Q From Jeannette Dam-Hansen in Australia: My grandfather had many weird and wonderful expressions. When something was lost and could not be found, even after a thorough and sustained search, he often said it was up in Annie’s room, behind the clock. Could you tell me the origin of this expression?
A I recognised this immediately and have even occasionally used it, much to the mystification of younger people around me. Could your grandfather perhaps have fought in the First World War, as my father did? It was British army slang of that period and became more widely known from there. According to Eric Partridge, up in Annie’s room was a common dismissive reply to a colleague who was asking where somebody was. The implication was that either the speaker didn’t know or the person sought either didn’t want to be found or didn’t want to be disturbed — you could translate it as “don’t ask”.
Partridge suggested the phrase was coined to suggest the person sought was “a bit of a lad with the girls”, which sounds rather too much like a rationalisation after the event to be altogether convincing (I suspect it had more to do with the lack of female company in the trenches, so he’s up in Annie’s room could have meant he’s not around, he’s no more here than Annie is). It was after the War ended that behind the clock was added, though nobody seems to know why. If anybody has any information, I’d be glad to hear.
Search World Wide Words
Recently added pieces
Mammock; Mx; Stepney; Vape; Bridegroom; Lilly-low; The Language Myth by Vyvyan Evans; Boot and trunk; Zoilism; Fish-faced; Poach; Immensikoff; Habiliments; The Sense of Style by Steven Pinker; Agister; The Word at War; Not so green as you’re cabbage-looking.
Support World Wide Words!
Donate via PayPal. Select your currency from the list and click Donate.
Buy from Amazon and get me a small commission at no cost to you. Select your preferred site and click Go!