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Samizdata quote of the day

“Sir Jasper Finch-Farrowmere?” said Wilfred.

“ffinch-ffarrowmere,” corrected the visitor, his sensitive ear detecting the capitals.

– from the short story Meet Mr. Mulliner by P. G. Wodehouse, quoted by Stephen Fry, in an essay by him about Wodehouse published by the Independent in 2000.

22 comments to Samizdata quote of the day

  • I’m reminded of the seriously underrated Alfred Hitchcock movie Foreign Correspondent, in which Joel McCrea (playing American journalist Johnny Jones) meets George Sanders, who plays a character named “Scott ffoliott” with an uncapitalized double F. When Jones asks ffoliott whether the name is pronounced with a stutter, a rather dejected ffoliott responds, “Just a straight ‘fuh'”.

    Foreign Correspondent also has great things to say about “peace” movements, which still ring true to this day, even though the movie was about the run-up to World War II. And a great plane crash scene. So much better than the CGI crap of today.

  • Alsadius

    I don’t get it.

  • I’m ploughing through the works of P.G. Wodehouse now I have a Kindle, and it is a pure joy. One of the greatest wordsmiths ever to write in the English language.

  • Philip Scott Thomas

    I don’t get it.

    It’s an obscure joke that highlights ffinch-ffarrowmere’s pretentiousness. In medieval documents an upper-case F looks rather like two intertwined lower-case F’s. Those families that use the “ff” spelling are saying, to those in the know, that their family tree has very deep roots. The joke was recycled with Audrey fforbes-Hamilton.

  • David Roberts

    “I don’t get it”. is a curious thing, Alsadius may have meant the whole Woodhouse appreciation as described by Stephen Fry. I don’t get wine or art, I can taste and see differences as described by others but the adjective I would use for good wine or art is “nice”. I am not transported as some people clearly are. Much music does it for me, as does some literature, an example is the description of the Great Kitchen in Titus Groan by Mervyn Peake. Its possible this is self delusion, I don’t know.

  • Philip Scott Thomas

    I think you are missing the point, and certainly missing Fry’s point.

    Which is that this is a joke that can only work on the printed page. As both an actor and a writer, he is acutely aware of the difference between something that is great fun to read, but which may much harder, or in this case totally impossible, to act.

    It reminds me of that skit where someone is given the Tomarto/Tomayto song to sing, at an audition, doesn’t get it and sings, with increasing bewilderment and embarassment, Tomarto throughout. (It could just as well have been Tomayto throughout, but this was in England.)

    Wodehouse’s Sir Jasper ff-ff is on top of all this. He hears the unhearable difference. Far from being a mere upper class twit, he is, at worst, an upper class twit with linguistic superpowers. The upper class twittery of his name contrasts delightfully with his magical ear.

    No joke is funny if it has to be explained like this. You won’t now laugh, especially now that I have explained how wrong you were. But that is approximately why I laughed.

  • llamas

    That’s why there’s been (relatively) so very few successful film and TV adaptations of Wodehouse, which is absolutely barmy when you consider the sheer volume of his work. Most of it only really “works” on the printed page.

    Even the Laurie/Frye Jeeves, while it’s very good of it’s kind, still misses about 75% of the humour content of the original work. It just doesn’t travel well off the printed page.



  • Bod

    I always pronounced you ‘yamas’, llamas. :/

  • Philip Scott Thomas

    Brian Micklethwait

    Thank you, but I am aware of Fry’s point, that such a joke works only in print. That is an obvious and unexceptional point to make. The underlying joke to which Fry was referring is what I was responding to.

    Is there a name for this, when a commenter points out that another commenter has missed the point, only to have missed the other commenter’s point in the first place? You know, something along the lines of Muphry’s Law?

  • Yes, but if you understood the joke, why didn’t you explain it properly to the guy who didn’t? He apparently didn’t get all that. And nor, apparently, did you.

  • David Roberts

    My quote of the day.

    It is enough to be benign, to be gentle, to be funny, to be kind.

  • bloke in spain

    Curiously, I did at one time know a chap whose surname began with two small f’s. His father was the bloke who signs the banknotes – quite a tedious job in those days, I’d imagine, as we were still using the 10 bobs.

    My one particular memory was of a most satisfying piss-up in the parental home, whilst it was sans it’s châtelain. The house backed onto one of the Russian embassy places up in the wilds of Hampstead & the noise levels resulted in a couple of extremely bulky gentlemen with strangely large round heads & poor choice of tailors knocking at the door to plead for mercy.

    If I remember rightly, he pronounced his surname with somewhat of a slur. But on the other hand he was pronouncing most things with a slur at that point.

    Footnote: Consulting Wiki suggests the f’s came in assorted sizes but then that’s Wiki for you.

  • Laird

    Agreed, llamas, but I still love the Laurie/Fry series. It’s what introduced me to Wodehouse in the first place, and it was marvellously done.

  • Dom

    I like the theme to the television show, but the show itself … pfah!

    My favorite Wodehouse joke: Bertie is lying in bed, and Jeeves has just brought him his “Eggs and B.” Then he tells Jeeves some horror story about Aunt Agatha, and he says, “I’m not hungry Jeeves. Remove the E. and Bacon.”

    Hitchens in “Arguably” has a list of the verbs that Wodehouse uses whenever Jeeves appears. My favorite is “shimmers”.

    Did the rest of you know that Wodehouse was an American when he wrote most of his stories?

  • PersonFromPorlock

    What is it about “the dog, Bartholomew” that becomes hysterically funny upon repetition?

    And another treasured phrase: “I left, moving well.”

  • That’s why there’s been (relatively) so very few successful film and TV adaptations of Wodehouse, which is absolutely barmy when you consider the sheer volume of his work. Most of it only really “works” on the printed page.

    Then again, I believe Wodehouse wrote a lot of scripts for the stage, which would explain why his stories are so fast-moving (very few wasted passages) and his dialogue is so good.

  • Another piece of trivia: Wodehouse attended Dulwich College, where Raymond Chandler went. Some coincidence that two of the greatest writers of dry wit went to the same school.

  • llamas

    YHS failed the interview for Dulwich College. That says something – I’m not quite sure what. I think it was because I told them my Dear Old Dad (MHRIP) was an engineer by profession, at which they recoiled, as from a serpent.

    My Favourite Plum :

    ” . . .whose demeanour was now rather like that of one who, picking daisies on the railway, has just caught the down express in the small of the back.”

    Second Favourite :

    ’You know your Shelley, Bertie!’
    ‘Oh, am I?’



    (pronounced ‘Fan-Shawe’)

  • Sam Duncan

    Tim N: that’s always intrigued me, even since I first found out. I’m sure it would be possible to concoct a quiz out of sentences picked from Wodehouse and Chandler, the idea being for victims to determine which is which. There must be something in the water at Dulwich, because they never met.

    My favourite (although llamas’ runs it close), Bertie on Madeleine Bassett:

    “She holds the view that the stars are God’s daisy chain, that rabbits are gnomes in attendance on the Fairy Queen, and that every time a fairy blows its wee nose a baby is born, which, as we know, is not the case”.

    Really, he who is tired of Plum is tired of life.

  • Laird

    Here’s another piece of trivia: Wodehouse wrote the lyrics to “Bill” from the musical “Showboat” (Hammerstein edited them slightly, but gave Wodehouse full credit). Here’s a nice version. (Jane Monheit has an even better one, but it’s not on YouTube.)

  • 'Nuke' Gray

    My favourite line is from the stories about the Drones- “He looked like he had drunk from the cup of life, only to discover a dead mouse in the bottom.” I forget where- have fun searching!