Tuesday, December 13, 2011
A friend writes:
I subscribe to a newsletter called ‘World Wide Words’ which is English-Language miscellany and usually entertaining. From it, this Monday, I give you this to revive any flagging spirits:Thank you, anonymous friend. World Wide Words has been known to me for a long while, and is a good thing. Go there, now.
Q. I've just looked up the origin of "toodily pip". I found only
"toodle-oo", which is said to be derived from the French "tout a
l'heure", which is not convincing. The French term is incomplete
since I'd expect there to be an "à" before "tout". Otherwise it
simply means "soon", whereas "toodle-oo" means goodbye. Furthermore
the French phrase doesn't sound much like the English expression.
And where did the "pip" come from? [Roger White]
A. Dictionaries often do cautiously suggest "à tout a l'heure" as
the origin of "toodle-oo", a terribly dated item of British slang
that most people will have only come across in the works of P G
Wodehouse. He didn't know "toodily pip", which is a very recent
form, almost solely found in discussion forums online. It seems to
be a mistaken or corrupted version of "toodle-pip", contemporary
Do not disregard a French connection too quickly. British English
speakers are renowned for their ability to mangle foreign tongues,
French in particular. Any nation that can turn "ça ne fait rien"
into "san fairy ann", as British soldiers did in France in the First
World War, is quite capable of transmogrifying "à tout a l'heure"
into "toodle-oo". But it isn't the only possibility: another
potential source that the experts mention is "toot", the sound of a
coach's horn signalling its departure. This may not be so daft as
you might think, as we'll see in a minute.
There are other late nineteenth-century British slang terms of
similar kind, such as "pip-pip". This is an example from the master:
"Well, it's worth trying," said Reggie. "I'll give it a
whirl. Toodleoo!" "Good-bye." "Pip-pip!" Reggie
[A Damsel in Distress, by P G Wodehouse, 1920.]
We may reasonably assume that the "pip" in "toodle-pip" is the same
as in "pip-pip"; "toodle-pip" might even be a blend of "toodle-oo"
and "pip-pip", though it's impossible to tell from the recorded
"Pip-pip" arose as an imitation of the sound of the air horn fitted
to early bicycles - the sort with a trumpet and a rubber bulb. They
were around during the cycling craze near the end of the nineteenth
century alongside the modern bell. This will give you the idea:
Pip-pip. Hue and cry after any one, but generally a
youth in striking bicycle costumery. Onomatope of the horn
warning which sometimes replaces the bell of the bike.
[Passing English of the Victorian Era, by J Redding
Ware, 1909. You may gather from "bicycle costumery" that
Mr Ware wasn't a fan of cyclists, or perhaps just of their
style of clothing.]
This entry was somewhat behind the times, as "pip-pip" had by then
already begun to be recorded as a slangy alternative to "goodbye",
presumably from shouting it after a retreating cyclist. Some of the
usages, such as the Wodehouse one, suggest that it might also be an
acknowledgement to a goodbye from somebody else or a general cry of
encouragement. A precursor, "pip-pop", was known from a century
earlier as an imitation (an onomatope in Mr Ware's vocabulary) of
small-arms gunfire. It hints that "toodle-oo" could indeed be from
"toot", as a similar imitative.
However, it's sadly the truth that nobody knows now exactly what was
in the minds of the inventors of these curious exclamations.