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"That is a very dreadful story," said the Padre.

"Very," said I, "and there are some rather odd points about it. Did commercial travellers dash about in motorcars when Popper was a youngster? And why didn't he take that evidence straight to the police?"


The above is almost the last part of "Dilemma", short story written by Dorothy L. Sayers. The word 'dash about' seems to be a kind of twisting part of this short story, but I can't figure out the real meaning of this phrase.

Hoping somebody could help me.

  • In England we still dash about and dash around. You don't need a car: you can dash about on foot, or dash to the shops before they close. You could even dash off to Australia at a moment's notice. It's rather a middle-class expression. – Old Brixtonian Jan 6 at 0:50
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The important bit of this sentence is not “dash about”, but “motor-cars”. The point being that the character ‘Old Popper’ had introduced his tale with the claim that

“The thing actually happened to me—years ago, many years ago. … It happened when I was quite a youngster, and was working as a clerk in a solicitor’s office.”

When would this have been? Well, ‘Dilemma’ was written for the ‘Short Story’ programme on BBC radio, and was broadcast on 6 April 1934*. So if Popper is in his sixties, say, then his youth would have been 40 years previously, that is, in the 1890s, when motor-cars were not yet widespread and cheap enough for commercial travellers to go about in them. This means that Popper’s tale must have been a fabrication.

* According to Robert B. Harmon and Margaret A. Burger (1977), An Annotated Guide to the Works of Dorothy L. Sayers, New York: Garland, p. 239.

  • Thank you so much! – Jay Lee Jan 6 at 3:59
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"Dash" can mean a lot of things, but I think here connotes mostly "movement", as if the question was "did commercial travelers go from place to place in motorcars?", with an added side-connotation of doing so stylishly.

I asked Google books for "dash about town" and came up with instances like this recent one (from Juliet Clutton-Brock's 1992 Horse)

In English spa towns in the early part of the 19th century, young gentlemen would dash about town driving their latest status symbols, such as this convertible model -- an elegant sporting phaeton driven with ...

that are consistent with Dash = Move. But it carries a whiff of a different connotation, of Dash = Style, or Dash = Panache, or Dash = Profligacy, as in this snippet from a 1817 play by Maria Edgeworth

he and our Mr. Beauchamp will be cutting a fine dash about town, for this minor's to have a swinging allowance--- may play away as he pleases...

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