11 Phrases from Downton Abbey to Bolster Your Vocabulary

Carnival Film & Television
Carnival Film & Television / Carnival Film & Television

As we've been following the trials and tribulations of the Granthams and those who serve them, Angela Tung of Wordnik has been collecting interesting words and phrases from the show. Here are some highlights from season three. Note: Spoilers follow if you haven't seen the first three seasons.

1. hobbledehoy
hobbledehoy is "a raw, awkward youth." The word is very old, originating in the 16th century. The first syllable hob probably refers to "a hobgoblin, sprite, or elf," while -dehoy may come from the Middle French de haye, "worthless, untamed, wild."

Example: Carson: "Miss O'Brien, we are about to host a society wedding. I have no time for training young hobbledehoys."
— Episode 1, January 6, 2013
2. left-footer
Anachronism alert! Left-footer, which is slang for a Roman Catholic, didn't come about until 1944, according to the OED, 24 years after this episode takes place. The term seems to come from the belief that "in the North of Ireland that Catholic farm workers use their left foot to push the spade when digging, and Protestants the right." Kicks with the left foot is another slang term for Catholic, while kicking with the wrong foot "is used especially by Protestants of Catholics and vice versa."

Example: Robert: "Did you hear Tom's announcement at breakfast? He wants the child to be a left-footer."
— Episode 6, February 3, 2013
3. Chu Chin Chow
Chu Chin Chow is a musical comedy based on Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves in which "the wealthy merchant Kasim Baba (brother of Ali Baba) [gives] a lavish banquet for a wealthy Chinese merchant, Chu Chin Chow, who is on his way from China." The show premiered in London in 1916 and ran for five years.

Example: Mrs. Hughes: "Then your dinners would be grand enough for Chu Chin Chow."
— Episode 6, February 3, 2013
4. Debrett's
Debrett's is a British publisher of etiquette guides and Debrett's Peerage & Baronetage, a "genealogical guide to the British aristocracy," or as Patsy Stone of the TV show Absolutely Fabulous calls it, the "Who's Who in what's left of the British aristocracy."

Example: Cora: "Not everyone chooses their religion to satisfy Debrett's."
— Episode 5, February 3, 2013
5. in someone's bad books
To be in someone's bad books means to be in disgrace or out of favor. The phrase originated around 1861, says the Oxford English Dictionary (OED). An earlier phrase (1771) is to be in someone's black book. A black book was "a book kept for the purpose of registering the names of persons liable to censure or punishment, as in the English universities, or the English armies." So to be in someone's black book meant to be in bad favor with that person (or on their shitlist, as we Yanks say). As you may have guessed, to be in someone's good books means to be in favor. That phrase originated around 1839, says the OED, in Charles Dickens's Nicholas Nickleby: "If you want to keep in the good books in that quarter, you had better not call her the old lady."

Example: Daisy [to Mosely about O'Brien]: "I wouldn't be in her bad books for a gold clock."
— Episode 2, January 13, 2013
6. in the soup
To be in the soup means to be in a difficult spot, according to the OED. The phrase was originally American slang, originating around 1889.

Example: Daisy [to Mosely]: "You're in the soup."
— Episode 2, January 13, 2013
7. Johnny Foreigner
Johnny Foreigner is a derogatory term for "a person from a country other than those which make up the United Kingdom." We couldn't find an originating date or first use of the phrase. If anyone has information, let us know!

Example: Robert: "But there always seems to be something of Johnny Foreigner about the Catholics."
— Episode 3, January 20, 2013
8. plain cook
plain cook, says the OED, is "a cook who specializes in, or most frequently prepares, plain dishes." Plain dishes are "not rich or highly seasoned," and have a few basic ingredients.

Example" Mrs. Bird: "She says there's plenty of work for a plain cook these days."
— Episode 4, January 27, 2013
9. squiffy
Squiffy means tipsy or drunk, and is of "fanciful formation," according to the OED. Other ways to say drunk.

Example: Robert: "I'm very much afraid to say he was a bit squiffy, weren't you, Alfred?"
— Episode 6, February 3, 2013
10. tuppence
Tuppence is an alternation of twopence, two pennies or a very small amount. One who doesn't give a tuppence doesn't care at all.

Example: Isabel: "She couldn't give a tuppence about Ethel."
— Episode 6, February 10, 2013
11. stick it up your jumper
The full phrase is oompah, oompah, stick it up your jumper!, and is "an expression of contempt, defiance, rejection or dismissal." It may have originally been "a meaningless jingle chanted jocularly or derisively" from the 1920s. The phrase makes a famous appearance in the Beatles' song "I Am the Walrus."

Example: Anna: "They'll have to give Thomas his notice." Bates: "Mr. Barrow." Anna: "Mr. Stick It Up Your Jumper."
— Episode 6, February 10, 2013

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