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

[Cover Picture] [Cover Picture]


Annotations | Information | Quotes

- [dedication] "To the guerilla bookshop manager known to friends as 'ppint' [...]"

The bookshop in question is Interstellar Master Traders in Lancaster. ppint is a longtime contributor to alt.fan.pratchett, well-known for, amongst many other things, maintaining a number of that group's "Frequently Asked Questions" documents.

+ [dedication] "[...] the question Susan asks in this book."

Many people have found it difficult to determine just what this question is. The relevant passage occurs on p. 154: "What do they do with the teeth?"

- When Hogfather was being written, Terry answered the question what it was going to be about as follows:

"Let's see, now...in Hogfather there are a number of stabbings, someone's killed by a man made of knives, someone's killed by the dark, and someone just been killed by a wardrobe.

It's a book about the magic of childhood. You can tell."

- [p. 7] "Everything starts somewhere, although many physicists disagree."

Most physicists believe the universe started with a 'big bang.' The contrary view is that the universe is essentially a 'steady state' system, though this is difficult to reconcile with the available evidence. See also the annotation for p. 8 of The Colour of Magic .

- [p. 8] "[...] the Verruca Gnome is running around [...]"

A verruca is a large wart that appears on the sole of the foot, also called a plantar wart. Apparently the word is not commonly used in America.

- [p. 13] "'[...] a stiff brandy before bedtime quite does away with the need for the Sandman.'"

The Sandman supposedly sends children to sleep by throwing sand in their eyes, although we have found out (in Soul Music) that, on the Discworld, he doesn't bother to take the sand out of the sack first.

- [p. 13] "'And, since I can carry a tune quite well, I suspect I'm not likely to attract the attention of Old Man Trouble.'"

A character from the Gershwin song 'I Got Rhythm'. See also the annotation for p. 86 of Feet of Clay .

- [p. 16] "'Let us call him the Fat Man.'"

This nickname has an honourable history, dating back at least as far as the 1941 classic film The Maltese Falcon. It was also the codename of the second (and, so far, the last) atomic bomb ever used in war, which was dropped on Nagasaki in August 1945.

- [p. 24] "She'd got Gawain on the military campaigns of General Tacticus, [...]"

We learn a lot more about this character in Jingo. The name seems to be a conflation of the word 'tactics' with the Roman historian Tacitus.

- [p. 25] "[...] if she did indeed ever find herself dancing on rooftops with chimney sweeps [...]"

A famous scene from the 1964 film Mary Poppins. Miss Poppins used her umbrella as a sort of magic wand to grant wishes for the children in her charge. See also the annotation for p. 56.

- [p. 26] "[...] the hope that some god or other would take their soul if they died while they were asleep [...]"

Susan is thinking of an 18th-century prayer still popular in parts of the US:

Now I lay me down to sleep,
I pray the Lord my soul to keep.
If I should die before I wake,
I pray the Lord my soul to take.

- [p. 26] "'[...] yes, Twyla: there is a Hogfather.'"

Susan's response to Twyla's question loosely parodies a delightfully sentimental editorial that first appeared in The New York Sun in December 1897. The editorial Yes, Virginia, There Is a Santa Claus, appropriately enough, uses the ideas of 'deeper truths' and 'values' to demonstrate that Santa must exist.

- [p. 28] Medium Dave and Banjo Lilywhite.

From the Trad. song 'Green grow the rushes, O': "Two, two the Lilywhite boys, clothed all in green, O".

- [p. 34] "Deaths's destination was a slight rise in the trench floor."

The environment Death visits is called "Black Smokes". It is a lifeform that is not based on photosynthesis in any way.

- [p. 35] "The omnipotent eyesight of various supernatural entities is often remarked upon. It is said they can see the fall of every sparrow."

Matthew 10:29, for instance: "Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? and one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father."

- [p. 39] "'"Oh, there might be some temp'ry inconvenience now, my good man, but just come back in fifty thousand years."'"

There is very often a clear parallel between Discworld magic and our world's nuclear power. This is the sort of timescale it takes for plutonium waste to decay to a 'harmless' state. Given Terry's background in the nuclear industry, and his comments since, there is little doubt that these parallels are intentional.

- [p. 42] "'Give me a child until he seven and he is mine for life.'"

