So you think there's nothing, as it were, nineteeneightyfourish about Nineteen EightyFour? That it was all there waiting in 1948?

Yes, in a sense. What was merely in the newspapers or the official records - like torture and concentration camps - had to be imported into Britain. The intellectual totalitarianism had to be fictionally realized. But novels are really made out of day-to-day experience, and Winston Smith's frustrations were ours too - dirty streets, decaying buildings, sickening food in factory canteens, the government slogans on the walls -


Not quite like those. Those are pure Nazi Germany. But I remember when I came home from overseas army service that the first peace-time government poster I saw showed a haggard sorrowing woman in black, with the legend KEEP DEATH OFF THE ROADS. Naturally, somebody had crossed that out and substituted SHE VOTED SOCIALIST. We were used to posters put out by the Ministry of Information, mostly ham-handed, not subtly ambiguous like the Ingsoc ones, YOUR FORTITUDE, YOUR PATIENCE, YOUR ENDURANCE WILL BRING US VICTORY. You and us, you see. No wonder we all became bloody purple, BE LIKE DAD, KEEP MUM. That nearly provoked a riot among wage-earning mothers. Slogans had become part of the British way of life. Orwell gave us nothing new.

- 1985 by Anthong Burgess

I don't understand the word "purple" (emphasis mine) and the slogan "Be like dad, keep mum".

  1. The word purple has a meaning like a color between red and blue in US politics. I hope that there the word is in this meaning but I don't know what a term in US politics has to do with old times UK.

  2. Does "MUM" mean mother? I know that "Keep mum" means "Keep silent" but what does it have to do with being "between red and blue" if it does not mean mother? Also the following sentence is talking about wage-earning mothers. What does "BE LIKE DAD, KEEP MUM" (emphasis in text is mine) mean?

  • 3
    The wartime slogan "Be Like Dad, Keep Mum" plays on the double meaning of Mum as a nickname for one's mother and 'keep mum' meaning 'keep quiet'. It was meant to warn people not to talk in public about troop movements etc. Before WW2, most women automatically left their employment on marriage and were 'kept' by their husband - but during the war women had to step into the jobs of the men who were fighting, so the idea of 'Dad keeping Mum' was out of step with the times. I assume Burgess meant 'purple with rage'. Sep 6, 2021 at 7:53
  • 1
    Here is a version of the poster. The people chatting on the bunks are sheltering from air raids in the London Underground, and the figure leaving is presumably a spy who has heard something useful. Sep 6, 2021 at 8:03
  • When people become angry, the literary description can include the word purple instead of red. To become red or purple in the face.
    – Lambie
    Sep 7, 2021 at 14:05

2 Answers 2


"Keep mum" is an idiom meaning "keep a secret".

"BE LIKE DAD, KEEP MUM" was a wartime slogan. The intended meaning was to remind people not to pass on anything that they may have heard in connection with the war effort as it may be picked up by enemy spies. Another similar well-known slogan of the time was "CARELESS TALK COSTS LIVES". This poster features both.

"Purple" is associated with anger and frustration. It would seem that this slogan, in particular, angered some "wage-earning mothers", perhaps because for a man to keep a woman meant that he was the wage-earner and she didn't have to work outside the home (hence the term 'a kept woman') and they saw the slogan as sexist or offensive. I don't know if this duality of meaning was intentional or just taken to mean that way by some. Interestingly, the poster I linked to above depicts 'gossiping' between people of both sexes - men talking to men, women talking to women, and men to women, so clearly the message was not aimed only at women.

  • Don't you think it's a pun on keep meaning support financially - hence the anger of the working women? Sep 6, 2021 at 12:26
  • I think that dads were notorious for not gossiping or chatting, they represented the strong silent people.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Sep 6, 2021 at 12:31
  • @KateBunting Perhaps the inference in this text is that it was taken that way, but I don't know for certain that it was written as a deliberate pun. I've updated my answer.
    – Astralbee
    Sep 6, 2021 at 12:42
  • Apparently the Labour MP Edith Summerskill complained about it in Parliament. See this Sep 6, 2021 at 13:22
  • @KateBunting Thanks for the research, that definitely supports my answer. Did you notice that 'father' appears in quote marks, suggesting that this patriarchal figure may be figurative? It also states that this slogan was the moral for the Home Guard, who you may know were colloquially referred to as 'dad's army'. Regardless of how some may have read into the words, there's nothing in this text to suggest any duality of meaning was intended. Even so, I can see why some would be triggered by the overall 'patriarchal' tone.
    – Astralbee
    Sep 6, 2021 at 16:48

to turn purple in the face, to become purple in the face describes anger or a lack of oxygen:

hits from Google Books

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