I think this was a sort of early 16 hundreds joke because in the book of Timothy and the Bible, there’s the phrase, every creature of God is good. So people took that to mean every kind of enjoyable thing for humans is good.

So they took the word creature to me, booze and things like that. And, and creature comforts is from around the same era, meaning like food and clothing and. 

Caroline: Interesting lovers, early 16th century 

Helen: joke. I wonder whether in the early 20th century, it’s usually men talking about a beautiful creature. Isn’t it?

A door. She has a strange creature. Whether it just suggests the. Oh for women to the men of the period. Yeah. 

Caroline: It’s definitely another one where I cannot think of an example where anyone’s ever said of a man young, old oh, oh, he’s a silly creature. 

Helen: No, they’d probably call him a Cove or something like that or a bad hat.

Yes. True. Maybe a good hat. I don’t know. Do he ever just strike you in these books that people sound so uncomfortable? Just talking about anything. 

Caroline: Yep. Yes. And I think sometimes that’s just because the exposition you have to do as a novelist doesn’t sound right. Coming out of a real person’s mouth. But I think some of it is just a deep depression and anxiety saying yes.

Okay, well, let’s move on to our next one, which is a phrase I really like. A bit baffled by it, which is don’t lose your wool, which I first came across in checkmate to murder by ECR law rack. Now from context, I think this means keep yourself together or don’t get overexcited. 

Helen: Yeah, it’s a, it’s another, don’t lose your cool or keep your heroine, keep your knickers on that kind of phrase.

And it was hard to find anything about it. I did wonder whether it was comparing people to sheep. Or just I know, yeah, I’ve made, maybe it was keep your hair on, but then they extended that to wool because that’s funnier. 

Caroline: Yeah. I wondered as well with maybe I’m imagining this, but isn’t cotton.

You refer to sort of a brain as we’ll, you know? Oh, there’s only wool between your ears type. If it was a kind of keep, keep your brain on straight, 

Helen: don’t lose your head. Yeah. 

Caroline: Are we going to get there? It feels, it feels very descriptive feels. Yeah. 

Helen: Yeah. Although no, yeah, 

Caroline: it does. Well a bit though. I wondered some, a bit like you know, the, the fray how people use the word spoons, where they say, you know, they just don’t have any spoons left for that.

Maybe we’re all allotted a certain amount of wool. I need to keep tight hold of your wool 

Helen: do just in case, just in case. 

Caroline: Okay, well, let some move on to hahaha. And this one comes, this was actually sent him by quite a few different members of the sheet on it. Book club. I asked them for any funny phrases that they came across in their reading.

This is actually from the title of a novel by the right to JJ Cunnington. And the title of the book is the hahaha case, which if you saw that on the front of the book, you might think. It’s about comedy or musicals doll, or it’s funny in some way, but now aha is I believe actually a landscape 

Helen: feature.

That’s right? Yes. It’s a. Lovely deaths. And it was designed to keep livestock, in a grazing in a certain area of your massive estate without building a wall that would interrupt the view. So it was often a ditch with a wall built into the ditch where they, they couldn’t really leap out. And.

It’s frustrating to me, whenever atomology of terms is unclear or people have a lot of different explanations and all of them are disputed. So unfortunately this is one of those. And some people say, well, it’s an abbreviation of half and half because it’s half a wall and half a ditch, which I don’t buy it.

Some say that the the son of Louis. Some say that it’s because the sum of Louis, the 14th of France was stopped from going near the hahaha by his governess because it was dangerous. And then he saw it, he said, ha ha, I’m supposed to be afraid of this. That’s not good enough to me. It does seem to be a French term and there is still a town in a.

Called San Louis du hahaha, which, which apparently has the Guinness world record for most exclamation marks in a town name, which is two, two, right? 

Caroline: Yeah. I agree with you. I don’t think there’s any of those explanations are especially satisfying or plausible. Hm. 

But disappointing. But I was reminded when I was, I was asking around a few friends to see if the devil come across this phrase, just to try and gauge how unusual is it to, how did people generally know what it means?

And one of them reminded me that we went, once we went to the opera at Glyndebourne and we were having our pick. In the grounds beforehand. And one of our group got very panicked because they thought a sheep was about to charge over and start eating our sandwiches. And then upon greater investigation, we realized that no, because there was a hahaha in the way, and we just been deceived by the landscaping.

