From "Jo's Boys," by Louisa May Alcott...

'A true woman, and a born sailor's wife! You are a happy man, Emil, and I'm sure this trip will be a prosperous one,' cried Mrs Jo, delighted with the briny flavour of this courtship. 'Oh, my dear boy, I always felt you'd come back, and when everyone else despaired I never gave up, but insisted that you were clinging to the main-top jib somewhere on that dreadful sea'; and Mrs Jo illustrated her faith by grasping Emil with a truly Pillycoddian gesture.

What is a Pillycoddian gesture? Being that it's capitalized, it seems it must be a reference to something significant. If it helps, there are many references to Greek mythology in the book.

2 Answers 2


"Pillycoddian" must surely come from a name like "Pillycodd" or "Pillycoddy". It is such an unusual name that I believe it can only derive from a minor misspelling of "Pillicoddy", the protagonist of the one-act farce Poor Pillicoddy by John Maddison Morton. First produced in 1848, and being a populatr piece, the play would have been a current reference for Alcott - Jo's Boys being published in 1886.

A complete text of the play is available here. The titular Mr Pillicoddy is happily married to his wife Anastasia (a widow from her previous marriage), but comes to believe that her first husband, Captain O' Scuttle, is actually still alive and will reclaim her. In particular there is a scene when he becomes "crazy - mad - frantic", grabs the captain furiously by the hand, and drags him across the stage.

  • This must be it. Thank you so much - out of curiosity, where did you research this???
    – nuggethead
    Commented Apr 26 at 15:35
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    @nuggethead I thought that it had to be a name, but Pillycodd and Pillycoddy gave no responses. So I made a minimal change, of "y" to "i", and the answer came up immediately. If that hadn't worked, I'd have gone onto "Pillycoddie" and so on. Commented Apr 26 at 15:49

I do believe given the context I can say that Pillycoddian is a another form of "Pillicock". According to merriam-webster-dot-com,

pillicock noun pil·​li·​cock ˈpiləˌkäk 1 obsolete : PENIS 2 obsolete : a fine lad

Etymology English dialect pillie penis (of Scandinavian origin, from the source of Norwegian dialect pill penis) + cock.

I believe that "coddian" is tied by the term codpiece which was according to merriam,

codpiece noun cod·​piece ˈkäd-ˌpēs : a flap or bag concealing an opening in the front of men's breeches especially in the 15th and 16th centuries.

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    This answer could be improved by discussing how this meaning works in the context of "Jo's Boys". How does Mrs Jo's gesture resemble that of a fine lad? Commented Apr 27 at 7:21
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    Hi and welcome to Literature SE. You say that your interpretation makes sense "given the context," but it is not at all clear from your answer how this meaning of Pillycoddian applies to the context. Can you clarify?
    – verbose
    Commented Apr 28 at 5:21

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