A Jesuit maxim. See the annotation for p. 10 of Small Gods .

- [p. 44] "It was the night before Hogwatch. All through the house... ...one creature stirred. It was a mouse."

In Clement Clarke Moore's poem The Night Before Christmas, "not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse".

- [p. 47] "[...] the Quirmian philosopher Ventre, who said, 'Possibly the gods exist and possibly they do not. So why not believe in them in any case? If it's all true you'll go to a lovely place when you die, and if it isn't then you've lost nothing, right?'"

This is a rephrasing of Pascal's Wager: "If you believe in God and turn out to be incorrect, you have lost nothing -- but if you don't believe in God and turn out to be incorrect, you will go to hell. Therefore it is foolish to be an atheist." (Formulation quoted from the alt.atheism "Common Arguments" web site.)

- [p. 47] "'You could try "Pig-hooey!"'"

In P. G. Wodehouse's Blandings Castle, this cry was recommended to Clarence, Earl of Emsworth, as an all-purpose call to food, and used in the enforced absence of his pig man to get the mighty Empress back to the trough. As such it is perhaps not surprising that Gouger, Rooter, Tusker and Snouter did not accelerate away at the sound -- they were presumably waiting for Albert to produce the nosebags.

- [p. 48] "'Look at robins, now. [...] all they got to do is go bob-bob-bobbing along [...]'"

From the song "When the red, red robin comes bob-bob-bobbing along..."

- [p. 49] "In Biers no one took any notice."

The bar "Cheers", from the TV show of the same name, has often been parodied as "Beers". See also the annotation for p. 84 of Feet of Clay .

- [p. 50] "'Now then, Shlimazel'"

"Shlimazel" is a Yiddish word meaning someone who always has bad luck, a sad sack, a terminally unsuccessful person. (From German "schlimm", meaning "bad", and the Hebrew "mazal", meaning "luck" -- or "constellation", as in "ill-starred".)

- [p. 54] "'Did you check the list?' YES, TWICE. ARE YOU SURE THAT'S ENOUGH?"

This is the first of many references to the song 'Santa Claus is coming to town'. "He's making a list, he's checking it twice, he's gonna find out who's naughty and nice..." Other references are on p. 60 and p. 84.

- [p. 54] "Here we are, here we are," said Albert. "James Riddle, aged eight."

Jimmy Riddle is rhyming slang for "piddle".

- [p. 56] "In the summer the window opened into the branches of a cherry tree."

Possibly another echo of Mary Poppins (see the annotation for p. 25), who lived at 10 Cherry Tree Road. The raven's constant harping on about robins also echoes the movie.

- [p. 60] "'The rat says: you'd better watch out...'"

The song "Santa Claus is coming to town" takes on a whole new meaning on the Discworld. See also the annotation for p. 52 of Soul Music .

- [p. 66] "She'd never looked for eggs laid by the Soul Cake Duck."

The Discworld equivalent of the Easter Bunny. See also the annotation for p. 139 of Lords and Ladies .

- [p. 67] "'I happen to like fern patterns,' said Jack Frost coldly."

A Tom Swiftie, followed by another one on the next page: "'I don't sleep,' said Frost icily, [...]". See the annotation for p. 26 of The Light Fantastic .

- [p. 73] "In general outline, at least. But with more of a PG rating."

PG = Parental Guidance suggested -- a film classification used in the USA and the UK, meaning that "some material may not be suitable for children".

- [p. 74] "Between every rational moment were a billion irrational ones."

In mathematics, between every two rational numbers lie an infinite number of irrational numbers. A rational number is a number that can be expressed in the form of p/q where p and q are integers. Irrational numbers are ones that cannot, such as π or the square root of 2.

- [p. 77] "A man might spend his life peering at the private life of elementary particles and then find he either knew who he was or where he was, but not both."

A lovely reference to Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle (see the annotation for p. 178 of Pyramids ). Also plays on the stereotype of the absent-minded old scientist.

- [p. 79] "'Archchancellor Weatherwax only used it once [...]'"

Archchancellor Weatherwax was in charge of UU in the time of The Light Fantastic, estimated (by some deeply contorted calculation) to be set about 25 years before the time of Hogfather. See also the annotation for p. 8 of The Light Fantastic .