Helen: Wow. Say just messing with your eyes, but not interrupting the view. 

Caroline: Exactly. Yeah. And it was so it worked so well that we, we thought the sheep would just be able to sort of toddle over and tuck it, but no, 

Helen: and the way apparently they also use in some asylums, so that the patients could see a view, but couldn’t.

Caroline: Right. The idea being that the site of a massive wall would be to 

Helen: depress. Yes. It’d be quite forbidding. And I suppose also no, I don’t. The other thing I learned is that ice houses were often embedded into because the ground around them was a good for, you know, insulation. Right. So 

Caroline: this is pre refrigeration means of keeping your stuff cold.

Yeah. 

Helen: Hmm, why not? It’s a multipurpose feature in your receipt. If you’ve, if you’ve 

Caroline: dug a massive ditch, purely for aesthetic reasons, you might as well get some use out 

Helen: of it. Right? Keep your sheep out, keep your patients in, keep your food cold. 

Caroline: Yeah. Okay, so, so this next one, I think I actually first came across in a PG Woodhouse, awful, but it then also.

In lots of golden age, detective fiction from the twenties and thirties. And this is make love used incenses where it’s quite clear. It’s not our modern use of that phrase. 

Helen: Yeah. I think it has been in use way longer to mean courtship to me to mean wooing. It’s been in English since about the 1500.

Actually, no, wait scrap all of that. Yeah, I’m just familiar with it from books to mean to woo or to do a courtship. Even if it was ardent, ardent, making love, which I assume was maybe some kind of mild, but non penetrative touching plus sweet talk. But it’s it’s, it’s English version.

Of a French term Fairleigh more and interestingly that is dated from the 15 hundreds, but it meant sexual intercourse by the 1620s. Whereas it stayed in English till the 20th century, just to mean wooing. And I suppose because French and French romance poetry was considered, well romantic and then I think American English developed the sexual meaning in the late 1920s, presumably independently.

The first written known example is from the 1927 player by Mae west called sex. 

Caroline: And the place was called sex. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. That’s a good crossing over point. That’s interesting though, that the, at least in American English and you know, some of the British golden age authors that I talk about a lot on the show had really big American readerships.

It’s interesting that it was crossing over in American English right at the time. So they might have actually. American Redis. Might’ve had the same experience. I do reading how, you know, some characters saying, if you don’t stop that, I’m going to take you and make love to you in this Bush. And I’m sort of like slightly giggling, like, well, that doesn’t seem quite right with the atmosphere of that novel.

They might 

Helen: go wrong. Cause we’re like, well, they shouldn’t have sex in the olden times. Did they? Maybe they did. Maybe they did it 

Caroline: very true. So this next one, pucker sabe. Hope I’m saying that, right? This is something that I think I first came across in the secret garden.

Children’s and because Mary Lennox, the main character in that has been born and brought up in colonial India and then has been sent back to Britain. And so she’s got this slightly Anglo Indian vocabulary. But it comes up, I think captain Hastings uses it a lot in Christy books to mean good egg or good chap.

Helen: Good hat. Yeah, 

Caroline: I don’t, I don’t really know much about where it, where it originates from other than just, you know, the British colonization of India. 

Helen: Well, I remember my mom saying Parker a lot. She probably still does is her and Jamie Oliver who is still saying the word pocket. I don’t know if anyone else is.

And it comes from, I think it’s a Punjabi words for the pocket was absolutely. And psyche was master, but it was a meant to be kind of a compliment to you. The Indian peoples colonial masters. So like an excellent fellow, but but also definitely an overlord type of expression. Whereas I think now when people say pocket, they may know that.

Which is of course somewhat, glossing over a lot of the connotations of a British empire and the Raj. 

Caroline: Yeah, that’s interesting that it definitely had that dynamic of, of authority a difference in status about it, because I do wonder just thinking about when I think Hastings most often uses it actually.

Now I think about it about men that he really looks up to, he admires. So, you know, his character, he’s often very impressed by. Hyper masculine men who do shooting and hunting and all that kind of stuff. And I’m wondering whether his description has still has a little bit, although obviously without the colonial dynamic, a little bit of that in it that it’s something you say about someone you see as your social superior.

