22 September 2011

The Art of Diction According to Jeeves and Wooster

Set in 1930s England and America, P.G. Wodehouse's 'Jeeves' stories in addition to the television series based on the former are riddled with charming, archaic English terminology and phrases. We have compiled a list of essentials with their definitions and explanations.  Feel free to slip them into every-day conversation to keep your friends on their toes.

Agog - (adj) Very eager or curious to hear or see something: "I'm all agog to see the Duchess' new hat."

Bally - (adj) bloody, damned [mild explicative]: "Get that bally dog out of the kitchen!"

To be all a twitter - (v) To be anxious or excited about something: "The Mater has been all a twitter ever since Mrs. Nelson told her the news about the Duke of Edinburgh."

To be dashed - (v) To be confounded; used interchangeably with to be damned: "Well, I'll be dashed!"

To biff  - (v) To strike or to punch: "If you don't remove your elbows from the table I shall biff you."

Blighter - (n) A fellow, especially one held in low esteem: "He's a silly blighter, isn't he?"

Blithering - (adj) Senselessly talkative, babbling; used chiefly as an intensive to express annoyance or contempt: "Mister Hooper, you are such a blithering idiot."

By Jove! - (interj) [used as a mild oath to express surprise or emphasis]

Chap - (n) A man or a boy.

Chin-chin - (interj) [used as a greeting or as a toast when drinking to someones health]

Cross-patch -(n) A bad-tempered or irritable person: "O, don't be such a cross-patch, Charles."

Dash - (adv) A mild form of damn: "That was dash cunning of you."

Dashed - (adj) A mild form of damned, derived from dash: "The dashed thing doesn't work!"

Dash it all! - (interj) [used to express angry or dismay; interchangeable with damn it]

Drivel - (n) Silly nonsense; "How can you say such drivel?"

Frightful - (adj) [used for emphasis, esp. of something bad]

Frightfully - (adv) Very (used for emphasis): "I'm frightfully sorry."

To get it in the neck - (v) To be punished or criticised for something: "She really gave it to me in the neck when I arrived late for dinner."

Humdrum - (adj) Lacking variety or excitement; dull: "I don't want to go to school, Mummy, maths is so humdrum."

I say! - (interj) [used to express surprise or disgruntlement; often interchangeable with O my!]

Jolly well - (adv) very much; a phrase used for emphasis or enthusiasm: "I jolly well hope so!"

Look here! - (interj) [used to express disgruntlement or agitation with a person or persons]: "Look here, you swine! What do you think you're doing?"

Milksop - (n) A weak or ineffectual person; whimp: "Don't be such a milksop, Spencer, it's only a kitten."
Old man - (n) [term of endearment used in informal direct address]

Old thing - (n) [term of endearment used in informal direct address]

Pipped - (adj) To get the better of; defeat.

Positively - (adv) Very (used for emphasis): "How positively lovely!"

Right-o - (interj) [used to express cheerful concurrence, assent, or understanding]

Ripping - (adj) excellent, delightful: "What a positively ripping sweater you're wearing, Bernard!"

Rot - (n) nonsense [often used interjectionally]: "What rot!"

Rummy - (adj) queer, odd: "That was a rummy sort of thing to say, don't you suppose?"

To talk through one's hat - To talk nonsense; especially on a subject that one professes to be knowledgeable about but in fact is ignorant of: "He's never really met Lady Astor, he's just talking through his hat."

That's not cricket - (interj) [used to express dismay at an instance of unfair or ungentlemanly conduct or proceedings]: "Mater, Helen has taken the whole sugar dish and refuses to share. It just isn't cricket!"

Tight as an owl - (adj) drunk

Toodle-pip - (interj) good-bye, so long

What ho! - (interj) [exclamatory greeting, like saying what's up]

What? - (interj) [used as a tag question, often to solicit agreement]: "Evelyn Waugh must be the greatest author of the century, what?"

What’s-it - (n) a gadget or other thing for which the speaker does not know or has forgotten the name

With knobs on - (adv/adj) Extremely; in a similar way, but taken to an extreme: "The same to you with knobs on!"

14 February 2011

Gone By The Wayside: Letter-Writing

Nothing can express care and feeling like a handwritten letter sent through the mail, but in to-day's world of e-mail, text messaging, and facebook, these are a rarity.  Letter-writing is not difficult, and in fact it can be quite enjoyable.  It requires no electronic devices; nothing more complex than a pen and paper are necessary.  Writing a letter allows one to go into as much or as little detail as one desires about any given situation.  It allows for careful consideration of wording, if one so wishes, so that each sentence is stated just so.  Most importantly, perhaps, it is something tangible that can be cherished for decades and reviewed.

