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What is the meaning of this British idiom?

I was watching BBC's Top Gear and the presenters were cracking jokes about people who live in the 22 of the avenues. And that the people who live there like to give nicknames to their home and have specific decoration, stating that they lived in the 22 of the "Acacia Avenue".

As it is also an Iron Maiden song, and since the band is also British, what is up with this expression?

I can't recall in what Top Gear's episode that phrase popped up, but I'm sure it was around the 2008 season.

I found this wiki entry too: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Acacia_Avenue, Which is midly informative. I see that is something linked to the middle class, but I want to know more about the nuances.

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I was led to believe 22 Acacia Avenue is based on the Cynthia Payne story from the late 70s and early 80s when she was acquitted of being a madam and running a brothel at 32 Ambleside Avenue, in Streatham, London, England.

She got punters to pay for services with "Luncheon Voucher" coupons, so argued she never provided sex for money. Plus, it's rumoured 22 Acacia Avenue was where the "Special" clients were serviced, the judges, MP's, Police etc... again, one very important reason not to convict her!

If I had to think of an alternative word that portrayed the tense and context of the innuendo I think I would choose perfidious. Now listen again to the lyrics of the Iron Maiden song... it'll all become clearer.

Source: Wikipedia Cynthia Payne

  • What's the relationship between Cynthia Payne and 22 Acacia Avenue? I see no explanation for that at all in your answer, or support in your link. – AndyT Aug 20 at 9:15
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I don't think there are any particular nuances involved here beyond "typical middle-class address".

It's not at all common, even in Britain, but in context most people would understand it even if they'd never heard it before. The earliest such reference to Acacia Avenue I can find is the play by Denis and Mabel Constanduros (English) called 29 Acacia Avenue.

That was the original title when it was made into a film in the US in 1945, but it was actually released there as The Facts of Love. I don't see any reason to assume Brits would have understood the "middle class" allusion, but Americans wouldn't. Movie titles are changed for many reasons.


EDIT - actually, here's an earlier reference from Mufti (1919) by H. C. McNeile (aka Sapper)...

"Acacia Avenue doesn't call on Culman Terrace, you know".
where elsewhere in the book we find...
Culman Terrace was not a prepossessing spectacle. A long straight road ran between two rows of small and dreary houses. Each house was exactly the same...

I think that context makes it clear Sapper thought of Acacia Avenue as an "upmarket" address by comparison with Culman Terrace (people from Acacia Avenue wouldn't make social visits to those in Culman Terrace).

  • 1
    I've taken the liberty of making a (queued) edit to your final parenthesis: When I read AA, I first though 'Why would the Automobile Association be making visits?', then I thought of 'Alcoholics Anonymous', before finally realising you mean Acacia Avenue! – TrevorD Jun 13 '13 at 23:07
  • @TrevorD: Thanks. That "AA" connotation vaguely passed across my consciousness as I typed it - but "the moving finger having writ", as it were - I didn't do anything about it. The trouble is I type with just 2 fingers on one hand, and it's the same hand that has to do the mouse for cut & paste. (Okay, I admit I'm making excuses - I'm just a lazy typist! :) – FumbleFingers Jun 13 '13 at 23:45
  • So, do we designate the expression a BrE idiom? – Kris Jun 14 '13 at 11:38
  • @Kris: I think that would be overstretching the meaning of "idiom". If you asked the average Brit "What does [22] Acacia Avenue actually mean?", they'd just say "No idea, mate!". There are plenty of Acacia Avenues in the US as well as the UK, so I'm sure Americans would find it equally "accessible" in any likely real-world context. Avenues are often tree-lined residential streets in middle-class suburbia in the US too, and the alliteration probably helps as well. There's quite a difference between "would you understand this" and "is it an idiom"? – FumbleFingers Jun 14 '13 at 20:07
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I've just watched a very boring film made by the British Milk Association in the 1950's called The Great Milk Bottle Mystery, featuring "Mrs Jones of 22 Acacia Avenue". Acacia Avenue has often been used just to mean "the average street" but there must be some source of the specific address "22 Acacia Avenue". I would guess it was from a popular old radio show or something like that. This might also explain why Cynthia Payne might have used it (as a kind of nod-and-wink joke)

The Great Milk Bottle Mystery - 22 Acacia Avenue

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I can only think that this may be an error intended for "29 Acacia Road" which relates to the opening titles of a 1980's kids TV show called Bannanaman.

It opened with the following voice-over: "This is 29 Acacia Road. And this is Eric, the schoolboy who leads an exciting double life. For when Eric eats a banana, an amazing transformation occurs. Eric is Bananaman."

For people of a certain generation, it's a nod to their youth.

  • Ah yes, but part of the comedy of Bananaman is that it was referencing the much earlier uses of Acacia Avenue as a metaphor of suburbia. – Chenmunka Aug 20 at 9:33

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