Helen: Yeah.

So, no, I can’t remember. I can’t say, I think I was gonna say, cause it don’t have enough evidence.

It’s sunny. It’s sunny does seem like the kind of thing Hastings would say I’ll buy it. 

Caroline: Yeah. 

Okay, well then our last word to discuss is probably the hardest to demonstrate, because I cannot do the voice, but this is the, yeah. The use of what as an interjection or a punctuation either at the beginning of a sentence. So people say what or what, what, but then also ending a sentence with it.

Yeah. Peter Wimsey says this all the time. He’ll say and you’re coming for lunch on your child’s Walt grammatically. That makes no sense, but it just seems to be a kind of interrogative noise that he makes at the end of a sentence. 

Helen: Well, it’s, it’s sort of like saying something that sounds like a statement.

But indicating that it was a question. So you’re coming to lunch question mark. It’s functioning like that as an exclamation. It might have like a very old precedent in the old English word, what, which is the start of some kind of epic poems where, where it sort of means listen or pay attention.

That kind of thing. But also just like you were saying, the punctuation that we letter our speech with changes a bit, so at the moment might use like, or, you know, or, I mean, partly to give our brains. A bit of time to think of what we’re going to say next. So maybe it was just another one of those. 

Caroline: Yes.

Is there a word for, for that kind of

yeah, that makes sense. But I think it’s also, maybe it’s just the way that maybe. A little dialect specific to a social class as well, because it is associated with posh people. Isn’t it? I feel like it’s bloated Peter MZ, Bertie. Wurster those are the kinds of characters who say 

Helen: yeah, again, though. It’s when you consider the people who got published until relatively recently, do you have the vernacular of normal people?

Recorded all that 

Caroline: much. Probably not. No, you have only what the privileged people thought the normal people sounded 

Helen: like. Yeah, well, Charles Dickens who will journalistic, but I’m not sure that all publishers would have been open to, exact transliterations of how people actually talked. But what well, Feels very much of a period throughout the pit PIP.

Caroline: That’s another whimsy favorite? Yeah. 

Helen: What is it for? 

Caroline: What does it for? Yeah, it does. It does sound very alien to us now, but I, I, I think when I first started listening to the BBC radio adaptations of the Peter Wimsey stories, because they do, you know, do his dialogue fairly verbatim from the books. I, you know, there are all these scenes where whimsy, you know, one does over to a farm and gets chatting to someone working in order to learn something that is useful to his case.

And you just think this ordinary person who’s busy digging a hole for a fence post. Why would they talk to this man who just sounds completely bizarre with his strange intonation in Australian dialogue? Either. Yeah. A it’s an awful, so people will do whatever she wants, but then B you know, maybe it didn’t sound so weird.

Helen: No, maybe not. I think the strange flourishes of POS men were very much indulged. They encouraged at the time. 

Caroline: Yeah. I think that they will probably right. That’s what it comes back to. Doesn’t it. Okay. Well, thank you so much, Helen, for enlightening. On this this round of strange words we found in detective novels.

And yeah, I hope as you’re reading your, who done it to future, maybe some of this will make it a little bit more meaningful.

Music

Thanks again to Helen for joining me for this conversation. If you enjoyed what we had to say, you’ll definitely like her podcast The Allusionist, which you can find at theallusionist.org and in all good podcast apps. Like Shedunnit, the show is completely independent and supported by listeners, and I’m a patron of it myself – head to patreon.com/allusionist if you’d like to join me, I can attest that Helen’s behind the scenes emails and bonuses are well worth it.

And if you’d like to hear more of our discussion, become a member of the Shedunnit Book Club to get access to a bonus episode of extra material as well as lots of other perks, including the monthly reading club and the community forum. Do that now at shedunnitbookclub.com/join.

This episode was hosted by me, Caroline Crampton. Find links to all the books we mentioned and other information about this episode at shedunnitshow.com/amysteriousglossary. I publish transcripts of every episode including this one; find them all at shedunnitshow.com/transcripts.

Shedunnit is edited by Euan MacAleece. Member support for the Shedunnit Book Club from Connor McLoughlin. The podcast’s advertising partner is Multitude. 

Thanks for listening. I’ll be back in two weeks with a new episode.

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