Letters give the impression that the sender cared enough to go through some extra effort for the recipient (even though very little effort is required) and that thought was truly put into the correspondence.  At Swell & Dandy, we encourage our readers to take up letter-writing as a more mainstream form of communicating.  Send a letter home from University to the Mater and Pater.  Arrange to write letters between your friends to keep in touch regularly.  Pen a romantic letter to the lady you fancy; it will certainly make you stand out from the other gentlemen she knows.

Remember when you are writing that while letters to people you know well need not be formal nor follow the rigorous structure expected of formal letters it is important that one use correct English grammar.  Spelling, capitalisation, and punctuation can make a world of difference in your communication.  Your lady-friend will likely be significantly less impressed if you make a fool of yourself by not spelling out simple words like "are" and "you" fully.  Try to work on your penmanship as well.  Legibility is very important, but also remember that going above and beyond, giving grace and flourish to your penmanship, will easily impress the recipient of your correspondence.  Lastly, do not forget that if you receive a letter it is important that you return the correspondence with equal correspondence, viz send a letter for each letter received.  Hastily replying via email, text, or facebook is rude and gives the impression that one does not care enough to put forth equal effort.

10 January 2011

Gone By The Wayside: The Handshake

Perhaps the most rudimentary staple of social interaction, the handshake, dates back as early as the 5th century B.C. in Greece. Likely originating as a gesture of peace (a hand engaged in a handshake can bare no weapon), it is speculated that the handshake was popularised in the 16th century by Sir Walter Raleigh in service to the British Court. The handshake is crucial in the social realms as a means of greeting, yet it appears at risk of falling out of use by the youngest generation. It is important to shake hands upon greeting colleagues, friends, or new acquaintances, and to do it properly. Below are some tips.

Remember to shake firmly, but do not attempt to dominate or crush your associate.

A handshake should be done with a bare hand, so gloves should be removed first.

It is unacceptable to refuse a handshake unless hindered by injury.

Keep eye contact during the handshake.

Keep the time of contact and number of shakes at a reasonable amount; don't linger too long and don't pull back straight away.

When the handshake is between a superior and his subordinate or across the ranks of social hierarchy, the superior should be the one to initiate the handshake.

Be aware of local customs; when abroad know how their customs regarding the handshake differ from our own.

Don't be afraid to shake hands when greeting close friends; the handshake doesn't have to be only for formal occasions.

03 January 2011

Calling Card Correspondence

 As a follow up to our recent article on calling cards, we would like to take a more in depth look at some of the intricacies of corresponding with calling cards, those once indispensable social tools. As mentioned previously, calling cards can be used, apart from in the traditional sense, as greeting cards, invitations, or as reply to invitations. These uses are still very practical, even in contemporary society.

Used as greeting cards, the message should be scrawled either on the front of the card in the blank space or else on the back. Be sure to sign at least your first name, even though it's on the card. This works very well for general greetings, congratulations, get-well-soon's, et cetera. They also work well accompanying gifts in lieu of a greeting card. Greeting cards are mass-marketed and over-priced; often they leave so much space which one feels obligated to fill up, leading some to ramble and others to forego the correspondence entirely. A calling card has just the right amount of space to pen a brief message.

Calling cards can also be used as invitations. Nota Bene: For formal gatherings proper invitations should be used, but calling cards work exceptionally well for less formal situations. The occasion, time, date, and location on the top of the card. For a response, write "R.S.V.P." in the lower left-hand corner. Be sure to include your contact information if it is not already on the card. Additionally, if the name on the card includes the title "Mr.", tradition dictates that this be crossed out, or in especially informal instances the full name should be stricken through once and the card should be signed with the first name.

To respond to invitations with a calling card is as simple as the former. To accept, write a short note of acceptance, including the date and time of the event, across the top. To decline, write a short note of decline including the date but not the time. Also be sure to include a reason for declining. Anything less would be rude. Again, it is traditional to strike out the "Mr." or, less formally, to strike out the full name and sign the first.

27 December 2010

Parental Duty

Yesterday the Church celebrated the Feast of the Holy Family, a holy day celebrating Saint Joseph, the Virgin Mary, and the Christ Child as a family unit. In honour of this special day we at Swell & Dandy have set aside this moment to come to a pause in our holiday merriment and to call upon our readers, as parents and future parents, in all seriousness to remember the duties they owe not only their children, but also the whole world community.

