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A short story by A. A. Milne


Title:     Definitions
Author: A. A. Milne [More Titles by Milne]

As soon as we had joined the ladies after dinner Gerald took up a position in front of the fire.

"Now that the long winter evenings are upon us," he began----

"Anyhow, it's always dark at half-past nine," said Norah.

"Not in the morning," said Dennis, who has to be excused for anything foolish he says since he became obsessed with golf.

"Please don't interrupt," I begged. "Gerald is making a speech."

"I was only going to say that we might have a little game of some sort. Norah, what's the latest parlour game from London?"

"Tell your uncle," I urged, "how you amuse yourselves at the Lyceum."

"Do you know 'Hunt the Pencil'?"

"No. What do you do?"

"You collect five pencils; when you've got them, I'll tell you another game."

"Bother these pencil games," said Dennis, taking an imaginary swing with a paper-knife. "I hope it isn't too brainy."

"You'll want to know how to spell," said Norah severely, and she went to the writing-desk for some paper.

In a little while--say, half an hour--we had each a sheet of paper and a pencil, and Norah was ready to explain.

"It's called Definitions. I expect you all know it."

We assured her we didn't.

"Well, you begin by writing down five or six letters, one underneath the other. We might each suggest one. 'E.'"

We weighed in with ours, and the result was E P A D U.

"Now you write them backwards."

There was a moment's consternation.

"Like 'bath-mat'?" said Dennis. "An 'e' backwards looks so silly."

"Stupid--like this," explained Norah. She showed us her paper.


"This is thrilling," said Mrs. Gerald, pencilling hard.

"Then everybody has to fill in words all the way down, your first word beginning with 'e' and ending with 'u,' and so on. See?"

Gerald leant over Dennis and explained carefully to him, and in a little while we all saw.

"Then, when everybody's finished, we define our words in turn, and the person who guesses a word first gets a mark. That's all."

"And a very good game too," I said, and I rubbed my head and began to think.

"Of course," said Norah, after a quarter of an hour's silence, "you want to make the words difficult and define them as subtly as possible."

"Of course," I said, wrestling with 'E--U.' I could only think of one word, and it was the one everybody else was certain to have.

"Are we all ready? Then somebody begin."

"You'd better begin, Norah, as you know the game," said Mrs. Gerald.

We prepared to begin.

"Mine," said Norah, "is a bird."

"Emu," we all shouted; but I swear I was first.


"I don't think that's a very subtle definition," said Dennis. "You promised to be as subtle as possible."

"Go on, dear," said Gerald to his wife.

"Well, this is rather awkward. Mine is----"

"Emu," I suggested.

"You must wait till she has defined it," said Norah sternly.

"Mine is a sort of feathered animal."

"Emu," I said again. In fact, we all said it.

Gerald coughed. "Mine," he said, "isn't exactly a--fish, because it----"

"Emu," said everybody.

"That was subtler," said Dennis, "but it didn't deceive us."

"Your turn," said Norah to me. And they all leant forward ready to say "Emu."

"Mine," I said, "is--all right, Dennis, you needn't look so excited--is a word I once heard a man say at the Zoo."

There was a shriek of "Emu!"

"Wrong," I said.

Everybody was silent.

"Where did he say it?" asked Norah at last. "What was he doing?"

"He was standing outside the Emu's cage."

"It must have been Emu."

"It wasn't."

"Perhaps there's another animal beginning with 'e' and ending with 'u,'" suggested Dennis. "He might have said,'Look here, I'm tired of this old Emu, let's go and see the E-doesn't-mu,' or whatever it's called."

"We shall have to give it up," said Norah at last. "What is it?"

"Ebu," I announced. "My man had a bad cold, and he said, 'Look, Baria, there's ad Ebu.' Er--what do I get for that?"

"Nothing," said Norah coldly. "It isn't fair. Now, Mr. Dennis."

"Mine is _not_ Emu, and it couldn't be mistaken for Emu; not even if you had a sore throat and a sprained ankle. And it has nothing to do with the Zoo, and----"

"Well, what is it?"

"It's what you say at golf when you miss a short putt."

"I doubt it," I said.

"Not what Gerald says," said his wife.

"Well, it's what you might say. What Horace would have said."

"'Eheu'--good," said Gerald, while his wife was asking "Horace who?"

We moved on to the next word, P--D.

"Mine," said Norah, "is what you might do to a man whom you didn't like, but it's a delightful thing to have and at the same time you would hate to be in it."

"Are you sure you know what you are talking about, dear?" said Mrs. Gerald gently.

"Quite," said Norah with the confidence of extreme youth.

"Could you say it again very slowly," asked Dennis, "indicating by changes in the voice which character is speaking?"

She said it again.

"'Pound,'" said Gerald. "Good--one to me."

Mrs. Gerald had "pod," Gerald had "pond"; but they didn't define them very cleverly and they were soon guessed. Mine, unfortunately, was also guessed at once.

"It is what Dennis's golf is," I said.

"'Putrid,'" said Gerald correctly.

"Mine," said Dennis, "is what everybody has two of."

"Then it's not 'pound,'" I said, "because I've only got one and ninepence."

"At least, it's best to have two. Sometimes you lose one. They're very useful at golf. In fact, absolutely necessary."

"Have you got two?"


I looked at Dennis's enormous hands spread out on his knees.

"Is it 'pud'?" I asked. "It is? Are those the two? Good heavens!" and I gave myself a mark.

A--A was the next, and we had the old Emu trouble.

"Mine," said Norah--"mine is rather a meaningless word."

"'Abracadabra,'" shouted everybody.

"Mine," said Miss Gerald, "is a very strange word, which----"

"'Abracadabra,'" shouted everybody.

"Mine," said Gerald, "is a word which used to be----"

"'Abracadabra,'" shouted everybody.

"Mine," I said to save trouble, "is 'Abracadabra.'"

"Mine," said Dennis, "isn't. It's what you say at golf when----"

"Oh lor!" I groaned. "Not again."

"When you hole a long putt for a half."

"You generally say, 'What about _that_ for a good putt, old thing? Thirty yards at least,'" suggested Gerald.


"Is it--is it 'Alleluia'?" suggested Mrs. Gerald timidly.


"Dennis," I said, "you're an ass."

. . . . .

"And now," said Norah at the end of the game, "who's won?"

They counted up their marks.

"Ten," said Norah.

"Fifteen," said Gerald.

"Three," said his wife.

"Fourteen," said Dennis.

They looked at me.

"I'm afraid I forgot to put all mine down," I said, "but I can easily work it out. There were five words, and five definitions of each word. Twenty-five marks to be gained altogether. You four have got--er--let's see--forty-two between you. That leaves me----"

"That leaves you _minus_ seventeen," said Dennis. "I'm afraid you've lost, old man." He took up the shovel and practised a few approach shots. "It's rather a good game."

I think so too. It's a good game, but, like all paper games, its scoring wants watching.

[The end]
A. A. Milne's short story: Definitions