Not only does ‘Mort’ mean ‘death’ in French, but in The Light Fantastic we also learned (on p. 95/95), that Death’s own (nick)name is Mort. Opinions on afp are divided as to which of these two facts is the ‘coincidence’ Death is talking about.
+ [p. 24/21] “The only thing known to go faster than ordinary light is monarchy, [...]”
This is where the popular (on the net, at least) ‘kingons and queons’ footnote starts out, which parodies a postulate of J. Sarfatti based on Bell’s theorem on quantum physics. Bell proves that in order for quantum theory to be valid, there has to exist a way to transfer information between subatomic particles that is faster than light. Sarfatti then theorised that this so called ‘superluminar’ communication could be modulated and used to send messages.
During a discussion on afp, Terry had this to add to the subject:
“I’ve a strong suspicion that the smaller the country, the more powerful the monarch as an emitter of kingons.
Surely the size of the king in proportion to the size of his country is the important factor. If you’re king of a country of ten people there must be quite a high kingon flux.
As to where kingons come from in the first place, they come from God. God is invoked in the coronation service. God wants fat red-haired girls and clothes horses who can’t keep their mobile phone conversations private. God likes people with lots of front teeth. God must have a hand in all this, otherwise we’d have slaughtered all kings years ago.”
- [p. 30/25] “How do you get all those coins?” asked Mort. IN PAIRS.
A reference to the old Eastern European practice of covering a dead friends’ eyes with coins.
In the Greek version of this custom, a single coin or obulus was put under the tongue of a deceased person. This was done so that the departed loved one would have some change handy to pay Charon with (the grumpy old ferryman who transported departed souls over the river Styx towards the afterlife—but only if they paid him first).
The Eastern European version has a similar background.
- [p. 31/26] “The answer flowed into his mind with all the inevitability of a tax demand.”
An acknowledgment of the “nothing is certain but death and taxes” saying.
See also the annotation for p. 151/133 of Reaper Man.
- [p. 33/28] “I shall call you Boy’, she said.”
The subplot of Ysabell and Mort and the matchmaking efforts by her father echoes Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations (where Estelle, for instance, also insists on calling Pip ‘Boy’ all the time).
- [p. 34/29] Albert’s stove has ‘The Little Moloch (Ptntd)’ embossed on its door.
There exists a make of woodburning stove called ‘The Little Wenlock’.
For those who don’t know what a Moloch is, I’ll let Brewer (see the annotation for p. 117/103 of The Colour of Magic) do the explaining:
“Moloch: Any influence which demands from us the sacrifice of what we hold most dear. Thus waris a Moloch, king mob is a Moloch, the guillotine was the Moloch of the French Revolution, etc. The allusion is to the god of the Ammonites [Phoenicians], to whom children were ‘made to pass through the fire’ in sacrifice.”
To be fair, however, it must be pointed out that almost all we know about Moloch is based on what the bitter enemies of the Phoenicians said about him.
- [p. 40/33] “AND WHY DO YOU THINK I DIRECTED YOU TO THE STABLES? THINK CAREFULLY NOW.”
The whole section on Mort’s training, and this paragraph in particular, explores a theme familiar from stories such as told in The Karate Kid, or The Empire Strikes Back, and of course the TV series Kung Fu, where a young student is given many menial tasks to perform, which are revealed to be integral to his education.
- [p. 47/39] “[...] the city of Sto Lat [...]”
A Polish correspondent tells me that ‘Sto lat’ is actually the title of a Polish party song, more or less equivalent to ‘For he’s a jolly good fellow’. ‘Sto lat’ means ‘hundred years’, and the lyrics to the song are as follows:
“Sto lat, sto lat, niech zyje, zyje nam.
Sto lat, sto lat, niech zyje, zyje nam.
Jeszcze raz, jeszcze raz—niech zyje, zyje nam.
Niech zyje nam!”
Which loosely translates to:
“Hundred years, hundred years, let him live for us, Hundred years, hundred years, let him live for us, Once again, once again, let him live for us!”
