The following excerpt has been taken from the poem Telephone Conversation by Wole Soyinka. What does 'pipped' mean here?

Voice, when it came,
Lipstick coated, long gold-rolled
Cigarette-holder pipped.
Caught I was, foully.

  • [1/2] It's always hard to tell with poems, particularly ones so focused on meter and sound (which has a heavy influence on word choice) as this one (though I really enjoyed "West African sepia"). The word pipped can mean peeped/chirped as in "The land-lady's voice finally chirped, breaking the unbearable silence"; it can also mean seeded, as in "The voice had that element - that detectable tone - associated with well-bred landladies who wear lipstick and smoke through gold-rolled holders". It can make a marring of the beak, as the gold-rolled holder is marred by lipstick.
    – Dan Bron
    Commented Apr 24, 2015 at 7:52
  • [2/2] It can also mean piqued, as in "the voice now had a tone of irritation, expressed tacitly, in the manner of well-bred English ladies who smoke through gold-rolled cigarette holders". Since that sense of pipped is even more uniquely British than the others (not that we Americans ever say "pipped"), given the portrait Soyinka is painting of the landlady and the overall British tone of the poem, that may be the most likely meaning. But ultimately there's no way to know; you can try googling for critical analyses of the work. by established critics.
    – Dan Bron
    Commented Apr 24, 2015 at 7:53

3 Answers 3


"Pipped", I think, is used with poetic license, here. My initial inclination is that it is describing the affectation of 'the voice' that is caused by the clenched teeth and lips required to keep the cigarette holder from dropping out of the mouth while speaking. An exaggerated aspiration of the [P] sound is quite inevitable. Google "The Penguin" from the "Batman" TV series to get a better idea of what I'm trying to describe.


The line "Lipstick coated, long gold-rolled Cigarette-holder pipped" is clearly the description of the voice. Smokers have a raspy voice because of thick phlegm and irritation in the voice box. MW defines pip as an irritation or human ailment. The origin of the word is loosely based on the the Latin term pituita meaning phlegm. Smokers are prone to suffer from talking in a low-pitched voice.
see: Bogart-Bacall syndrome.
Source: Merriam-Webster


Having looked at the poem, it appears that "pipped" in this line serves as a verb.

To pip = to peep or chirp as a bird.

It means when a Cigarette Holder is lighted initially it produces a peep sound.

  • There is no cigarette lighter in the poem. There is a cigarette holder, but cigarette holders are silent. One meaning of the verb pip is indeed to "make a small noise". But there are several others, as well. How do you know which is the right one? Going further: how do you know pip is acting as a verb here, and not, e.g. as an adjective? You may wish to read the two comments I left under the question.
    – Dan Bron
    Commented Apr 24, 2015 at 10:01
  • @Dan Bron please have a look at this link litxpert.wordpress.com/2012/01/14/…
    – User1075
    Commented Apr 24, 2015 at 10:20
  • Abbie, that is a very long writeup; rather than asking me to read the whole thing, why don't you excerpt and summarize the relevant parts in your answer, and use it to support your conclusion (or a different one, if the article leads another way)? That would really make a great answer.
    – Dan Bron
    Commented Apr 24, 2015 at 10:22

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