What is the metaphorical meaning of this phrase "cold-mutton-commercial type", that we can relate to English tea planters?

The railway carriage was full of tea-planters (including one or two wives and sisters), and there were a few at the hotel. It was curious to see some English faces of the cold-mutton-commercial type, and in quite orthodox English attire, in this out-of-the-way region.

Adam's Peak to Elephanta (1892)

  • How far have you got on your journey from Adam's Peak to Elephanta? I can usually tell it's you by the text that you quote. I don't need to see anything else.
    – Mick
    Oct 26, 2016 at 18:17
  • hahaa!! @Mick I'm just translating this to another language. That's why I'm interested to get the metaphorical meaning so far. Thanks for the support you folks in here. Oct 26, 2016 at 18:22
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    I've never heard of this book before, but it seems to contain quite a lot of rather unusual and not particularly intuitive metaphors. Cold mutton is (as far as I know) not something commonly eaten in India, but in the 19th century, it was fairly commonly eaten in Britain, particularly as a cold cut for lunch. ‘Commercial’ could refer to any number of things, but I suspect it may be a reference to agents of the East India Trading Company as opposed to military officials here. Pure guesstimation on my part, though! Oct 26, 2016 at 18:46
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    I don't think this has to do with countenance, I think it is strictly a food reference related to social status. Cold mutton, metaphorically, was second rate. It refers to cold mutton as pub food or inn food at a time when London clubs indulged their members in finer things. I'm guessing the book refers to a slightly earlier time frame than 1892. So they were cold-mutton commercial, not proper gentlemen. Commercial had a not-complementary connotation as well. status-wise, they are used car salesmen. @JanusBahsJacquet I think not agents of a high-status firm.
    – Phil Sweet
    Oct 26, 2016 at 23:54
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    In the 19th and early 20th centuries there was a large class of men referred to as 'commercial travellers' which was sometimes shortened to 'commercials'. These men acted as a agents for manufacturers and dealers and travelled the country visiting business premises taking orders for their clients. This meant that they spent a lot of time in 'commercial' hotels, indeed there is evidence that some of them had no permanent homes. They appear, generically, in many works of fiction and always seem to be regarded as lower middle, or even upper working class, certainly not 'gentlemen'.
    – BoldBen
    Oct 27, 2016 at 8:06

1 Answer 1


It was curious to see some English faces of the cold-mutton-commercial type.

It was surprising to see English faces in this place that was so far away from England; these English people I saw looked just like the English people I might have seen back in England, ordinary, garden-variety people, the type who have leftover cold mutton for supper. "Commercial type" I'm not so sure about. Still, "ordinary, garden variety" probably works for this too.

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