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Re: Mad dogs and Englishmen

Posted by Victoria S Dennis on October 14, 2007

In Reply to: Re: Mad dogs and Englishmen posted by Smokey Stover on October 13, 2007

: : : Hi, I´d be interested in the origin of the above saying and what it means.

: : It's "Mad dogs and Englishmen", and it's the title of a famous song by Noel Coward, satirising the unwillingness of English people to adopt the custom of taking a siesta during the heat of the day in tropical climates. You can read the full text here:
: : (VSD)

: Victoria is right, although I would have said, rather than "in tropical climates," "during the British raj in India." If you check our archive (the search box, top of previous page, type in "Mad dogs and Englishmen"), you will find that at least one contributor thought Coward got his idea from Kipling's Kim. Here's what you will find in Kim:

: [Page 110, main text, line 7] Only the devils "Only the devils and the English walk to and fro without reason." [cf Page 330, line 3] ". . .and we walk as though we were mad - or English." Kipling forestalled Noel Coward's "Mad dogs and Englishmen".

: The notes are by Sharad Keskar. (I'm sorry about this use of "forestalled".) See:


Mmh, well, up to a point, Lord Smokey. I don't doubt that Coward got the idea from Kipling (he never lived outside England himself, so he would have had to get the idea from someone who had), but the phrase as we know it, and the credit for its widespread use, is certainly Coward's and not Kipling's. And I used the phrase "tropical climates" advisedly; India may have been "the jewel in the crown" of the British Empire but it was nothing like all of it or even the majority of it. Other tropical colonies included - to name but a few - Sierra Leone, Nigeria, Gambia, Ghana, Belize, Kenya, Uganda, Tanganyika, Singapore, Malaya, Sarawak, North Borneo, and Aden; in all of which the locals sensibly stayed indoors in the heat of the day and the English (and Scots, Irish and Welsh) expats didn't. (VSD)