It seems like every article on puns written in the last 150 years (most recently in The Atlantic) includes this quote by Samuel Johnson, who compiled the 1755 Dictionary of the English Language and was supposedly not fond of puns at all:

He who would violate the sanctities of his Mother Tongue would invade the recesses of the paternal till without remorse.

What does "invade the recesses of the paternal till without remorse" mean? To my 21st century ears it sounds a bit a dirty, but the context suggests that that cannot possibly be the case. Maybe that's why its popular among modern pun lovers...

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  • 4
    Raid Dad's cash box. – Brian Donovan Jul 11 '15 at 20:12
  • ... and suffer no inconvenient pangs of conscience. – user98990 Jul 11 '15 at 20:15
  • @BrianDonovan That sounds reasonable to me. – drhagen Jul 11 '15 at 20:31

Brian Donovan and Little Eva have given the answer, but in comments. Here's a fuller version.


Anyone who is crass enough to speak or write their own language badly/carelessly is immoral to the same extent that someone who stole every last penny from his father's money drawer would be.

invade the recesses - search every corner (in order to steal everything possible)

of the paternal till - of his parent's wealth

without remorse - without feeling guilty

EDIT to add the definition of "till"


1a : a box, drawer, or tray in a receptacle (as a cabinet or chest) used especially for valuables

b : a money drawer in a store or bank; also : cash register

2a : the money contained in a till

b : a supply of especially ready money


  • So this is "till" in the sense of "drawer", which is implied to hold money here? – drhagen Jul 11 '15 at 20:44
  • @drhagen - Yes indeed. I've amended my post. – chasly from UK Jul 11 '15 at 21:01

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