APF Chapter 3: Discworld Annotations [Prev Page] [Index] [Next Page]

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Guards! Guards!

Annotations | Information | Quotes

- [p. 10] "'Hooray, hooray for the spinster's sister's daughter.'"

This recalls the ritual question "Is there no help for the Widow's Son?" in Masonic ritual.

- [p. 15] "'Let's say a skion turns up, walks up to the Patrician [...]'"

The correct spelling is actually 'scion', meaning "young descendant of a noble family".

- [p. 17] "'Yea, the king will come [...] and Protect and Serve the People with his Sword.'"

This is Terry having fun with foreshadowing again. The prophecy of Brother Plasterer's granddad describes Carrot to a tee, with the "Protect and Serve" tying in neatly with the motto of the City Watch (see the annotation for p. 48).

- [p. 19] "'They were myths and they were real,' he said loudly. 'Both a wave and a particle.'"

Reference to the wave/particle duality theory of e.g. light, which appears to have the physical properties of both a wave and a particle, depending upon what context you are working in.

- [p. 19] "'That was where you had to walk on ricepaper wasn't it,' said Brother Watchtower conversationally."

Reference to the old David Carradine TV series, Kung Fu. In one of the earliest episodes our Shaolin monk-in-training was tasked to walk along a sheet of ricepaper without ripping it or leaving a mark.

- [p. 24] "It wasn't only the fresh mountain air that had given Carrot his huge physique."

Someone on a.f.p. asked Terry if the name or the character of Carrot was perhaps inspired by an old American comic called Captain Carrot and his Amazing Zoo Crew. Terry answered:

"Never heard of it. The TRUE answer is that when I was writing the book an electrician was rewiring our house and the nickname of his red-haired apprentice was Carrot. It kind of stuck in my mind."

- [p. 27] "'And Bob's your uncle.'"

Some people have been wondering just where this expression comes from (the joke also occurs on p. 15 and p. 98). Terry himself gives the following answer:

"Apparently from a 19th Century Prime Minister, Lord Robert Stanley, who was a great one for nepotism. If you got a good Government job it was because "Bob's your uncle". It came to mean 'everything's all right'."

- [p. 48] The fizzing and flashing illuminated sign outside Captain Vimes' office is a reference to the tired old visual cliché from most film noir. The seedy detective's office or apartment always has a big neon sign just outside the window.

- [p. 48] The motto of the Night Watch, "FABRICATI DIEM, PVNC", is dog Latin for "Make my day, punk".

"Go ahead, make my day" is a well-known Clint 'Dirty Harry' Eastwood quote. The 'punk' comes from another famous Dirty Harry scene (see the annotation for p. 124).

Notice also that the translation Terry supplies ("To protect and to serve") is actually the motto of the Los Angeles Police Force.

My source tells me that Hollywood writers and directors, notorious for the accuracy of their movies and TV shows, tend to have all police cars bear this motto. In a sort of reverse formation, this has caused some individual police forces across the USA to adopt it, so that by now the motto has become fairly wide-spread.

- [p. 49] "'The E. And the T sizzles when it rains.'"

The magic tavern sign Brother Watchtower is stealing has a burnt-out 'E' and a sizzling 'T' just like the 'HOT L BALTIMORE' sign in the play of the same name.

- [p. 49] "[...] a certain resemblance to a chimpanzee who never got invited to tea parties."

For the entertainment of their younger visitors, British zoos used to have the tradition of holding Chimpanzees' Tea Parties, where the chimps were dressed up and seated at a table, drinking and eating from a plastic tea set.

Chimp tea parties have remained in the British consciousness due to the TV advertisements for PG Tips tea bags featuring chimps pouring tea.

- [p. 51] "'Shershay la fem, eh? Got a girl into trouble?'"

"Cherchez la femme" ("look for the woman") is a cliché phrase of pulp detective fiction: when someone's wife has been murdered one should always search for signs of another woman's involvement.

- [p. 55] "'Good day! Good day! What is all of this that is going on here (in this place)?'"

Carrot's actions and words in this scene mirror the behaviour of the stereotypical British friendly neighbourhood bobby attempting to break up a family argument or innocent street brawl. Nearly all my correspondents trace this stereotype directly back to the sixties BBC television series Dixon of Dock Green, where every bobby was your friend and it was perfectly acceptable for a copper to walk into a room and say "'Ello! 'Ello! What's going on 'ere then?". Calling people 'sunshine' (next footnote on the page), and signing off with "Evening, all" are apparently also Dixonisms.

