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.
Who says old geezers can't write? Some of them die with the sharpest minds. That's certainly true of the literary critic Frank Kermode, who has just died at the age of 90.
Reading about his death yesterday, I turned to his essays published in the London Review of Books. You can't tell his age from his essay on TS Eliot published in May this year. It is the work of an academic writing at the top of his form.
There are other old writers who have not lost their powers.