It is safe to assume that our regular readers agree with most of our philosophies here at Swell & Dandy. For those of our readers who do fall into that category, it follows, then, that you wish to help restore society to the glory of the past: etiquette and deportment, culture and fashion. That is, of course, your motive for reading Swell & Dandy, is it not? One wonders, however, how many of our readers have considered what is to come when they have left this world and their posterity are left behind? Have they raised their children to understand and appreciate the old fashioned values they espouse, the values their parents more likely than not left up to them to discover on their own?

The world has fallen into the unfortunate condition it is in to-day primarily as a result of poor parenting. Fathers never taught their children how to polish their shoes and mothers never taught their daughters how to sew, but it goes further than that. Common courtesy, manners, etiquette, religion, and more; the values that have kept mankind alive and civilised for centuries; have been swept under the carpet. They have been forgotten; overlooked. The few people who retain these values often had to discover them (and the skills and mannerisms associated with them) on their own and without any aid or direction from their parents.

In recognition of this holy feast day we remind society to raise their children well. We cannot undo the damage that poor parenting has already done. What we can do, however, is revive the traditional values and practices of our grandfathers and great grandfathers and ensure they live on for generations to come by educating our children properly. Remember: teach your children and grandchild both how and why and guide them in living up to appropriate standards.

22 December 2010

Return of the Calling Card

In the days before such a myriad of electronic communication was so readily available it was the common practice of the gentry to use "calling cards". The practice originated in Europe in the 17th century as an absolutely crucial staple in the etiquette of the aristocracy.

Named for the practice of "calling" on one's friends and family, calling cards, according to etiquette, were to be left in a tray near the door or with a servant of the potential host. This practice was used both for decorous introductions as well as before regular visits. If the host was willing to entertain the caller, he would send a card of his own. On the contrary, if a gentleman did not wish to accept a visit, he would either not send his own card in response or else he would send his card in an envelope. The card within the envelope was, in effect, a blunt but well-mannered refusal. Likewise, a card sent within an envelope following a visit will signify that no such visit is anticipated again in future (often as a result of a bad visit).

A gentleman's calling card should be simple. It is generally the same size as a modern business card. A gentleman's name should be written in the centre in elegant, but tasteful font. Include little additional information, though some contact information may be included for convenience in the modern day. We also recommend including a personal or family motto, preferably in Latin, though French will suffice. The back should be left blank to leave room for personal notes and the like.

Today there is still a use for calling cards, despite the noticable absence of servants to deliver them. Apart from being used in the traditional fashion or as a means for exchanging information, calling cards can be used as invitations, to respond to invitations, or to exchange greetings. This can all be done by penning messages onto the back of the card, or the blank portion of the front, if it fits. For instance, "Lord Wilburforce, please drop in tomorrow afternoon for tea at four o'clock. R.S.V.P." can be scrawled upon a card, to be delivered or slid under an office door.

There are other means of conveying messages using calling cards as well. The turning down of different corners of the card have varying significances, as below:

Upper Left - A congratulatory visit is sought.
Upper Right - A visit in person, usually immediately as the card's owner is already present, is requested (in lieu of the card having been delivered by a servant).
Lower Right - A visit before taking leave is sought.
Lower Left - A condolence visit is sought.

Additionally, similar messages can be conveyed using various initials, usually from French expressions, viz R.S.V.P.:

p. c. - For condolence (pour condoléance)
p. f. - For congratulations (pour féliciter)
p. f. N. A. - New Year's greetings (pour féliciter Nouvel An)
p. p. - To request a formal introduction (pour présenter)
p. p. c. - To take leave (pour prendre congé)
p. r. - To express thanks (pour remercier)

More on the Calling Card:
Victorian Calling Card Etiquette
Gentleman's Guide to the Calling Card
How to Use Your Calling Card

19 December 2010


An important virtue to remember, especially this Christmas season, is the virtue of gratitude. In a society that has forgotten the meaning of Christmas and has come to expect gifts rather than appreciate them, it often comes in handy to have a brief review.

If one has advanced notice, one should try always to prepare a gift of some sort for anyone from whom one will receive a gift. Otherwise, the recipient of a gift should send a handwritten thank you note, either via post or in person. Remember, too, when sending gifts, never to expect anything in return.

Cards, as with all correspondence, should be met with a card of one's own in return. The same goes for letters, emails, phone calls, et cetera. Any letter received merits a letter returned. Correspondence should be returned equally.

Remember that a gentleman receives gracefully. Seem pleasantly surprised, even if it is not a surprise. Seem appreciative, even if the gift is something you already have, do not need, cannot use, or do not like. Remember, it is the thought that counts. The giver spent time, money, and thought on you. Even if you don't fancy the gift, you're not out anything. At least allow the giver the full enjoyment of having given. Have a blessed Christmas holiday!
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