I have been wending my way through some of the Jeeves oeuvre of P. G. Wodehouse. The comic misadventures of the feckless Bertie Wooster and his unflappable gentleman's gentleman Jeeves are quite engaging. I was startled, however, to come across a curious concatenation of prose in the early pages of The Code of the Woosters.
Bertie is dismayed upon returning home to his flat to discover that a pile of telegrams awaits him. He has learned from sad experience that such missives are a reliable harbinger of difficulties with his wastrel upper-crust friends or demands from his daunting aunts. Jeeves enters to find his young master brooding:
“Are you ill, sir?” he enquired solicitously.Imagine my reaction upon reading these lines. Bertie is in “twitter” mode and has lapsed into obscurely abbreviating his prose. The Code of the Woosters dates from 1938, so this is a most remarkable and quite prescient anticipation of today's trendy tweeters.
I sank into a c. and passed an agitated h. over the b.
“Not ill, Jeeves, but all of a twitter. Read these.”
Of course, I buckled down and began to decode Bertie's hidden message. The “c” could easily stand for coma or catalepsy, but couch makes for a less sensational reading. Then Bertie passes an “h. over the b.” He notes that the “h” is “agitated.” Passing a haddock over a brazier would serve, since that would undoubtedly agitate a haddock that was not quite dead. But perhaps we should content ourselves with imagining that Bertram Wooster was merely passing an agitated hand over his brow.
Right-ho. That's the ticket.