When you think of P.G. Wodehouse, you think of pigs, aunts, potty earls and dapper younger brothers, unflappable omniscient butlers, goofy young men and irresistible young women – and a language that’s absolutely unique, peppered with words and phrases as funny and bizarre as the situations the characters get into. Wodehouse uses words and expressions such as “oojah-cum-spiff’, “rannygazoo” and “twenty-minute egg”. Colourful, outlandish, memorable.
But did you know he was the first writer known to have used the word “cuppa” ? It’s such a common word. Yet, according to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), the first evidence of the word comes from him. The OED has 1,756 quotations from Wodehouse. Here are the 22 words which, according to the OED, first appeared in the writings of Wodehouse. Here are the words, in alphabetical order, followed by the quotations from Wodehouse. The entries are all from the OED.
- Billiken: A small, squat, smiling figure used as a mascot.
1914 P. G. Wodehouse Man Upstairs 257 When you send a girl three bouquets, a bracelet, and a gold Billiken with ruby eyes, you do not expect an entire absence of recognition
- Crispish: Somewhat crisp.
1930 P. G. Wodehouse Very Good, Jeeves vi. 142 When not pleased Aunt Dahlia, having spent most of her youth in the hunting-field, has a crispish way of expressing herself.
- Cuppa: A form, freq. in modern times, of cup o’. Also used ellipt. for cup o’ tea. colloq.
1925 P. G. Wodehouse Sam the Sudden vi. 42 Come and have a cuppa coffee.
- Fifty-fifty: On a basis of fifty per cent. (or one half) each; half-and-half, equally.
1913 P. G. Wodehouse Little Nugget vi. 121 Say, Sam, don’t be a hawg. Let’s go fifty-fifty in dis deal.
1913 P. G. Wodehouse Little Nugget xiv. 248 ‘Fifteen per cent. is our offer,’ he said. ‘And to think it was once fifty-fifty!’
- Gruntled: Pleased, satisfied, contented.
1938 P. G. Wodehouse Code of Woosters i. 9 He spoke with a certain what-is-it in his voice, and I could see that, if not actually disgruntled, he was far from being gruntled.
- Ilag: A prison-camp for civilian internees in Nazi Germany.
1941 P. G. Wodehouse Berlin Broadcasts in Performing Flea (1961) i. 261 An Oflag is where captured officers go. Stalags are reserved for N.C.O.s and privates. The civil internee gets the Ilag.
- Not-at-all: intr. To say ‘not at all’.
1936 P. G. Wodehouse Laughing Gas ii. 19, I was not-at-alling and shoving the handkerchief up my sleeve again.
- Oojah-cum-spiff: Fine, all right.
1930 P. G. Wodehouse Very Good, Jeeves i. 25 ‘All you have to do,’ I said, ‘is to carry on here for a few weeks more, and everything will be oojah-cum-spiff.’
- Persp.: Shortened perspiration. Only in P. G. Wodehouse.
1923 P. G. Wodehouse Inimitable Jeeves ii. 24 The good old persp. was bedewing my forehead by this time in a pretty lavish manner.
1966 P. G. Wodehouse Plum Pie i. 19 It was with quite a few beads of persp bedewing the brow that I went back to the dining room.
1974 P. G. Wodehouse Aunts aren’t Gentlemen ii. 12 He said ‘Phew’ and removed a bead of persp. from the brow.
- Plonk: A dull thudding sound, as of one solid object hitting another; (also) an abrupt, hollow, resonant noise, esp. as that emitted from a musical instrument (cf. plink). Also as int. (Also reduplicated.)
1903 P. G. Wodehouse Tales of St. Austin’s 9 There was a beautiful, musical plonk, and the ball soared to the very opposite quarter of the field.
- Pottiness: The state or condition of being potty; silliness, madness, craziness.
1933 P. G. Wodehouse Heavy Weather iii. 47 It was not primarily his pottiness that led him to steal the Empress.
- Raisonneur: intr. To act as a raisonneur.
1963 P. G. Wodehouse Stiff Upper Lip, Jeeves xii. 97, I saw that the time had come to be a raisonneur… ‘Are you sure,’ I said, raisonneuring like nobody’s business, ‘that you were altogether wise in confining him to spinach and what not?’
- Right ho: intr. In the work of P. G. Wodehouse: to express agreement by saying ‘righto!’; to acquiesce.
1936 P. G. Wodehouse Laughing Gas iv. 41, I had met her when she was taking a holiday at Cannes. We became chummy. I asked her to marry me. She right-hoed. So far, so good.
1952 P. G. Wodehouse Pigs have Wings ii. 56 All set. She right-hoed like a lamb.
- Ritzy: colloq. (orig. U.S.) Of a person: haughty, snobbish. Now rare.
1920 P. G. Wodehouse Jill the Reckless xvi. 296 The Duchess, abandoning that aristocratic manner criticized by some of her colleagues as ‘up-stage’ and by others as ‘Ritz-y’, [etc.].
- Scrag: slang. rare. In rugby football, a rough tackle.
1903 P. G. Wodehouse Tales of St. Austin’s 105 There’s all the difference between a decent tackle and a bally scrag like the one that doubled Tony up.
- Shimmy: intr. and trans. To ‘dance’ in; to transport (a person) quickly.
1923 P. G. Wodehouse Inimitable Jeeves vii. 76, I bounded into the sitting-room, but it was empty. Jeeves shimmied in.
- Snooter: trans. To harass, to bedevil; to snub. (Only in P. G. Wodehouse.)
1923 P. G. Wodehouse Inimitable Jeeves iii. 30 My Aunt Agatha..wouldn’t be on hand to snooter me for at least another six weeks.
1929 P. G. Wodehouse Mr. Mulliner Speaking viii. 286 ‘As far’, replied Mr. Finch, frigidly, ‘as a bloke can be said to be all right..who has been..chivvied and snootered and shot in the fleshy part of the leg—.’
1932 P. G. Wodehouse Let. 13 Aug. in Performing Flea (1953) 66 Downtrodden young peer, much snootered by aunts, etc., has become engaged to two girls at once.
- Unscramble: To put into or restore to order; to disentangle; to make sense of (something) confused; to extricate from (or from) a state of confusion or muddle; to separate into constituent parts; to ‘dismantle’ (an organization or system); spec. to restore (a signal) by applying the reverse of the process previously used to scramble it; to render intelligible in this way.
1923 P. G. Wodehouse Inimitable Jeeves x. 104, I collapsed on to the settee and rather lost interest in things for the moment. When I had unscrambled myself I found that Jeeves and the child had retired.
- Upswing: Golf. back-swingat back- comb. form . rare.
1922 P. G. Wodehouse Clicking of Cuthbert vi. 145 His up~swing was shaky, and he swayed back perceptibly.
- What-the-hell: intr. To exclaim ‘what the hell..?’; to make an angry demand for an explanation.
1924 P. G. Wodehouse Leave it to Psmith x. 211 While everybody’s cutting up and what-the-helling.
- Whiffled: Intoxicated, drunk.
1927 P. G. Wodehouse Meet Mr. Mulliner vi. 191 Intoxicated? The word did not express it by a mile. He was oiled, boiled, fried..whiffled, sozzled, and blotto.
1930 P. G. Wodehouse Very Good, Jeeves ii. 46 ‘Have you forgotten that I did thirty days..for punching a policeman..on Boat-Race night?’ ‘But you were whiffled at the time.’
- Zing: Representing the sudden advent of a new situation or emotion.
1919 P. G. Wodehouse Damsel in Distress vi. 75 The generous blood of the Belphers boiled over, and then—zing. They jerked him off to Vine Street.
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