- [p. 56] "'Evenin', Detritus.'"

'Detritus' is a word meaning "any loose matter, e.g. stones, sand, silt, formed by rock disintegration".

- [p. 59] "'What'd he mean, Justices?' he said to Nobby. 'There ain't no Justices.'"

This annotation has been the subject of some heated a.f.p. discussion (and if you think that this is a silly thing to get worked up over, you are obviously not familiar with alt.fan.pratchett. Or with Usenet, for that matter). Anyway, there were a few people who felt that Terry was referring here to Larry Niven's Ringworld series, where the main character, Louis Wu, always uses the phrase "There ain't no justice" (abbreviated as "TANJ"). Other people found this connection incredibly far-fetched for such a generic sentence, and said so rather forcefully.

Eventually, Terry stepped in and short-circuited the entire discussion by writing: "Mostly in the Discworld books, particularly Mort, the phrase is "There's no justice" so that it can be balanced with "There's just me/you/us". And that phrase is truly generic. Really, so is "There ain't no justice" -- it's just that Niven does use it a lot and, I suspect, uses it because it is familiar to readers. Admittedly, it's become 'his' via repetition. But there's a difference between using an established phrase which another author has commandeered and using one specifically associated with one person -- "Make my day" has one owner, whereas "There ain't no justice" is a cliché. To be honest, I didn't have anything particularly in mind when Charley uttered the phrase -- but if you think it's a Niven reference, fair enough."

- [p. 70] "'Do real wizards leap about after a tiny spell and start chanting 'Here we go, here we go, here we go', Brother Watchtower? Hmm?'"

"Here we go, here we go" is a chant (usually sung to the tune of Sousa's 'Stars and Stripes Forever') commonly associated with football (soccer) fans.

According to my correspondent it is also used, historically, by gangs of striking miners just before they realise that the mounted policemen with big sticks are coming their way. Definitely a British phenomenon.

- [p. 83] "It was strange, he felt, that so-called intelligent dogs, horses and dolphins never had any difficulty indicating to humans the vital news of the moment [...]"

Just for the record: some famous television/movie dogs fitting this description are Lassie and Rin Tin Tin; horse examples are Champion, Trigger, Silver ("I said posse!"), and Black Beauty; the only dolphin example I know of is probably the most famous of them all: Flipper.

Australian fans have expressed their disappointment that Terry left out Skippy the Bush Kangaroo, whose ability to communicate very complex, often extremely abstract concepts with a bit of clicking and hopping around was apparently a wonder to behold.

Terry later more than made up for this when he introduced Scrappy the Kangaroo as a character in The Last Continent. See also the annotation for p. 55 of that book.

- [p. 83] "And then he went out on to the streets, untarnished and unafraid."

"But down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid." is a well-known quote -- that describes Carrot to a tee -- from Raymond Chandler's essay The Simple Art of Murder.

- [p. 85] "'Who loves you, pussycat?', said Nobby under his breath."

Nice amalgamation of TV detective Kojak's use of the word 'pussycat' and his catchphrase "Who loves ya, baby?".

- [p. 86] "'I've seen a horsefly [...] And I've seen a housefly. I've even seen a greenfly, but I ain't never seen a dragon fly"

Sounds reminiscent of the 'I've never seen an elephant fly' song which the crows sing in Walt Disney's 1941 movie Dumbo. Another similar children's song is called 'The Never Song' by Edward Lipton.

- [p. 88] "[...] Gayheart Talonthrust of Ankh stood fourteen thumbs high, [...]"

The breeding of swamp dragons is a parody of British high society's obsession with horse breeding. The height of a horse is traditionally measured in hands.

- [p. 90] "'One just has to put up with the occasional total whittle.'"

Describing Errol as a whittle is actually a quite clever pun. On the one hand 'whittle' simply means something reduced in size (usually by means of slicing bits and pieces off it), while on the other hand Sir Frank Whittle was the inventor of the modern aircraft jet engine.

When Whittle showed his original design to his supervisor at Manchester University, the latter said, "Very interesting, Whittle my dear boy, but it will never work".

- [p. 94] "'Just give me the facts, m'lady,' he said impatiently."

"Just the facts, ma'am", is a catchphrase from the Dragnet radio series (later a TV series, and later still a Dan Aykroyd/Tom Hanks movie).

- [p. 94] "Of all the cities in all the world it could have flown into, he thought, it's flown into mine..."

Pretty obvious Bogart/Casablanca paraphrase, in keeping with Vimes' role as the Discworld equivalent of the ultimate film noir anti-hero.

- [p. 104] The bit about the hero killing a monster in a lake, only to have the monster's mum come right down the hall the next day and complain, is a reference to Grendel and his mother, two famous monsters from the Beowulf saga.

- [p. 104] "Pour encourjay lays ortras."

Discworld version of the French phrase "pour encourager les autres". The phrase originates with Voltaire who, after the British executed their own admiral John Byng in 1757 for failing to relieve Minorca, was inspired to write (in Chapter 23 of Candide) a sentence that translates to: "in this country we find it pays to shoot an admiral from time to time to encourage the others".

- [p. 106] "'For example, foxes are always knocking over my dustbins.'"

Terry, at least at one point in his life, lived in the west country, near Bristol. Bristol has become famous for its urban foxes (although they apparently operate in all largish greenish cities in the UK). In the early 80s, BBC Bristol made a famous programme on these urban foxes, called Foxwatch.

On this programme, hitherto unachieved photographs of vixens caring for their sprogs were aired; this made the programme (which was narrated by David Attenborough) very famous. The Archchancellor's rant is a very good approximation of a David Attenborough wildlife programme narration. And according to the Foxwatch myth, foxes knock over dustbins.

- [p. 107] "'Did you suggest a working party?', said Wonse."

It is British Government Policy to suggest a working party whenever an intractable problem presents itself. It is usually stocked with opposition MPs.

- [p. 108] "Once you've ruled out the impossible then whatever is left, however improbable, must be the truth. [...] There was also the curious incident of the orangutan in the night-time ..."

Two Sherlock Holmes references for the price of one. The original quotes are "It is an old maxim of mine that when you have excluded the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth" from The Adventure of the Beryl Coronet, and "[...] the curious incident of the dog at nighttime" in Silver Blaze.

The second reference also reminds me, in a very roundabout way, of Edgar Allan Poe's The Murders in the Rue Morgue.

- [p. 110] "[...] as ghastly an array of faces as ever were seen outside a woodcut about the evils of gin-drinking [...]"

The reference here is to the famous series of 18th century morality woodcuts by William Hogarth, with names like "Gin Lane" and "Beer Street".

- [p. 115] "'Dunno where this place is, Captain. It belongs to some posh bint.'"

This is very British slang. Posh, meaning upper class, arises from the days of the Empire. It is an acronym, standing for 'Port Out, Starboard Home'. These were the most pleasant (least hot?) cabins on the ships sailing to the jewel in the crown, India, and therefore the most expensive, meaning that only the aristocracy could afford them.

(The above explanation is in fact quite false -- that is, it's true that posh means upper class, but the acronym is one of these persistent, oh so plausible, after-the-fact etymologies, which are nearly always wrong.)

'Bint' arises as a bit of cockney soldier slang in WWII. It is actually Arabic for 'young girl'. Many British soldiers were stationed in Alexandria, Egypt, in North Africa, and this word was brought into the language by them.

- [p. 122] "'So I'm letting you have a place in Pseudopolis Yard.'"

The Watch's second base, affectionately called 'The Yard', is a reference to Scotland Yard, where the British Police Headquarters used to be located (these days, they have moved to New Scotland Yard).

- [p. 124] "This is Lord Mountjoy Quickfang Winterforth IV, the hottest dragon in the city. It could burn your head clean off."

Vimes replays here one of the best-known scenes in Clint Eastwood's first 'Dirty Harry' movie, the 1971 Dirty Harry.

"Aha! I know what you're thinking... Did I fire six shots or only five? To tell you the truth, I forgot it myself in all this excitement. This here's a .44 Magnum, the most powerful handgun in the world, and it can blow your head clean off. Now, you must ask yourself one question: "Do I feel lucky?" Well, do you, punk?"

Note how nicely Winterforth the fourth corresponds to the caliber of the Magnum.

- [p. 130] "''E's plain clothes, ma'am,' said Nobby smartly. 'Special Ape Services'."

