It doesn't matter what people call you unless they call you pigeon pie and eat you up

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Tea Addict

Senior Member
Republic of Korea Korean
Hello everyone! I am wondering what the expression "it doesn't matter what people call you unless they call you pigeon pie and eat you up" in the following sentences:

"She piled it on pretty thick, I gather, at your last meeting."
"'Callously wicked,' 'wantonly cruel.'"
"Hard words."
"'It doesn't matter what people call you unless they call you pigeon pie and eat you up.'"

This is an excerpt from Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh. The protagonist Charles Ryder helped Sebastian Flyte slip out of his house to drink at the nearest pub by giving him some money. When Sebastian's mother knew this, she reproached Charles by calling him 'callously wicked' and 'wantonly cruel' for encouraging her son's alcoholic tendencies. But Charles was not hurt by her words because 'it doesn't matter what people call you unless they call you pigeon pie and eat you up.'

I am curious whether there is really such a saying, and what he meant by quoting it in this context.
I would very much appreciate your help. :)
 
  • lingobingo

    Senior Member
    English - England
    I think Waugh must have made this up as another way of saying "sticks and stones may break my bones but names can never hurt me".
     

    Tea Addict

    Senior Member
    Republic of Korea Korean
    Thank you for the explanation, lingobingo!

    Oh, so there was a saying having the same meaning! Thank you for letting me know. :)
    But I am just curious as to why Waugh particularly chose a pigeon pie to convey such a meaning.
     

    lingobingo

    Senior Member
    English - England
    But I am just curious as to why Waugh particularly chose a pigeon pie to convey such a meaning.
    I was curious too, so I just did a bit of research to see what connections I could find:
    • the word squab means a small pigeon
    • the fictional Brideshead Castle was located in Wiltshire, which is in south-west England
    • "squab pie" is a traditional dish from south-west England, which is like pigeon pie but with the pigeon replaced by mutton
    • other varieties of pigeon pie include bastila or pastilla — a traditional dish from Morocco (where some of Brideshead Revisited is set)
     

    lingobingo

    Senior Member
    English - England
    I've just found another intriguing connection — Evelyn Waugh and Nancy Mitford were great friends and exchanged letters for years, which were later published. One of her books is called Pigeon Pie.
     

    velisarius

    Senior Member
    British English (Sussex)
    It made me smile too. It seems to me to be the sort of thing an old-fashioned nanny might have said to the children in her care. Waugh may have heard it himself, or he may have simply invented it. "Pigeon pie" was quite a common dish in England at the time. Some large houses had their own dovecotes where pigeons could breed.
     

    Tea Addict

    Senior Member
    Republic of Korea Korean
    Dear lingobingo,
    Thank you so much for providing me such a detailed information!
    I was able to think about various possible interpretations thanks to you.

    And thank you, suzi br and velisarius, for your reply!
    I really appreciate your help. :)
     
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