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sjg102379's avatar

What do the abbreviations S.O., B.A., and B.O. stand for in Nancy Mitford's novel?

Asked by sjg102379 (1230points) November 7th, 2010

I’m reading a novel by Nancy Mitford, who writes about the WWII era British aristocracy; there is often a fair amount of slang very particular to that class and era. Usually I can figure it out by googling it, but I’m having a hard time with this one and there are no real context clues. It was used like this:

“What can be the matter with Polly? So beautiful, and no B.A. at all.”
“S.A.” said Lady Patricia faintly, “or B.O.”

It’s driving me crazy—can anyone help?

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17 Answers

anartist's avatar

I guessed it meant “British accent”, “Scottish accent” and “British origin”

anartist's avatar

Damn, that ain’t it. I just read the excerpt. BA has something to do with a wooer, a potential husband.
SA and BO??
excerpt here

faye's avatar

Ask @ucme. Is it possible to see the whole paragraph? That snippet is too little snippet to even guess.

Jeruba's avatar

BA: <something> admirer?

Just a wild guess.

SA: secret admirer?

Jeruba's avatar

All right, then:

“So beautiful, and no B.A. at all.” B.A. is something that she (Polly) could have, but doesn’t, in spite of being beautiful. We are sure it doesn’t mean “bad attitude.”

“S.A.” said Lady Patricia faintly, “or B.O.” Faintly, because she doesn’t like to speak of it aloud. It is somewhat embarrassing to say, for an unknown reason.

Either she is saying that Polly does have S.A. and B.O. (which does not mean the first thing that comes to mind) despite lacking B.A., or she is gently correcting the other speaker by suggesting that S.A. and B.O. are the new things to have, replacing B.A.

“When we were young none of that existed, thank goodness. S.A. and B.O., perfect rubbish and bosh—one was a beauty or a jolie-laide, and that was that. All the same, now they have been invented I suppose it is better if the girls have then. Their partners seem to like it, and Polly hasn’t a vestige, you can see that.”

Something it’s better for the girls to have—and their partners like it—

sex appeal

Now we just have to figure out what other terns were in vogue and going out of vogue when “sex” wasn’t said aloud in polite society but everyone knew what “S.A.” meant.

Nullo's avatar

@Jeruba It seems reasonable to assume that all of the instances of ‘A.’ refer to appeal.
‘B.O.’ codes, as it has ever done in my mind, for ‘body odor.’ Probably not very helpful, but eh.

Jeruba's avatar

Tch, @Nullo, that is exactly what I was reminding you not to think of when I said ”(which does not mean the first thing that comes to mind).” You ought to have been too polite to mention it.

Nullo's avatar

Apologies, Madame. It is my way, however barbarous, to speak plainly (to avoid confusion) or else avoid the topic entirely.

Jeruba's avatar

And I do think you know which would have been the more delicate choice this time, @Nullo, in the presence of Lady Patricia and all.

We have something resembling simple algebra here, now that we think about it. These are the terms:


(Note, not SO, as it says in the original question subject line.)

I think we will be on the right track if we assume that B = B and A = A.

If S = sex and A = appeal, then we have

B appeal
sex appeal

And we also have the notion that “sex appeal” and “BO” are the new alternative terms (Lady Patricia distinctly said “or”) for what used to be called “B appeal.”

Therefore BA = SA
so BA = SA = BO

In other words, all three stand for the same thing, known by different expressions.

So if we can just solve for B, I think we will have it. O will probably reveal itself then.

Nullo's avatar

@Jeruba Again, my apologies. I felt that the topic had already been broached, and that prudence would have me be clear.

Jeruba's avatar

Well, never mind, lad. All’s forgiven. Especially if you can find us a Brit of a certain age who remembers Mama’s or Grandmama’s polite expressions for a young woman’s charms.

Lightlyseared's avatar

BA = bad apple?

Lightlyseared's avatar

So here’s what I think.

“What can be the matter with Polly? So beautiful, and no B.A. at all.” BA could mean bad attitude ie a negative attribute if one is looking for a suitor.

“S.A.” said Lady Patricia faintly, “or B.O.” This is in respone to the question as to why Polly hasn’t got married yet. SA and BO are therefore negative attributes. SA is social anxiety and BO is well… BO.

Jeruba's avatar

@Lightlyseared, a wartime British expression too indelicate or scandalous in nature to speak aloud among the upper crust, so it’s known by its initials, but it’s something desirable for a single young woman to have? “All the same, now they have been invented I suppose it is better if the girls have them. Their partners seem to like it.”

anartist's avatar

Boy appeal, boy + “o”???

Lisal_16's avatar

BA is British Aristocracy. SA is Scottish Aristocracy. BO is British Ordinary Classes

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