0

I encountered the boldfaced expression while reading, and would like to know what it means:

“Why would you like a commission, Martin?”

“As an ordinary seaman, sir, one’s the minutest cog in a machine. As an officer one would have more chance of hitting the old Hun for six, sir, actually.”

  • William Golding, Pincher Martin, Chapter 7

I learned in the dictionary that "hit (someone) for six" could mean "have an unpleasant effect on (someone)." But I am curious as to why he had to hit "for six," and, why "the old Hun."

This novel is set during the Second World War, so I guess "Hun" could mean a German soldier, but I cannot grasp how it is different from saying "the old Hun" and just "Hun".

2 Answers 2

4

it's just slightly caricatured informal casual conversational UK speech of the period, specifically regional (England) and class (middle- and upper-class). 'The Hun' was, since 1914, the way such people often talked during wartime about 'the Germans', meaning 'the enemy'. Using 'old' was an upper and middle-class conversational filler, and if it meant anything at all, could be interpreted as 'the Hun that we are all familiar with'. Often prefixed with 'jolly', e.g. 'I can't wait to join the Navy and take a crack at the jolly old Hun'. As Astralbee says, 'hitting something for six' is a cricketing metaphor. People who spoke like that tended to play or watch cricket rather than football ('soccer') which was more a working-class sport.

6
  • 2
    I recently heard a BBC radio comedy show from the 1950s, where the main character, called Ted Ray, is saying something which sounds ridiculous and crazy, but which the listener knows makes sense. The woman he is speaking to, Hattie Jacques, says "I say, Ted, have you been on the jolly old jungle juice?" Feb 18, 2022 at 16:26
  • Thank you very much for the explanation. I learned that the speaker's class (middle- and upper-class) can be guessed from "old" and "for six (cricketing metaphor)" all thanks to you. So, probably, the sentence would mean that, as an officer, he would have more chances to hit the German naval sailors very hard/severely attack the German naval sailors. Feb 19, 2022 at 10:54
  • 1
    @ReadingGlasses - as an officer he would be in a position of leadership and would be able to use whatever talents he has for planning and decision making to hurt the enemy more than as just a simple sailor who does routine tasks. The British military was much more class-based then than it is now, and in modern times people below officer rank have much more responsibility and are trained to use initiative. Feb 19, 2022 at 11:03
  • Thank you very much for the explanation. Indeed, I think I should remember that the British military was class-based as I continue reading this novel. Considering that the British military was much more class-based than now, it seems only natural that the speaker (a naval officer) was from the middle/upper classes. Feb 19, 2022 at 11:09
  • 1
    @ReadingGlasses - Of course it is possible (and maybe even likely) that he wanted to be an officer because the pay would be higher, the uniform smarter, the meals better, the bed more comfortable, and the need to do manual work less. However, it was not acceptable to say those things, even though everyone understood them. Instead he said the stuff about 'knocking the Hun for six', which sounds like a phrase from UK government propaganda. This is called 'demonstrating discretion', important in an officer. Feb 19, 2022 at 14:01
4

To "hit for six", alternatively "knocked for six", is a British idiom meaning to hit something, or be hit by something, very hard. It can be used in reference to a physical blow, but it is often used metaphorically:

I was so shocked by the news, it knocked me for six.

The saying originates from the sport of cricket, where it means to hit the ball so hard it goes out of the boundary.

"The hun", as you correctly found, was a British term for the German army. It originated during World War 1, although it may well have continued to be used during the second, too. It was a reference to the nomadic tribe from history, who were not from Germany, but considered to be barbarians.

2
  • 1
    In 1914-1918 and after, people talked about 'Hunnish practices', which were, of course, unspeakable. Feb 18, 2022 at 15:45
  • Thank you very much for the explanation. I learned that "hit for six" is a metaphor originating from the sport of cricket, all thanks to your explanation. So I found out this link and guessed that "six" here would probably mean "six runs". en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boundary_(cricket) Feb 19, 2022 at 10:51

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .