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By and by Pooh and Piglet came along. Pooh was telling Piglet in a singing voice that it didn't seem to matter, if he didn't get any fatter, and he didn't think he was getting any fatter, what he did; and Piglet was wondering how long it would be before his haycorn came up.

This is from "The House At Pooh Corner". I couldn't grasp the structure of this sentence, so I asked it to native English speakers. A person said "what he did" is an older British phrase that roughly means "this is what he did". Another person said that "it didn't seem to matter, {if he didn't get any fatter, and he didn't think he was getting any fatter,} what he did". Which is correct? Thanks in advance.

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  • You should understand that second sentence as Pooh was telling Piglet in a singing voice that it didn't seem to matter what he did - with "parenthetical" if he didn't get any fatter being "ungrammatically" inserted to clarify exactly what "didn't matter" - further qualified by the fact that he didn't think he was getting any fatter. I can't remember the exact context (it was over half-a-century for me! :), but there might be some deliberate confusion about who "he" is in all those instances (explicitly identifying "Piglet" as the final "subject" is a bit stylistically quirky). Jan 16 '20 at 14:12
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It refers to a song sung by Pooh elsewhere in the story - see winniethepooh_uk.tripod.com/poohbear/id14.htm (scroll down a couple of paragraphs).

I'm pretty sure the sense is "I don't get any fatter no matter what I do", or "...whatever I do". It is shortened to "what I do" to fit the rhythm of the song.

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    That's it! Here's Pooh "original" song... I could spend a happy morning Seeing Roo, \ I could spend a happy morning Being Pooh. \ For it doesn't really matter, \ If I don't get any fatter \ (And I don't get any fatter), \ What I do. Milne deliberately "playing" with language by inserting that parenthetical highlighted element in a quirky way that would never pass muster with pedants, but is perfectly comprehensible (and amusingly so) to the target audience (children). Jan 16 '20 at 14:22
  • ...there wasn't room to include the actual link in that comment, so here it is for anyone who want to read the second (Rabbit-inspired) verse. Jan 16 '20 at 14:25
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    When approaching Milne’s work it’s worthwhile understanding that the animals of Hundred Acre Wood speak and view the English language from the perspective of children. They misuse and misspell words; they are playful with grammar. I encourage you to read it aloud. Surely one of life’s greatest treasures, should I live long enough, will be to read these stories to my grandchildren.
    – KnotWright
    Jan 16 '20 at 15:26

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