Special Ape Services shares the acronym SAS with the crack British troops who are sent to storm embassies, shoot prisoners of war, and execute alleged terrorists before anything has been proven by trial, etc. Not that one wants to get political, mind you.

- [p. 141] "'Ah. Kings can cure that, you know,' said another protomonarchist knowingly."

See the annotation for p. 76 of Lords and Ladies .

- [p. 147] "[...] and stepped out into the naked city."

The Naked City was an American TV cop show in the 50s, mostly forgotten today, except for its prologue narration: "There are eight million stories in the naked city. This is one of them."

- [p. 149] "There are some songs which are never sung sober. 'Nellie Dean' is one. So is any song beginning 'As I was a walking...'"

'Nellie Dean' is an old music hall song:

There's an old mill by the stream
Nellie Dean.
Where we used to sit and dream
Nellie Dean.

For an explanation of songs beginning 'As I was a walking...' see the annotation for p. 238 of Men at Arms .

- [p. 181] "'This is love-in-a-canoe coffee if ever I tasted it.'"

This refers to the punchline of the old joke (familiar from, for instance, a Monty Python sketch):

Q: What do American beer and making love in a canoe have in common?
A: They're both fucking close to water.

- [p. 182] "'He's called Rex Vivat.'"

Rex Vivat, of course, means: "long live the king". This reminds me a bit of Robert Rankin, who named his lead character in They Came And Ate Us Rex Mundi. Rex's sister has a role in the book too. Her name is Gloria.

Now you may begin to understand why Rankin is so often discussed on alt.fan.pratchett, and why there is so much overlap between his and Terry's audiences.

- [p. 214] "'The Duke of Sto Helit is looking for a guard captain, I'm sure.'"

The Duke of Sto Helit, in case anyone had forgotten, is none other than Mort.

- [p. 219] "Someone out there was going to find out that their worst nightmare was a maddened Librarian. With a badge."

The movie 48 Hrs, starring Nick Nolte and Eddy Murphy, has a scene in which Eddy Murphy is in a bar full of rednecks, shouting "I am your worst nightmare! A nigger with a badge!"

- [p. 236] "'If that dragon's got any voonerables, that arrow'll find 'em.'"

Killing dragons by shooting a magical arrow in a special location is a standard cliché of mythology and fantasy fiction. One of the best-known contemporary examples can be found in Tolkien's The Hobbit, where Bard kills the dragon Smaug with a special black arrow.

- [p. 252] "'All for one!' [...] 'All for one what?' said Nobby."

"All for one and one for all" was of course the motto of the Three Musketeers. A whole new generation has learned about this through the combined efforts of an uninspired Disney flick and a particularly nauseating song by Bryan Adams, Rod Stewart and Sting.

- [p. 256] "Both dragons appeared to realise that the fight was the well-known Klatchian standoff."

Or Mexican standoff in our world, which is when two people have loaded, cocked guns pointed right at each other. If either shoots, they both die. This leaves them stuck, since if either just turns away, the other will immediately shoot him.

- [p. 257] The scene where Errol's supersonic boom smashes the dragon out of the air is possibly based on another Clint Eastwood movie, the 1982 Firefox.

- [p. 262] "'In 1135 a hen was arrested for crowing on Soul Cake Thursday.'"

There are several historical examples in our world of animals being arrested, excommunicated or killed for various crimes. Articles in the October 1994 issue of Scientific American and in The Book of Lists #3 give several examples: a chimpanzee was convicted in Indiana in 1905 of smoking in public; 75 pigeons were executed in 1963 in Tripoli for ferrying stolen money across the Mediterranean; and in 1916, "five-ton Mary" the elephant killed her trainer and was subsequently sentenced to death by hanging -- a sentence that involved a 100-ton derrick and a steam shovel. But the law is fair, and sometimes the animals get the better of it: when in 1713 a Franciscan monastery brought the termites who had been infesting their buildings to trial, a Brazilian court ruled that termites had a valid prior claim to the land, and ordered the monks to give the termites their own plot.

Note that Soul Cake Thursday in later Discworld novels becomes Soul Cake Tuesday, after previously having been Soul Cake Friday in The Dark Side of the Sun.

- [p. 284] "'Sergeant Colon said he thought we'd get along like a maison en Flambé.'"

Maison en Flambé = house on fire.

- [p. 285] "'Here's looking at you, kid,' he said."

Another quote from Casablanca.

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