Posted by TheFallen on March 26, 2003
In Reply to: Top hole posted by kitty on March 25, 2003
: : : : Dorothy Sayers's character Lord Peter Wimsey had a pechant for saying "Top hole!" when most of us would say "Top notch!" Assuming a notch is not a hole, I imagine that there is some sort of game or competitive event--probably British--that marks rank with a dowel on a board punctured with a verticle set of holes. Am I right? If so, what is the game? I suspect British origin for "top hole" because I have never heard the phrase here in America, and the only speaker I have ever heard use it is the famous fictive Brit, Lord Peter.
: : : I'm not sure, but I think the phrase is 'top whole' - ie the entire thing is tops.
: : It's definitely outdated and aristocratic British slang. I also am not sure, but I think I've only ever seen the phrase written as the original poster had it - namely "top hole".
: The American Heritage Dictionary on Bartleby.com has the following:
: ADJECTIVE: Chiefly British First-rate; excellent.
: The The Institute for Edwardian Studies lists this as an "Edwardianism" (term or phrase used during the Edwardian period).
If this expression does originate with indoor games, two possibilities spring to mind. Cribbage is a card game where scoring is shown by moving pegs round a multi-holed board. The first player who reaches 121 points (I think) advances his peg to the single final hole located at the top of the scoring board, and so wins.
Alternatively there was a popular indoor game called Bagatelle, which was a little like pinball, involving propelling a ball round a slightly sloped and usually nail-studded table with different scoring areas or holes in it. The scoring holes at the top offered the most points, since they were the most difficult to get the ball to come to rest in.