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Simon Jenkins, in The Guardian online newspaper, writes:

How can the British Tommy, the jolly tar or the air ace confront the dreaded foreigner, when a defence secretary cannot say boo to George Osborne? Be a man, Fox, they cry. The black spot is under the plate. The pistol is in the gents.

I googled for the exact phrase, and the only hit is this article. Googling for "black spot under plate" just gets me a lot of stuff about toenails. What on earth could he mean?

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3 Answers

up vote 7 down vote accepted

Perhaps the black spot is an allusion to Treasure Island? Perhaps the meaning is that (Liam) Fox (defence secretary) should quit (i.e. accept the black spot).

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This is probably the answer, but the "plate" bit doesn't seem to fit in anywhere (I even went to read the excerpts of the book linked from the Wikipedia article). –  delete Sep 9 '10 at 4:29
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In 'Treasure Island', the black spot is a threat of imminent death delivered by a fellow pirate (invented by Stevenson, as far as I know). 'The pistol is in the gents' refers to the (probably equally mythical) practice of leaving an officer who had misbehaved alone with a revolver, and expecting him to shoot himself. So; Quit before you're fired, Fox!

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One possible explanation is that the two sentences are related:

The black spot is under the plate. The pistol is in the gents.

Taken together, this could imply a loaded and ready weapon aimed at a very specific spot on the male anatomy (the "gents"). The "black spot" and "plate" in this case would be a spot of gunpowder on the firing plate (also called a pan). See flintlock on Wikipedia for details.

The implied meaning in this case would be along the lines of "you are in a very tight situation". A similar expression in North America would be "balls in a salad ringer".

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"The gents" is the men's room (lavatory). I think "The Pistol is in the Gents" is saying "We've got the gun hidden for you in the men's room, go get it and shoot yourself." –  Joel Spolsky Sep 8 '10 at 19:18
    
That certainly sounds plausible. In that case, I would agree with Mr. Shiny and New. Perhaps we should call up the original author and ask him? :) –  e.James Sep 8 '10 at 19:27
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you can leave a comment but Jenkins, unlike some Guardian writers like Monbiot, doesn't ever reply to his comments. I took the "pistol in the gents" to be a reference to "The Godfather", where Al Pacino's character shoots two people in a restaurant with a pistol hidden in the lavatory. –  delete Sep 9 '10 at 1:36
    
In that context, I would take the black spot to be a kind of signal, like a coded order to start firing or killing. –  ogerard Apr 11 '11 at 23:56
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