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February 11, 2015

Today I was reading an old PG Wodehouse novel, Company for Henry, and came across this lament about how a certain French eighteenth-century paperweight, though worth a thousand pounds, could not be sold because it was a protected heirloom: “There’s that one of mine sitting on its fanny in the picture gallery, worth all that money, and no hope of cashing in on it.”

Now, as everyone knows, fanny in American English means “bottom”. But in British English, it means exactly the opposite – the front bottom. And the speaker in this case is Henry Paradene, who is the English owner of a stately home. Why then did Wodehouse use fanny here, which to a British reader sounds distinctly inappropriate?

The novel was one of Wodehouse’s later ones, written in 1967. By that time he had been resident in the USA for twenty years, and I suppose the American usage had become natural to him. But it does seem odd that no one at Penguin picked this anomaly up.

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  1. Duncan permalink

    Please, not ‘front bottom’, surely you dissaprove?

    • Well, I do sort of disapprove. I was using it with a tinge of ironic distance. The trouble was I couldn’t think of a word that I could use there: ‘vulva’ sounds a bit medical, ‘vagina’ is inaccurate, referring only to part of the whole (or the hole of the part, I suppose), and the other options all seemed too crude.

  2. Sandra in USA permalink

    I can remember the look of horror on my British friend’s face year ago when I referred to a purse worn round the waist as a “fanny-pack”. She was new to this country and rushed to quickly cover the ears of her young child when I said that.

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