A good word, don’t you think? — and last night, I realised that I was performing the action in question (I poodlefake, thou poodlefakest, he she or it poodlefakes…). My godmother, of whom I have been immensely proud since, quite apart from being a doctor etc., she went & learned to fly in her middle years, has recently moved to the Deep North (which, after a working life spent on Shetland is from her point of view, practically the Deep South). Some time in the autumn, she asked the Northern Professor and myself to come and hang her pictures for her. Which we did, by and large, or at least, the ones she was sure she wanted hung. Then we went off to the garage to paw over what was left. ‘There’s this’, she said rather dubiously, indicating something with its face to the wall. ‘Alastair [her late husband] used to call it The Ancestor’. He was quite handsome; a sort of Ramsay-or-thereabouts deeply Scottish face in a russet velvet coat and so forth, mid eighteenth century sort of, if we hadn’t seen the back first and noted that the canvas was more like 1920. Whose ancestor? we asked, and it turned out that this pic, a respectable and fairly competent copy of something much better, had entered their life at the point when they first moved to Lerwick, and had emerged from the pile of their belongings completely without explanation — the removal firm had no light to shed. Anyway, he had led a somewhat face to the wall existence from that point due to having been dropped several times and having bits of paint missing here and there. We took him away, and cleaned him — the removal of vast amounts of dirt did quite a lot, and when the Godmother asked us to come by today, I finally bestirred myself to get out the acrylics, and poodlefake. The holes and flakes were matched in with careful dabs of acrylic, which is inert, then a skim of oil varnish over the top brought the surface up a treat. He really looks quite handsome now. Which brings me back to poodlefaking; the art of making a dog of a more or less mutt variety appear to be a hound of breed by cutting, dyeing, etc.; which is more or less what I had done for the Ancestor. It’s nice to know one could earn a dishonest penny if need arose.

4 Responses to “Poodlefaking”

  1. The Man From Maryport Says:

    Ermm . . I was under the impression that a poodlefaker was a demobbed officer (usually WW1 vintage) of reduced circumstances who took to living off rich widows. I have a feeling a fascinating tale lurks somewhere connecting the two . . .

  2. Arnold Says:

    I was comfortably watching Evil Under The Sun on the television this weekend when the word “poodlefaking” suddenly cropped up in the dialogue (”he’s been poodlefaking with her!”) and prompted me to investigate further. Did you know that you are now Google’s no. 1 result for “poodlefaking”? Among the other Google results, I was delighted to discover a wonderful piece of period fiction by “Bartimeus”, previously known to me only as a name on the spine of prewar Penguin paperbacks quietly gathering dust on the shelves of not-very-promising secondhand bookshops . “Bunje, my lad, the darkest suspicions fill my breast. Wherefore these carefully creased trousers, this liberal display of fine linen and flashing cufflinks withal? Our Sunday monkey-jacket, too. Can it be — ? No .. Don’t tell me the lad is going poodle-faking!”

  3. John Essex-Clark Says:

    The New Oxford Dictionary of English, 1998, describes a poodlefaker as ‘a man who habitually chooses to socialise with women’: a ‘fop’ perhaps? I believe it is a most descriptive term to describe a man who looks like a normal person, but like a poodle preens, dresses and perfoms to show off. In a military sense it he could be that a poodlefaker is a careerist rather than professional. I have used this in this sense in my writings, e.g. ‘Poodlefaker is a word I stole from my Brigadier that I take it to mean any officer who dresses like a soldier, is paid like a soldier but whose primary intersts are elsewhere be those interests cultural, sporting, venal or venery in both senses.’ (’Maverick Soldier, Melbourne University Press, 1991, p. 189)

  4. c Says:


    A man who habitually chooses to socialise with women.

    It’s long-outmoded British army slang. A poodle-faker was a young officer who was disparagingly considered by fellow officers to be over-attentive to women. To suggest he was a gigolo, as some have done, would be to go much too far; he hardly even aspired to the status of ladies’ man.

    The civilian reader might think that in these restricting circumstances the pastime of seeking women’s company, in dancing, wining, riding, tennis, picnics, and theatricals would not be frowned on; but he would be wrong. Such activities were called poodlefaking, and they were severely frowned on. When a subaltern applied for leave some colonels would ask him how he intended to spend it, and if it appeared that he was merely going to poodlefake they refused the leave. The young man must pursue animals, not girls.

    Bugles and a Tiger by John Masters, 1956.

    Perhaps because I’ve come across it several times in books about the British Raj in India, I associate the word and its relatives with hanky-panky in the hill stations to which British officers and their wives retired in summer to escape the heat of the plains. This is a modern association:
    However withered an old trot she might be, she’d be an odd female if she was altogether impervious to Flashy’s manly bearing and cavalry whiskers. … Still, as I turned in that night I wasn’t absolutely looking forward to poodle-faking her in two days’ time.

    Flashman in the Great Game, by George Macdonald Fraser, 1975. That erstwhile bully of Rugby, Harry Flashman, is sent to work his charm for the good of the Empire.

    His use is actually anachronistic. The word is recorded only from the start of the twentieth century. One of the better-known examples is this:

    As for social duties of all descriptions, he called them poodle-faking and ignored them. Women he abhorred. In his view they were a kind of siren whose one aim was to lure men away from polo and enmesh them in tea-fights and tennis-parties.

    Burmese Days, by George Orwell, 1935.

    Despite the assertion in dictionaries that it’s a dated Britishism, it continues to appear in books and newspapers. Boris Johnson, at the time a British MP and newspaper columnist but these days Mayor of London, wrote in the Daily Telegraph in October 2003 about the then prime minister, Tony Blair: “How dare this mincing poodle-faker stand up and start confiding to the nation about his emotional journey of the past six years.” It has a salaciously nudge-nudge, wink-wink penumbra that usefully implies more than it delivers.

    The term offends by suggesting a man is taking on the role of a subservient lapdog. The poor old poodle has had a bad press because of its role as a cosseted appurtenance in ladies’ boudoirs and poodle, of course, has been used for a lickspittle or lackey or an obsequious follower, a term that also dates from the beginning of the twentieth century.

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