While reading Busman's honeymoon I have come across the following sentence said by Mrs. Ruddle who is a country woman of some sort (seems like she works as an occasional housekeeper) while she explains why her son should bring sugar:

"So you might Bert," agreed his mother. "My Bert's got a wonderful 'ead. So you might. And a bit o' kindling' with it. You can cut across the back way -- and, 'ere, Bert -- jest shet that cellar door as you goes by-- sech a perishin' draught as it do send up. And, Bert, I declare if I ain't forgot the sugar -- you'll find a packet in the cupboard you could put in your pocket. There'll be tea in the kitchen, but Mr. Noakes never took no sugar, only the gran, and that ain't right for 'er ladyship."

The context here is that Lord and Lady Peter Wimsey arrive at a house they bought (through an agent) from a Mr. Noakes who should have been handing it over to them (or at least had it prepared for them). They find the house locked and no one seems to know anything about a sale Mrs. Ruddle is a local woman from (I'm guessing a bit here) a house nearby that seems to have worked at least partially as Mr. Noakes's housekeeper. After some initial confusion and a trip to a village close-by a key to the house is found and Mrs. Ruddle proceeds to show them around the house. They point out there is no coal in the house and her son Bert proposes he could fetch some from home.

What does gran mean in this sentence? The usual meanings of grandmother or a phonetic spelling for grand as Mrs. Ruddle might say it, don't seem to make sense so I'm assuming it's either a respelling of some other word or possibly an allusion to some product?

  • Well, is there a grandmother present in the story? Grandmother makes perfect sense here. People are about to have some tea, she's explaining who takes sugar and who doesn't. Anything else doesn't make sense here.
    – user20827
    Commented Jun 26, 2015 at 4:38
  • @TechnikEmpire Not as far as I remember and the sentence would still barely make sense if there was. I suppose you could read it as "only the grandmother took sugar in her tea, but the sugar she took would not be good enough for her ladyship", but that seems stretching it particularly since I would expect some reason why the sugar "gran" used was not appropriate.
    – DRF
    Commented Jun 26, 2015 at 4:48
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    It seems that the gran, much like sugar, is something that can be added to tea. Unlike sugar, the gran is not suitable for Lady Wimsey. I wonder whether "the gran" is the way that Mrs. Ruddle pronounces "the grain" -- implying that Mr. Noakes took his tea with whiskey. Commented Jun 26, 2015 at 5:16
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    Another interpretation is that gran means grandmother - they are in Mr Noakes' old house and Mrs Ruddle is going to make tea for Lady Wimsey. She asks Bert to bring sugar because although there is tea in the kitchen, there is no sugar because Mr Noakes "never took no sugar" (although the grandmother did - we'll have to assume that she lived elsewhere, else there'd be sugar in the kitchen) and tea without sugar "ain't right for 'er ladyship". Having said that, I think that Gary's explanation that 'gran' means 'grain' is a very good candidate - tea can be taken with whisky,
    – Steve Ives
    Commented Jun 26, 2015 at 7:02
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    I'll venture a guess that "gran" refers to Spanish brandy. In Spanish, "gran" means large, cognate with the English "grand," and the word is used in various brand names and classifications of the liquor.
    – deadrat
    Commented Jun 26, 2015 at 8:55

2 Answers 2


It does not seem likely that "the gran" is a reference to someone's grandmother.  Later in the story, Mrs. Ruddle refers to an encounter with a Joe Sellon. She quotes herself as saying " 'But don't you think you can go ordering me about,' I says, 'an' me old enough to be your grandma."  It is inconsistent for the same character to use the word "grandma" in one sentence but "gran" in another.

"The gran" probably refers to a liquor.  Whatever the gran is, it is something that can be added to tea, but it is something that Mrs. Ruddle wouldn't offer to Lady Wimsey.  Deadrat suggests that "the gran" could refer to a brandy.  That makes sense, especially given the pronunciation of Grand Marnier.  Alternately, "the gran" could be Mrs. Ruddle's pronunciation of "the grain", which might refer to any grain alcohol.  In either case, adding alcohol to tea is a common enough practice as to be unsurprising.

The author does use purely phonetic spellings to represent Mrs. Ruddles speech.  For example, "just shut the cellar door" is rendered as "jest shet".  We have no reasons to suspect that "the gran" is a standard spelling, so it is not surprising that a simple dictionary search is fruitless.

  • Thank you very much for a well thought out and researched answer.
    – DRF
    Commented Jun 26, 2015 at 15:37

I always assumed gran was short for granulated (sugar), and that ladies took something higher-class - sugar cubes, perhaps?

  • That would make no sense - effecively meaning "No sugar, only the sugar".
    – Chenmunka
    Commented Aug 1, 2016 at 8:46
  • Perhaps granulated sugar is so far beyond the pale that it scarcely qualifies as sugar at all, compared to 'proper' ie cane, sugar.
    – peterG
    Commented Aug 12, 2016 at 0:42

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