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?


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).

  • 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

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!


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".

  • 5
    "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
  • 4
    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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