September 26, 2003

The Butler Did It!

The ever informative Cecil Adams reveals that the familiar cliche, "The Butler Did It!", is in fact a vile canard. So far as Cecil's been able to determine, the Butler has only done it in earnest (as opposed to in satire) just once, in the 1930 novel The Door, by Mary Roberts Rinehart.

What, you say? You've never heard of Mary Roberts Rinehart? Sure you have--she's the Rinehart (well, one of them) in Holt, Rinehart, and Winston.

(No, I hadn't heard of her either.)

Posted by Will Duquette at September 26, 2003 03:30 PM

Deb said:

Huh. I always thought it came from the game "Clue." But then Scrooge only says "Bah,Humbug!" once in the whole story "The Christmas Carol" and yet if you say it, everyone knows who you are talking about.

Will Duquette said:

Hmmm. I don't recall that the Butler was a suspect in Clue.

Phil said:

There isn't a butler in Clue. If butlers haven't actually done the dirty deed often enough to merit the phrase, is it possible they have been accused often? Hmmm, this calls for research.

The game is afoot.

Will Duquette said:

Cecil's there ahead of you. Check out his post on the subject; apparently, in a proper English house party one can allow the menials to be suspected but actually pinning the murder on them wouldn't be sporting. After all, the butler can go anywhere without being noticed.

According to him, there are numerous mystery spoofs in which the butler did it following the publication of Rinehart's The Door (including at least one by P.G. Wodehouse) but nobody before or since has done it in a serious mystery that he can determine.

Deb said:

Just goes to show how much I paid attention while suffering thru my son's Clue phase in 4th grade. What a ghastly game!

Phil said:

I guess I stepped in it, didn't I? I should have read the post before commenting. Oh, well. It was interesting.