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Up in Annie’s room

Q From Jeannette Dam-Hansen in Australia: My grandfather had many weird and wonderful expressions. When something was lost and could not be found, even after a thorough and sustained search, he often said it was up in Annie’s room, behind the clock. Could you tell me the origin of this expression?

A I recognised this immediately and have even occasionally used it, much to the mystification of younger people around me. Could your grandfather perhaps have fought in the First World War, as my father did? It was British army slang of that period and became more widely known from there. According to Eric Partridge, up in Annie’s room was a common dismissive reply to a colleague who was asking where somebody was. The implication was that either the speaker didn’t know or the person sought either didn’t want to be found or didn’t want to be disturbed — you could translate it as “don’t ask”.

Partridge suggested the phrase was coined to suggest the person sought was “a bit of a lad with the girls”, which sounds rather too much like a rationalisation after the event to be altogether convincing (I suspect it had more to do with the lack of female company in the trenches, so he’s up in Annie’s room could have meant he’s not around, he’s no more here than Annie is). It was after the War ended that behind the clock was added, though nobody seems to know why. If anybody has any information, I’d be glad to hear.

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Copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.
Page created 13 May 2000

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The English language is forever changing. New words appear; old ones fall out of use or alter their meanings. World Wide Words tries to record at least a part of this shifting wordscape by featuring new words, word histories, words in the news, and the curiosities of native English speech.

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Last modified: 13 May 2000.