- [p. 82] 'Old Faithful' is the name of the famous big regular geyser in Yellowstone Park. No wonder Ridcully feels 'clean'.

- [p. 83] "On the second day of Hogswatch I... sent my true love back A nasty little letter, hah, yes, indeed, and a partridge in a pear tree."

Clearly the Discworld version of "The twelve days of Christmas" is rather less, umm, unilateral.

- [p. 83] "'-- the rising of the sun, and the running of the deer --'"

The song is 'The Holly and the Ivy':

The Holly and the Ivy, when they are both full grown,
Of all the trees that are in the wood, the holly bears the crown.

Oh, the rising of the sun, and the running of the deer,
The playing of the merry organ, sweet singing in the choir.

The Holly bears a berry, as red as any blood,
And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ to do poor sinners good...


- [p. 84] "I KNOW IF THEY ARE PEEPING, Death added proudly."

Another echo of 'Santa Claus is coming to town': "He sees you when you're peeping". See the annotations for p. 54 and p. 60.

- [p. 86] "'I mean, tooth fairies, yes, and them little buggers that live in flowers, [...]'"

Flower fairies are a Victorian invention, often illustrated in sickeningly cute pictures and still widely popular in the US. See also Witches Abroad.

- [p. 86] "Oh, how the money was coming in."

This has been tentatively linked to a famous parody song, to the tune of of 'My Bonnie Lies over the Ocean':

My father makes counterfeit money,
My mother brews synthetic gin;
My sister makes loves to the sailors:
My God, how the money rolls in!

- [p. 92] "Many people are aware of the Weak and Strong Anthropic Principles."

Physicists have discovered that there are a large number of 'coincidences' inherent in the fundamental laws and constants of nature, seemingly designed or 'tuned' to lead to the development of intelligent life. Every one of these coincidences or specific relationships between fundamental physical parameters is needed, or the evolution of life and consciousness as we know it could not have happened. This set of coincidences is known collectively as the "Anthropic Principle."

The 'Weak Anthropic Principle' states, roughly, that "since we are here, the universe must have the properties that make it possible for us to exist, so the coincidences are not surprising".

The 'Strong Anthropic Principle' says that "the universe can only exist at all because it has these properties -- it would be impossible for it to develop any other way."

In some quarters, the idea has re-ignited the old 'argument-from-design' for the existence of God.

- [p. 94] "'Sufficiently advanced magic.'"

A perfect inversion of Arthur C. Clarke's dictum that "any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic."

- [p. 94] "'Interesting. Saves all that punching holes in bits of card and hitting keys you lads are forever doing, then --'"

Holes punched in cards were used to input programs and data to computers up until roughly the early 1970s, when keyboards became standard.

- [p. 95] "+++ Why Do You Think You Are A Tickler? +++"

The conversation between the Bursar and Hex is reminiscent of the Eliza program.

Eliza is a program written in the dark ages of computer science by Joseph Weizenbaum to simulate an indirect psychiatrist. It works by transforming whatever the human says into a question using a few very simple rules. To his grave concern, Weizenbaum discovered that people took his simple program for real and demanded to be left alone while 'conversing' with it.

- [p. 95] "[...] Hex's 'Anthill Inside' sticker [...]"

Refers to a marketing campaign launched by semiconductor manufacturer Intel in the 1990s.

Intel's problem was that, although it has almost all of the market for personal computer chips, its lawyers couldn't stop rival manufacturers from making chips that were technically identical -- or, very often, better and cheaper. Its response was to launch the 'Intel Inside' sticker, to attach to a computer's case in the hope of persuading end customers that this made it better.

- [p. 99] "You know there's some people up on the Ramtops who kill a wren at Hogswatch and walk around from house to house singing about it?"

There is a folksong about the hunting of the wren:

Oh where are you going, says Milder to Maulder
Oh we may not tell you, says Festle to Fose
We're off to the woods, says John the red nose
We're off to the woods, says John the red nose

And what will you do there...
We'll hunt the cutty wren...

In Ireland until quite recently, the hunting of the wren on St Stephen's day -- Dec. 26th -- was a very real tradition. People did kill a wren and hang it on a branch of a holly tree, taking it from house to house rather like children trick-or-treating on Hallowe'en.

