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Booty call

September 5, 2018

I was reading on Her Majesty’s Secret Service in the bath this morning, and came upon the following phrase: ‘a personable young man, and a baronet to boot’.

To boot. That’s a curious expression, isn’t it? I think it must already have sounded a bit old-fashioned when Fleming used it in 1963. To boot. It means something like ‘in addition’, of course; but why?

Then I remembered the word bootless. This word was a favourite with PG Wodehouse; in one story Bertie Wooster tells Jeeves that any shrimp that tries to pit its wits against him and his shrimping net will find its efforts bootless – meaning fruitless, or without reward.

So boot means something like reward, or profit. And then I recalled a line from Dr Faustus: ‘What boots it then to think on God and Heaven?’ At this point Faustus has convinced himself he cannot expect to be saved, so where’s the profit in thinking of God?

And then, of course, I remembered the word booty – with its original meaning of plunder or loot, that is, not the present-day meaning of buttocks.

So the various forms of boot/booty all have something to do with addition, profit, or gain. (All this has nothing to do with boot as in footwear, of course, which comes, I’d guess, from the French word botte.)

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3 Comments
  1. Simon Carter permalink

    There is also bootleg which supposedly came from people hiding bottles of booze inside their high boots to sell to American Indians which in turn became the name for very variable unofficial recordings of musicians in the 1960s.
    Bootless has the same root as “better”.

  2. Mark Brafield permalink

    This is timely; I have just heard the Radio 5 cricket commentary on Alastair Cook’s century which concluded that ‘England have won the Test series to boot’. Mind you, I suppose it could fairly be said that the cricket commentary on the radio exists in a time warp anyway, permanently stuck at 1950 or thereabouts, so perhaps the phrase is not so anachronistic after all. Going back in time, I am currently (re)-reading Vanity Fair (1847) (I have written elsewhere on this blog about my previous difficulties with Vanity Fair) and find in chapter 48 that William Dobbin is cursing the bad luck of his being in love with Amelia Sedley who is (he thinks) not interested in him; ‘he would like to have done with life and its vanity altogether – so bootless and unsatisfactory the struggle’.

    Coming a little more up to date, if you enjoy Ian Fleming, do find time to read Sebastian Faulks’s outing with James Bond, ‘Devil May Care’. It is a wonderfully affectionate tribute to the series (‘black pepper, cracked not ground’), brilliantly executed and a cracking read. To boot.

  3. Thank you Mark – I will give it a try.

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