Thinking I was on to something I immediately enquired if ‘Sto Helit’, another name Terry uses often, had a similar background, but my correspondent says it’s not even Polish at all.
- [p. 54/45] “IT’S THE MORPHOGENETIC FIELD WEAKENING, said Death.”
Terry loves playing with morphogenetic principles in the Discworld canon, and I think this is the first place he explicitly mentions it. Morphogenetics are part of a controversial theory put forward by ex-Cambridge biologist Rupert Sheldrake. ‘Controversial’ is in fact putting it rather mildly: personally I feel ‘crackpot’ would be a much better description. Which explains why on the Discworld, of course, it’s valid science.
- [p. 65/53] “TIME LIKE AN EVER-ROLLING STREAM BEARS ALL ITS...”
Death is quoting from Our God, Our Help in Ages Past, by Isaac Watts.
No wonder Albert thinks Death has been overdoing it.
- [p. 71/59] “[...] the abode of Igneous Cutwell, DM(Unseen), [...]”
DM(Unseen) means that Cutwell holds a Doctorate in Magic from Unseen University. It’s the usual way of writing an academic qualification in Britain (e.g. DD for Doctor of Divinity, or PhD for Doctor of Philosophy) though the University name ought to be in Latin.
- [p. 84/69] “[...] just like a Cheshire cat only much more erotic.”
See the annotation for p. 142/141 of Wyrd Sisters.
- [p. 85/69] “[...] the fire of the Aurora Coriolis [...]”
This is the air glow around Cori Celesti (as in our aurora borealis), but it is also a reference to the Coriolis force that acts on spinning objects.
- [p. 88/72] “Die a lot, do you?’ he managed.”
For those readers who are not familiar with Tibetan Buddhism: it is believed that religious leaders who are spiritually advanced (the Dalai Lama being only one such individual) will reincarnate and continue to guide the people. In 1993, for instance, an eight-year old boy in Tibet was discovered to be the seventeenth reincarnation of the Karmapa, and was promptly whisked away from his native village and installed in the Tsurphu-monastery.
In Guards! Guards! we eventually learn that Abbot Lobsang has indeed been reincarnated.
- [p. 90/74] “Princess Keli awoke.”
Another ‘dumb blonde’ pun (on Kelly this time) along the lines of Ptraci and Ksandra? See the annotation for p. 45/45 of Pyramids.
- [p. 93/76] “[...] if Mort ever compared a girl to a summer’s day, it would be followed by a thoughtful explanation of what day he had in mind and whether it was raining at the time.”
Considering the sheer volume of Discworld material written so far, with its high jokes-per-page count, it is quite remarkable that Terry Pratchett doesn’t recycle (or inadvertently reinvent) his own jokes more often than he does. As for instance in the case of this particular Shakespeare-inspired joke that would be repeated two books later in Wyrd Sisters (see the annotation for p. 213/212 of that book).
- [p. 99/81] “[...] the princesses were so noble they, they could pee through a dozen mattresses—”
Albert here mangles the Grimm fairy tale known as The Princess and the Pea, in which a princess proves her nobility to her future husband and his mother by being so fine-constitutioned that a pea placed underneath the dozen mattresses she was given to sleep on kept her awake all night.
If you have access to the Internet, you can find an online version of the original fairy tale at the URL:
I have since then received mail indicating that the best known version of this fairy tale was the one written by Hans Christian Andersen, and that the Grimm version was in fact pulled from the collection because it was so similar. I was not able to obtain any further evidence for this claim, so if anybody out there knows something about this, please drop me a line.
- [p. 110/90] Caroc cards and the Ching Aling.
Caroc = Tarot and Ching Aling = I Ching: two ways of accessing the Distilled Wisdom of the Ancients, and all that.
- [p. 118/97] “I SHALL CALL IT—DEATH’S GLORY.”
In the fishing world there exists a popular dry fly called Greenwell’s Glory, named after its inventor, a 19th century parson.