- [p. 100] "'Blind Io the Thunder God used to have these myffic ravens that flew anywhere and told him everything that was going on.'"

The main Viking god Odin, although not a thunder god, had two ravens, Hugin and Munin, who did this. He also had only one eye.

- [p. 100] "'[...] he'd go to the Castle of Bones.'"

King Arthur visited this place of horror with a bunch (24? 49? 144?) of his trusted knights and re-emerged with only seven left alive. No one ever told what they had encountered there. I believe it was a faerie castle.

- [p. 104] "The Aurora Corealis hung in the sky, [...]"

Aurora Borealis. See the annotation for p. 85 of Mort .


Confirms Ridcully's remark on p. 86 that the word can be used as a name.

- [p. 119] "'Willow bark', said the Bursar."

Willow bark contains aspirin.

- [p. 121] "'[...] that drink, you know, there's a worm in the bottle...'"

Mescal. See also the annotation for p. 190 of Soul Music .

- [p. 121] "'[...] surrounded by naked maenads.'"

Maenads are from Greek mythology and were tied up with Dionysus, God of Wine. They were beautiful, nude and indeed maniacal, possessed of an unfortunate tendency to tear apart anyone they met, especially if it was male.

- [p. 123] TINKLE. TINKLE. FIZZ.

An old advertising campaign for Alka-Seltzer (a medicine often used as a hangover cure), used the line "Plop, plop, fizz, fizz / Oh what a relief it is" to describe the sound of the pills dropping into water and dissolving.

- [p. 126] "'I saw this in Bows and Ammo!'"

See the annotation for p. 236 of Lords and Ladies .

- [p. 132] "While evidence says that the road to Hell is paved with good intentions, [...]"

This is confirmed by the eyewitness testimony of Rincewind and Eric (in Eric).

- [p. 134] "'Sarah the little match girl, [...]'"

The little match girl dying of hypothermia on Christmas eve is a traditional fairy tale, best known in the version written by Hans Christian Anderson.

- [p. 135] "'You're for life, not just for Hogswatch,' prompted Albert."

Plays on an old advertising slogan intended to discourage giving puppies as Christmas presents without thinking about how they'll be cared for the rest of their lives.

Compare also the motto for Lady Sybil's Sunshine Sanctuary for Sick Dragons: "Remember, A Dragon is For Life, Not Just for Hogswatchnight".

- [p. 139] "Hex worried Ponder Stibbons."

Terry's envisioning of Hex is associated with a lot of in-jokes about modern (mid-90s and beyond) personal computers.

The computer business is littered with TLAs (three-letter acronyms), such as CPU, RAM, VDU, and FTP; Hex has its CWL (clothes wringer from the laundry), FTB (fluffy teddy bear), GBL (great big lever). "Small religious pictures" are icons, and they are used with a mouse. Ram skulls are an echo of RAM (random-access memory).

The beehive long-term storage is a little more obscure, but in the 1980s some mainframes had a mass storage system that involved data stored on tapes wound onto cylinders. The cylinders of tape were stored in a set of hexagonal pigeon holes, and retrieved automatically by the computer as needed; systems diagrams always depicted this part of the computer as a honeycomb pattern. And then there's of course the fact that 'beehive' rhymes with 'B-drive', which is how one usually refers to the secondary floppy drive in a personal computer.

Interestingly, Douglas R. Hofstader's Gödel, Escher, Bach: an Eternal Golden Braid contains a chapter in which one of the characters (the Anteater) describes how an anthill can be viewed as a brain, in which the movements of ants are the thoughts of the heap.

- [p. 141] "+++ Error at Address:14, Treacle Mine Road, Ankh-Morpork +++"

A common error message on many types of computer tells you that there is an error at a certain memory address, expressed as a number. This information is completely useless to anyone except a programmer.

Based on The Streets of Ankh-Morpork, it has been suggested that this may be the address of CMOT Dibbler's cellar, mentioned in Reaper Man.

- [p. 141] "'I know it sounds stupid, Archchancellor, but we think it might have caught something off the Bursar.'"

Possibly Hex has caught a virus. On the Discworld, there's no obvious reason why a virus shouldn't be transmittable from human to computer or vice-versa.

