Magazine article The Spectator

Mind Your Language

Magazine article The Spectator

Mind Your Language

Article excerpt

HOW rude did Trollope mean to be? Everyone seems to be reading him these days, and a reader, Mr Bruce Lushington, writes to tell me of what he takes to be a bowdlerising footnote to the Oxford paperback edition of Phineas Redux. It comes as an explanation of a remark by a friend of Phineas about a rival MP: `He's to be pitchforked up to the Exchequer. They say it's quite settled. The higher a monkey climbs - you know the proverb.'

The OUP editor cites the full proverb in the form: `The higher the ape goes the more he shows his tail.' Mr Lushington, however, remembers a song:

The higher up the mountain The greener grows the grass; The higher up the monkey goes The more you see his arse.

Just so. Older editions of the Oxford Dictionary of Proverbs tend to concentrate on the tail. But the current edition gives as its earliest citation a Wyclifite gloss on the biblical book of Proverbs (iii, 35): `The filthe of her foli aperith more, as the filthe of the hynd partis of an ape aperith more, whanne he stieth [climbs] on high. …

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