- [p. 126/103] “—and then she thought he was dead, and she killed herself, and then he woke up and so he did kill himself, [...]”
Ysabell starts to list off a number of tragic romances, mostly mangled versions of existing stories. This one appears to be the Shakespearean tragedy Romeo and Juliet, or perhaps the original source: Ovid’s Pyramus and Thisbe.
- [p. 127/104] “—swam the river every night, but one night there was this storm and when he didn’t arrive she—”
This is the saga of Hero and Leander. Leander swam the Hellespont each night to be with Hero (who was a virgin (yeah, sure!) in the service of Aphrodite, and therefore not accessible by more conventional means). But then there was indeed a storm, and the candle she used as a beacon blew out, and the Gods couldn’t hear his prayers over the noise of the storm, and so he drowned, and the next morning she saw his body and drowned herself as well. Read Christopher Marlowe’s Hero and Leander for more details.
- [p. 133/109] “Why, lordship, we drink scumble, for preference.”
Scumble is the Discworld equivalent of scrumpy, a drink probably unknown to most non-UK readers. It’s a (very) strong cider, originating from the West country, Somerset farmhouses in particular.
On the subject of scrumpy, Terry writes:
“I can speak with authority, having lived a short walking—to get there, at least, although it seemed to take longer coming back— distance from a real cider house.
1) You are unlikely to buy scrumpy anywhere but from a farm or a pub in a cider area.
2) It won’t fizz. It slumps in the glass, and is a grey-orange colour.
3) The very best scrumpy is (or at least, was) made on farms where a lot of the metalwork around the press was lead; the acid apple juice on the lead gave the resultant drink a kick which lasted for the rest of your life.
4) While a lot of the stories about stuff being put in ‘to give it body’ are probably apocryphal, apparently it wasn’t uncommon to put a piece of beef in the stuff to give it ‘strength’.
5) I certainly recall a case of a female tourist having to have an ambulance called out after two pints of scrumpy.
6) We used to drink almost a pint, topped off with half an inch of lemonade; this was known as ‘cider and gas’ and was popular in our part of the Mendips. Two pints was the max. I recall that as we went back across the fields someone who is now a professor of medieval history fell down a disused mineshaft and still carried on singing.”
- [p. 154/126] Alberto Malich was rumoured to have disappeared when trying to perform the Rite of AshkEnte backwards. Since we know that the Rite is used to summon Death, it doesn’t seem too unreasonable to suppose that performing it backwards might drive Death away from you, which is probably why Albert did it. Unfortunately for him, it is also not very unreasonable to suppose that performing the rite backwards will instead summon you to Death...
There also are two villages called Ash in Kent, UK. It is unknown if the connection is deliberate.
- [p. 161/132] Queen Ezeriel refers to our world’s Cleopatra who also used to bathe in asses’ milk, and who eventually committed honourable suicide by clutching a venomous snake (an asp, to be precise) to her bosom.
- [p. 183/149] “Do not meddle in the affairs of wizards because a refusal often offends, I read somewhere.”
Ysabell probably read one part of this in Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings where we find (in The Fellowship of the Ring, Book One, Chapter III) that Gildor Inglorion the High Elf says: “Do not meddle in the affairs of wizards because they are subtle and quick to anger”. The other part she may have got from signs often seen in stores and pubs around the English-speaking world: “Do not ask for credit, because a refusal often offends”.
See also the annotation for p. 367/264 of Lords and Ladies.
- [p. 186/152] “BEGONE, YOU BLACK AND MIDNIGHT HAG, he said.”
Death is alluding to Shakespeare’s Macbeth, act 4, scene 1, where Macbeth says to the witches: “How now, you secret, black, and midnight hags!”
- [p. 192/157] “Sodomy non sapiens,’ said Albert under his breath.”
