"Patrick Wethered was as well known as the proverbial town pump; his mysterious and tragic death filled all Dublin with dismay. The lawyer, who was a man sixty years of age, had been struck on the back of the head by a heavy stick, garrotted, and subsequently robbed, for neither money, watch, or pocket-book were found upon his person, ....

(From "The old man in the corner" by Baroness Orczy)

What is pump in this sentence ? Proverbial means famous or renowned, I believe.

  • The only definition I can find is: "Town pump: derogatory term for a sexually promiscuous woman, one who is said to have had sex with many or most of the town's men, " but it doesn't seem to fit in the context. It might have been used in a figurative way.definition-of.com/town+pump
    – user66974
    Jul 3 '15 at 6:38
  • As an aside, "proverbial" means "featured in the proverb, saying or idiom." The "proverb" in question is presumably known to the speaker, but confusion can occasionally arise when the listener is not familiar with it; The proverbial early bird, for example, is the one who gets the worm, whereas the proverbial first mouse is rarely mentioned, even at Discworld conventions.
    – user867
    Jul 3 '15 at 7:28

I have certainly come across this before. When people in town had to go to the pump to get their water, they'd stop and chat. So the "Town Pump" became a centre for the exchange of gossip, rumour and ideas. Rather like the forum in a Roman city.

So one might imagine Patrick Wethered to be a key local source of chat, advice, gossip and friendly communication generally.

Edit to include a reference: I haven't yet found a matching reference to "town pump" but had a little more success with "village pump":

a village pump is like a waterhole or a water-cooler, just somewhere people gather because they go there every day, and therefore somewhere people end up chatting - Wikipedia Talk

This page is also interesting because it seems to be about renaming a newsletter or suchlike as "Agora", which is the Greek version of the forum. Maybe this Wikipedia page is not a recognised authority, but the term is obviously known by others.

Perhaps it has to be "town pump" in the context of Dublin?

  • 2
    Here: -One place would be the town common, or more specifically, the town water pump – often located nearby. This is where newspapermen loitered in hopes of capturing the best stories for that elusive next edition. Their best sources, they found, were the people who congregated around the pump, or, as they called them, the “village wiseacres.” ...forgottennewengland.com/tag/victorian-gossip
    – user66974
    Jul 3 '15 at 7:23
  • So that is also the origin of town pump meaning sexually promiscuous woman I suppose!
    – user66974
    Jul 3 '15 at 9:32
  • Hmm. I like the added implication that the town pump might figuratively "pump out" information and gossip into the local community. In your case... well, hmmm.
    – Margana
    Jul 3 '15 at 9:39

The town whore is called the town pump because every man in town has handled them. The man in the opening passage is not being likened to a whore. His popularity in Dublin is being likened to a generic town whore's local notoriety. The word 'proverbial' as used here means 'stereotypical' and it is a delicate reference to a person not to an object that draws water.

  • Hi Merrill. Note that this site is a bit different from other Q&A sites: an answer is expected to be authoritative, detailed, and explain why it is correct. Your suggestion may well be the correct one, but it's lacking one crucial element: evidence. At the very least, could I suggest you edit your answer to quote the definition for "town pump" provided (as a link) in a comment to the main question? I look forward to upvoting your edited answer :-) Oct 18 '18 at 5:23

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