I've encountered the following phrase in a Jeeves and Wooster book, The code of the Woosters:

He had been beaming like a searchlight until I mentioned this aspect of the matter, and the radiance suddenly disappeared as if it had been switched off at the main.

I'm trying to guess the meaning of the phrase "at the main" here and I suppose that it metaphorically refers to switching the searchlight off by pressing the main power button or something like this. Am I right?

  • "Jeeves" is the name of the butler.
    – James K
    Apr 3, 2021 at 6:26

2 Answers 2


The main refers to the main pipe or conduit that carries some service into a building. (A slightly different term mains electricity refers to the electricity that enters your house, through the mains, which are the main breakers.)


The idea is that is when you close that conduit or shut down that breaker then all power, all fluid, all whatever, goes out of the building -- it is quick, obvious, and complete.

The simile (not a metaphor) is that the experience shut off all light from his face as if it had been shut off at the main.

  • 3
    In Britain, where the author is from, we may have, entering a building, a gas main, a water main, and some electricity mains. The first two are a single pipe each, the last comes via a number of wires, either two or three. Apr 3, 2021 at 7:06

"The main" or "the mains" refers to the electrical supply to a house or building. So you have the meaning right.

Here's a dictionary definition:
American Heritage Dictionary "main"

  1. The principal pipe or conduit in a system for conveying water, gas, oil, or other utility

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