“Sodomy non sapiens” is dog Latin for “buggered if I know”. Since this is explicitly translated by Albert two sentences later, it never occurred to me to include this annotation in earlier versions of the APF. I had to change my mind when e-mail and discussions in afp made it clear that quite a few readers never make the connection, and think instead that Albert really doesn’t know what the phrase means.
- [p. 193/158] “When a man is tired of Ankh-Morpork, he is tired of ankle-deep slurry.”
The original quote here dates back to 1777, and is by Samuel Johnson (a well-known harmless drudge): “When a man is tired of London he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.”
Quite a few people have mistaken this quote for a reference to Douglas Adams. Of course Adams was simply parodying Johnson’s quote as well when he wrote (in Chapter 4 of The Restaurant at the End of the Universe):
“[...] when a recent edition of Playbeing magazine headlined an article with the words ‘When you are tired of Ursa Minor Beta you are tired of life’, the suicide rate there quadrupled overnight.”
- [p. 195/159] “Alligator sandwich,’ he said. ‘And make it sna—”
Refers to an old playground one-liner: “give me an alligator sandwich and make it snappy!”. Terry uses this joke in a different context in Witches Abroad (see the annotation for p. 176/154 of that book).
- [p. 197/161] “Fireworks?’ Cutwell had said.”
The stuff about wizards knowing all about fireworks is a reference to Tolkien’s The Hobbit, where the great Wizard Gandalf was famed (in times of peace) for entertaining everybody with fireworks.
- [p. 212/172] In the Disc model, Ankh-Morpork was a carbuncle.
A carbuncle is (1) a red semiprecious gem, and (2) a festering sore like a boil.
- [p. 221/180] “Alberto Malich, Founder of This University.”
Albert’s name resonates slightly with our world’s Albertus Magnus (also known as Albert the Great). Albertus Magnus (born in 1193 in Laufingen at the Donau, Germany), became known as ‘the Magician’ and was probably the most famous priest, philosopher and scientist of his time. Amongst other things he taught at the University of Paris, was Bishop of Regensburg, and at the age of 84 he again undertook the long journey from Cologne to Paris to defend the scientific work of his greatest student, Thomas Aquinas, against attacks and misunderstandings.
- [p. 224/183] “I don’t even remember walking under a mirror.”
Superstition says that both walking under a ladder and breaking a mirror give bad luck. Therefore, by the sort of skewed logic Terry continually gives to his characters, walking under a mirror must be really bad news.
- [p. 226/184] “[...] purposes considerably more dire than, say, keeping a razor blade nice and sharp.”
See the annotation for p. 35/35 of The Light Fantastic.
- [p. 240/196] “He remembered being summoned into reluctant existence at the moment the first creature lived, in the certain knowledge that he would outlive life until the last being in the universe passed to its reward, when it would then be his job, figuratively speaking, to put the chairs on the tables and turn all the lights off.”
Three years later, in 1990, Neil Gaiman’s Death says, in the story ‘Facade’:
“When the first living thing existed, I was there, waiting. When the last living thing dies, my job will be finished. I’ll put the chairs on the tables, turn out the lights and lock the universe behind me when I leave.”
- [p. 255/208] “IS THIS THE FACE THAT LAUNCHED A THOUSAND SHIPS, AND BURNED THE TOPLESS TOWERS OF PSEUDOPOLIS? wondered Death.”
A reference to Helen of Troy (or Tsort, I suppose I should say), over whom the Trojan War was started. The exact original quote, from Christopher Marlowe’s The Tragical History of Dr Faustus, goes:
“Was this the face that launched a thousand ships, And burnt the topless towers of Ilium? Sweet Helen, make me immortal with a kiss!”
Ilium is the Latin name for Troy.
- [p. 271/221] “Only Ysabell said that since you turned the glass over that means I shall die when I’m—‘ YOU HAVE SUFFICIENT, said Death coldly. MATHEMATICS ISN’T ALL IT’S CRACKED UP TO BE.”
Except that the events detailed in Soul Music imply that Ysabell was right in this case (“After that, it was a matter of math. And the Duty.”)...