The following quote is from "American Caesar: Douglas MacArthur 1880 - 1964":

[MacArthur] was ambushed by two guerrillas. A bullet tore through the crown of his campaign hat and into a sapling behind him. Drawing his .38 pistol, he shot both ambushers. An Irish sergeant inspected the bodies, saluted the twenty-three-year-old officer, and said "Begging the lieutenant's pardon, but all the rest of the lieutenant's life is pure velvet."

I've never heard this expression ("the rest... is pure velvet") and don't understand how it's supposed to apply here. "Velvet" is sometimes used as a synonym for "smooth"; was the sergeant suggesting his life would go smoothly? That makes little sense, as "you're living on borrowed time" might be a more appropriate given that context!

  • Is the answer of MacArthur in there as well? It might give an indication how he interpreted that. Most likely it was meant as expression of admiration for his bravery / reaction time / marksmanship, etc.. Thus, the phrase likely implied that with such skills / character there was a bright future ahead. – Helmar Sep 16 '16 at 19:41
  • @Helmar, no, the next lines are "In a letter to his mother MacArthur wrote, much like George Washington before him: 'I heard the bullets whistle, and believe me, there is something charming in the sound.' Later, however, he admitted that after this baptism of fire he was pale and shaky." – gowenfawr Sep 16 '16 at 19:43
  • "Velvet" in this sense probably refers to some sort of idiomatic expression, but whatever it is is likely lost in history. I would guess that it means something like "charmed", or "blessed with luck". – Hot Licks Sep 16 '16 at 20:18

I did a little Ngramming and found a few usages which probably explain the term: https://www.google.com/search?q=%22will%20be%20velvet%22&tbm=bks&tbs=cdr:1,cd_min:1928,cd_max:1988&lr=lang_en

Several of the uses on this page say that some result "will be velvet", implying that it's a "bonus" for some trivial action, once other expenses are covered.

Eg, The saving in time and nesting material will more than pay for the gypsum. The extra price you get for clean eggs will be velvet.

I'm vaguely recalling hearing this idiom from time to time, though it's pretty much passed out of use. The expression "the rest is gravy" has largely supplanted it (but "gravy" wouldn't sound nearly as good in your biography).

  • 1
    If it is used to suggest a bonus, perhaps the meaning is that by rights he should be dead and the rest of his life is a bonus now. – Spagirl Sep 17 '16 at 12:37
  • @Spagirl - Yep, that's the way I'd read it. – Hot Licks Sep 17 '16 at 12:38
  • Ah, I wasn't quite clear from your answer as 'rest is gravy' can have more of a connotation of being on easy street/plain sailing than 'lucky to be alive'. – Spagirl Sep 17 '16 at 12:41
  • @Spagirl - Yeah, but I suspect "velvet" would have something of that same connotation in a different context. – Hot Licks Sep 17 '16 at 12:55

I heard this expression in an episode of Perry Mason (Season 1, Episode 7 - 1957) - The Case of the Angry Mourner. Near the end, Perry, in explaining how he solves the case, says:

Well, he knew the pistol was in your car, so he took it while you were in Cushing's place. After you left, he went over there, shot Cushing, broke some glass, went back home, went to bed, and he woke his wife, and told her he'd just heard a shot and some glass breaking. The fact that Marion Keats screamed, well, that was pure velvet.

So that seems consistent with the idea of a bonus, or gift.


In that context, it probably means "good" or "without problems." Velvet is an amazingly comfortable fabric. It is smooth and pleasant to touch.


In the 1932 Barbara Stanwyck movie "So Big," her gambler father gives this advice to his daughter:

"I want you to realize that this whole thing called Life is just a grand adventure. The trick is to act in it and look out at the same time. And remember: no matter what happens - good or bad - there's just so much velvet."

I researched and discovered that "velvet" is an archaic gambling term which basically means "unexpected and extra winnings."

In a general sense, the modern slang usage of "gravy" is a fairy close synonym. However, I think the word velvet has a far more luxurious and uncommon feel to it, and I've been using it in place of "gravy."

Because at the end of the day, in spite of all the trials and tribulations and losses, Life's total sum is one big unearned gift of lavish velvet...

  • This not a bad answer, but it needs citations for the information supplied. – J. Taylor Jan 22 '18 at 20:02

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