In the early 1970s there appeared a sort of proto-virus called the 'Cookie Monster', which cropped up on a number of computers -- notably Multics-based machines. What would happen is that unsuspecting users would suddenly find messages demanding cookies on their terminals, and they would not be able to proceed until they typed 'COOKIE' or 'HAVECOOKIE', etc. -- in much the same way as Hex is 'cured' by typing 'DRYDFRORGPILLS'.

- [p. 143] "'You don't have to shout, Archchancellor,' said Ponder."

In on-line conversations, a common error among newcomers is typing everything in block capital letters, known colloquially as 'shouting'. This causes varying degrees of irritation among readers. There are also some people with vision impairments who use software that purposely uses capital letters, as they are easier to read, but fortunately this software is improving.

- [p. 143] "Then it wrote: +++ Good Evening, Archchancellor. I Am Fully Recovered And Enthusiastic About My Tasks +++"

Hex's polite phrasing here parodies that of the famous computer HAL from Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke's movie 2001: A Space Odyssey (and the sequel 2010), who said things like: "Good afternoon, gentlemen. I am a HAL 9000 computer" and "I am completely operational and all my systems are functioning perfectly".

- [p. 144] "What does 'divide by cucumber' mean?" "Oh, Hex just says that if it comes up with an answer that it knows can't possibly be real."

The real-world version of this is is known as a "Divide by Zero" error. Dividing by zero is an operation not allowed by the rules of mathematics, and computers will generate an error when asked to perform it.

- [p. 150] "[...] I can TALK THAT TALK and stalk that stalk [...]"

The usual phrase is, of course, "talk the talk and walk the walk", meaning to both say and do the right thing. If anyone can definitively point to the origin of this phrase, I'd be interested to know it -- possibly from the US civil rights movement of the 1960s.

It's been mentioned more than once that the Stanley Kubrick movie Full Metal Jacket, the character Joker bandies words with a marine called Animal Mother, who answers: "You talk the talk but do you walk the walk?" This encounter may be significant purely because Animal Mother's helmet bears the text "I AM BECOME DEATH".

- [p. 154] "There are those who believe that [...] there was some Golden Age [...] when [...] the stones fit together so you could hardly put a knife between them, you know, and it's obvious they had flying machines, right, because of the way the earthworks can only be seen from above, yeah?"

This speculation has been advanced in the context of, e.g., ancient Peru, where the stones in the old Inca stonework foundations really do fit together almost perfectly, and where the Nazca Lines really can only be seen from above (or, actually, from the ground by standing on top of nearby foothills -- but admitting that makes things a lot less Mysterious, now doesn't it...)

Apparently the part of Peru where the Inca lived is rather prone to earthquakes, and not wanting their perfectly fitting stones to fall over and break into little pieces when the earth moved, the Inca built all their major buildings with the walls sloping inwards. Many Inca buildings are still standing (less a roof or two, of course), in sharp contrast with California, where modern buildings fall over with distressing regularity.

Britain has things called leylines -- ancient sites so arranged that they draw a perfectly straight line across a map, allegedly impossible to trace without modern cartographical techniques.

For the most bizarre extrapolation of this belief, see Erich von Däniken's Chariots of the Gods?, which claims not only that aliens visited the earth in ancient times, but also that they actually started human civilisation.

The footnote ties together a number of modern myths about aliens, ending with the "The truth may be out there...", the catchphrase of the 90s TV series The X-Files.

- [p. 155] "'Lares and Penates? What were they when they were at home?' said Ridcully."

They were Roman household gods.

There are many beautiful shrines to them -- there was at least one in every well-to-do ancient Roman house. The god that saw to it "that the bread rose" was called Priapus, a god of fertility, who was conventionally represented by or with a huge phallus.

- [p. 155] "'Careless talk creates lives!'"

A propaganda poster first used in the First World War bore the slogan "Careless talk costs lives" as an admonition against saying anything, to anyone, about (for instance) where your loved ones were currently serving, in case a spy was listening. (Also: loose lips sink ships.)

Interestingly, the Auditors also feel that there is no difference between creating and costing lives.

- [p. 157] "'Oh, what fun,' muttered Albert."

