I don't understand this dialog at 1:24 in the 1968 movie Majuba between Major General Sir George Pomeroy Colley and (as he then was) Captain Ian Hamilton. I'm not British or military. I know the UK was still classist and elitist in 1881, the year of Battle of Majuba Hill. I know Major General is 4 ranks above Captain, and Hamilton was required to toady and truckle to his Major General.

Hamilton – Sir, the Highlanders are under intense fire on the perimeter. The enemy are attacking in force.

Colley – Thank you Mr Hamilton. You will hold the position until further orders.

At 1:25:25, Hamilton returns!

Hamilton – I do hope, General, that you and Edmund (??? I don't know who Edmond is. Correct this if I misheard) have a bayonet charge, and that you do not think it a presumption on my part to have come up and asked you.

Colley – No presumption Mr Hamilton. But we'll wait until they advance on us. Then we'll give them a volley and a charge.

presumption doesn't appear to be used in its ordinary meanings to a person in 2020. It feels out of place. Hamilton had to report to Colley how awful and desperate he was for backup and reinforcement, right? He couldn't just keep silent with stiff upper lip – that's negligence! Then what exactly does presumption mean here? Who is presuming what?

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    While the word "presumption" may be relatively uncommon in this sense today, we still hear the word "presumptuous" (we would be more likely to say "I hope I'm not being presumptuous"). As for what is being presumed, the word "presume" also has relevant definitions and examples in Lexico. E.g. "Be arrogant or impertinent enough to do something". ‘kindly don't presume to issue me orders in my own house’ ( lexico.com/definition/presume )
    – rjpond
    Commented Feb 16, 2021 at 8:20
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    Being 'elitist' and 'toadying' don't come into it. A major-general has a much higher rank than a captain, and in any period it would be a breach of military etiquette for a captain to appear to be telling a general what to do. Obviously, this is an emergency and that's why the general says '[It is] no presumption.' Commented Feb 16, 2021 at 9:27

1 Answer 1


You'll find presumption in the dictionary. Lexico's second definition is:

Behaviour perceived as arrogant, disrespectful, and transgressing the limits of what is permitted or appropriate.

They give the example "he lifted her off the ground, and she was enraged at his presumption." Today we might say, "...enraged at his (sense of) entitlement."

So Hamilton says he hopes the General won't think him arrogant or disrespectful, or that he's transgressing the limits of what is appropriate in approaching him and requesting a bayonet charge.

BTW, I hope you don't presume we were all classist and elitist in 1881!

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    Thanks!!! "BTW, I hope you don't presume we were all classist and elitist in 1881!" Hahaha. Great comeback!
    – user8712
    Commented Feb 19, 2021 at 5:12

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