I don't understand the phrase "I was up to my neck in the soft corn" which appears when I read PLAYBACK by Raymond Chandler. The phrase appears in the following scene:

   "I'd like to be near her-in case she needs me. I wouldn't speak to her. I wouldn't even knock at her door. But she would know I was there and she'd know why. I'd be waiting. I'll always be waiting."
   The girl loved it now. I was up to my neck in the soft corn. I took a deep slow breath and shot for the grand prize. "And I don't somehow like the look of the guy who brought her here," I said.

I guess that 'the soft corn' has some figurative meaning here. But I don't know what.

2 Answers 2


According to a pretty darn old book, Americanisms: The English of the New World (1872!), which obviously wouldn't have been so old in Raymond Chandler's time, soft-corn is

an American term for that kind of flattery which in English slang appears as soft-soap.

Further enquiries reveal that soft-soap means

appealing talk that persuades someone

Then, it appears the full sentence means that Marlowe saw he had already gone too far in his attempt to persuade the other characters and decided to go for the "grand prize".

  • Thank you for your explanation. Now I understand that soft corn is a slang which mean soft soap. I wonder if most Americans these days, especially young people, know the meaning of this old slang, soft corn.
    – K. Akabane
    Apr 18, 2015 at 4:13
  • @K. Akabane: Though "corny" is common enough, soft-corn is not a phrase an American of any age would be likely to use today.
    – TimR
    Apr 18, 2015 at 10:18

Corn in this case is a noun form of corny, which is US slang for very conventional and sentimental art—the sort which might feature the kind of romantic cuckold Marlowe is pretending to be.

Up to the neck is a colloquial figure of speech based on the metaphor of being in dangerously deep water: it is usually implied that the "water" (whatever trouble one is involved in) is rising and threatening to drown the subject. Here it ironically expresses Marlowe's cynically "hard-boiled" attitude toward the role he is playing.

  • Thank you for your explanation. My guess is that many Americans these days associate corny with corn. But I incline to believe that soft corn means soft soap as JMVanPelt posted.
    – K. Akabane
    Apr 18, 2015 at 4:39

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