Once again Terry completely inverts the meaning of a song lyric without changing a single word (see the annotation for p. 60). The original song here is 'Jingle Bells': "Oh what fun it is to ride in a one-horse open sleigh".

- [p. 162] "'[...] they say you can Earn $$$ in Your Spare Time [...]'"

Refers to the nuisance phenomenon on the Internet called 'spam'. Email with subject lines resembling the above are mass-mailed out to thousands of people in the hope that a small fraction of them will fall for it and be persuaded to perpetuate what is, in essence, a pyramid scheme, and highly illegal in most countries. This sort of "Make Money Fast" spam is growing rarer these days, being replaced with unsolicited ads for too-good-to-be-true credit cards, Viagra and other pharmaceuticals, and cheap mortgages. And sex, lots of sex.

- [p. 165] "[...], would even now be tiring of painting naked young ladies on some tropical island somewhere"

A reference to the painter Paul Gaugin, who spent his most productive years in the South Pacific doing just this.

- [p. 166] "The old man in the hovel looked uncertainly at the feast [...]"

The episode of the king and the old man is based on the story of Good King Wenceslas. Of course, Terry doesn't quite see it the way of the Christmas carol.

- [p. 177] "It might help to think of the universe as a rubber sheet, or perhaps not."

A common device to help visualise the effect of gravity on the fabric of the universe, similarly useless beyond a certain point. See also the annotation for p. 230 of Sourcery .

- [p. 177] "'It's brass monkeys out here.'"

The full expression is "cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey".

The expression supposedly dates back to a time when cannon balls were stored on the decks of ships in pyramid-shaped stacks held in place by a brass frame around the base. This frame was called a 'monkey', and when it got very cold, the brass monkey would contract, causing the stacks of cannon balls to collapse.

- [p. 181] "[...] OTHER PEOPLE HAVE NO HOMES. IS THIS FAIR? 'Well, of course, that's the big issue --' Albert began."

In the UK and Australia, The Big Issue is a magazine sold by the homeless. In many cities all over the world similar projects have been started.

- [p. 184] "A large hourglass came down on the spring."

Ever since the Apple Macintosh, graphical user interfaces for computers have used a special cursor shape to indicate that a lengthy operation is in progress. The Windows hourglass cursor is Microsoft's version of Apple's original wristwatch.

- [p. 185] "'Remember when we had all that life force all over the place? A man couldn't call his trousers his own!'"

For the details of the time Ridcully is referring to, read Reaper Man.

- [p. 190] "'Excuse me madam' said Ridcully. 'But is that a chicken on your shoulder?' 'It's, er, it's, er, it's the Blue Bird of Happiness' said the Cheerful Fairy."

In The Blue Bird by Maurice Maeterlinck, published in German in 1909, two children set off on a long journey to find the Blue Bird of Happiness, only to learn that it was in their own back garden all along.

There's also a Far Side cartoon wherein "Ned, the Bluebird of Happiness long absent from his life, is visited by the Chicken of Depression".

- [p. 192] "According to my theory it is cladisticaly associated with the Krullian pipefish, sir, which is also yellow and goes around in bunches or shoals."

Normally, cladists are those who try to classify organisms in such a way that related species are placed in the same family, not in a family with other species that look the same. This is quite the opposite to Ponder's cladism. This method of classification is called "dichotomous key classification": unfortunately Ponder has left out the conventional first step in this kind of identification, which is something along the lines of "can it move unassisted?" -- if so, go to animal, if not, go to plants.

In our world, there is also some classificational confusion concerning bananas, since the so-called banana tree is technically a banana plant (its stem does not contain actual wood tissue), which would make the banana (so the argument goes) a herb instead of a fruit. This is one those arguments that never really gets resolved, because the 'answer' can simply go either way depending on what definitions you use in which contexts.

- [p. 193] "Sometimes a chicken is nothing but a bird."

Freud once said: "Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar", for much the same reason.

- [p. 195] "'Hogswatch is coming, The pig is getting fat, [...]'"

There is a song that goes:

Christmas is coming, and the goose is getting fat
Won't you put a penny in the old man's hat?
If you haven't got a penny a ha'penny will do
And if you haven't got a ha'penny then God bless you.

- [p. 195] "'-- nobody knows how good we can live, on boots three times a day...'"

A standard children's song, once (apparently) popular at Girl Guide camps, went:

Everybody hates me, nobody loves me,
Think I'll go and eat worms.
Long thin slimy ones, short fat stubby ones,
Juicy, juicy, juicy, juicy worms.
Bite their heads off, suck their juice out,
Throw their skins away.
Nobody knows how good we can live
On worms three times a day.

- [p. 195] "'Ah, Humbugs?' he said."

In Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, Scrooge has the catchphrase "Bah! Humbug!". The Duck Man's humbugs are traditional UK mint sweets.

- [p. 208] "'[...] letting me hire a boat and sail around to the islands of --'"

Darwin gathered much of the data for his version of evolutionary theory while in the Galapagos Islands, which he visited on the HMS Beagle.

- [p. 212] "'You know what happens to kids who suck their thumbs, there's this big monster with scissors all --'"

There is a classic set of children's stories called (in English) Slovenly Peter, by Heinrich Hoffman, originally written in German circa 1840. One of the stories is about the scissor man, who comes in and cuts the thumbs off of a little girl who refuses to stop sucking her thumbs.

- [p. 213] "But she was used to the idea of buildings that were bigger on the inside than on the outside. Her grandfather had never been able to get a handle on dimensions."

In the legendary BBC TV series Dr Who, the Tardis is famous for being "bigger on the inside than on the outside". When the series began in 1963, the Doctor was accompanied by his "granddaughter", Susan.

However, before jumping to any conclusions, see the annotation for p. 20/15 of Soul Music .

- [p. 219] "'You could get them to open Dad's wallet and post the contents to some address?'"

A US television presenter named Soupy Sales was hosting a children's TV show in 1965, and in one famous live episode ad-libbed:

"Hey kids, last night was New Year's Eve, and your mother and dad were out having a great time. They are probably still sleeping and what I want you to do is tiptoe in their bedroom and go in your mom's pocketbook and your dad's pants, which are probably on the floor. You'll see a lot of green pieces of paper with pictures of guys in beards. Put them in an envelope and send them to me at Soupy Sales, Channel 5, New York, New York. And you know what I'm going to send you? A post card from Puerto Rico!"

That the station subsequently got $80,000 in the mail appears to be a bit of an urban legend, but Soupy's show did get pulled for two weeks before he was allowed back on the air again.

- [p. 229] "I know I made that mistake with little William Rubin [...]"

Bilirubin is formed when haemoglobin is broken down, and is basically the the pigment that makes faeces brown.

In Thomas Harris' The Silence of the Lambs, Hannibal Lecter at one point says that the killer 'Buffalo Bill' is a former patient of his named Bill Rubin. In Harris' previous book Red Dragon the killer Francis Dolorhyde had no teeth and is known as the Tooth Fairy.

Terry explains the name as follows:

"Oh, lor'. Billy Rubin is an old medical student joke..."

"Like most really stupid jokes, it's one that you won't spot unless you have the right background. Others on here will doubtless explain, but according to one of my informants, a nurse, every batch of medical students learns it anew and Mr Rubin's name turns up in various places to general sniggering."

- [p. 229] "They don't think twice about pushing off for a month as a big white bull or a swan or something [...]"

The Greek gods, particularly Zeus, were fond of incarnating themselves as animals of this sort, usually as part of a scheme to seduce or ravish some unsuspecting young woman. On the Discworld, Om used to do the same sort of thing. See Small Gods for details.

- [p. 232] "'There are magic wardrobes,' said Violet nervously. 'If you go into them, you come out in a magic land.'"

A land such as Narnia. See the annotation for p. 22 of Sourcery .

- [p. 235] "'I thought you had to clap your hands and say you believed in 'em,' [...] 'That's just for the little shiny ones,' [...]"

The fairies in J. M. Barrie's Peter Pan, Tinkerbell in particular, are generally kept happy (and alive) in this fashion. I do not know if there is an earlier reference.

- [p. 236] "The Dean took a small glass cube from his pocket and ran it over the corpse."

A scene familiar to anyone who's ever watched an episode of Star Trek.

- [p. 236] "+++ Big Red Lever Time +++ Query +++"

Old IBM mainframes (as well as, later, the first IBM PCs), had large, bright red, power switches, causing the phrase "big red switch" (often abbreviated as BRS) to enter the hacker's jargon.

Hex, after seeing Death enter the laboratory, is in fact asking if Death has come for him, which (a) throws an interesting light on Hex's own feelings about his sentience, and (b) explains why Death's reply to Hex starts with the word "No".

- [p. 237] "+++ Yes. I Am Preparing An Area Of Write-Only Memory +++"

'Write-Only Memory' is a curious, but pointless concept, since the data stored there can presumably never be retrieved. Real computers do have a type of storage called 'Read-Only Memory', or ROM, which contains information that can never be erased or overwritten.

Write-Only memory has a real world precedence in a practical joke perpetrated by an engineer working for Signetics corporation. The joke was eventually given a wider audience in the April 1972 issue of Electronics magazine.

- [p. 239] "'Family motto Non timetis messor.'"

This translates to "Don't fear the reaper", the title of a well-known song by Blue Öyster Cult.

- [p. 258] "'I didn't even have any of that salmon mousse!'"

In Monty Python's The Meaning of Life, a dinner party is rather spoiled when Death visits (a Death not entirely unlike the Discworld's). The visit is occasioned by the hostess serving tinned salmon mousse, and the American guest complains that he didn't actually eat any salmon mousse.

- [p. 265] "'What are you waiting for? Hogswatch?'"

"What are you waiting for? Christmas?" is a mild taunt used to encourage someone to start doing something. It is, for instance, what Duke Nukem in the computer game Duke Nukem 3D says after the player has been inactive for a while. Given Terry Pratchett's love of other games in that genre (such as Doom and Tomb Raider) a familiarity with Duke Nukem may perhaps have contributed to his use of the phrase here.

- [p. 267] "The man was tattooed. Blue whorls and spirals haunted his skin..."

The ancient Celts painted blue patterns on their skin using the woad plant, possibly as a means of setting the warriors apart from civilians.

- [p. 269] "'I remember hearing,' said Susan distantly, 'that the idea of the Hogfather wearing a red and white outfit was invented quite recently.' NO. IT WAS REMEMBERED."

The whole concept of the modern Santa Claus is commonly ascribed to a Coca Cola promotion. However, the idea was around long before then.

The modern red-and-white image of Santa derives from the poem The Night Before Christmas (see the annotation for p. 44), first published in 1822. Coca-Cola adopted him as an advertising symbol in the 1920s, and only since then have the colours become 'fixed'. However, it is worth mentioning that St Nicholas was a 4th century bishop, who would have worn red and white robes.


Desmond Morris, in The Naked Ape: "I viewed my fellow man not as a fallen angel, but as a risen ape." However, Terry says that he was unaware of this prior use.

- [p. 272] "...pictures of rabbits in waistcoats, among other fauna."

An echo of Beatrix Potter's nursery stories and their illustrations, most obviously Peter Rabbit. The "gold watches and top hats" suggests the White Rabbit from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.


"Uncle Mac", the BBC presenter of the popular 1950 radio programme Children's Hour, always used this phrase to sign off his show.

- [p. 281] "One foot kicked the 'Afterburner' lever and the other spun the valve of the nitrous oxide cylinder."

An afterburner helps jet aircraft gain speed by using exhaust gases for additional combustion. Nitrous oxide (a.k.a. laughing gas) is used as a combustion-enhancing speed fuel in e.g. drag-racing cars. Also, nitrous oxide, when added to water, becomes nitrous acid.

All of which might throw light on the oft-asked question: "what precisely happened to Ridcully in the bath?"

- [p. 283] "'as they say, "better a meal of old boots where friendship is, than a stalled ox and hatred therewith."'"

From the Bible: "Better is a dinner of herbs where love is, than a stalled ox and hatred therewith." (Proverbs 15:17)

- [p. 284] "'And god bless us, every one,' said Arnold Sideways."

This is the last line of Dickens' A Christmas Carol, spoken by Tiny Tim, who also had something wrong with his legs.

[Prev Page] [Up] [Next Page]
The APF is maintained by Leo Breebaart and Mike Kew,
who always welcome corrections, questions or new annotations.

The L-Space Web is a creation of The L-Space Librarians
This mirror site is maintained by Colm Buckley