I found this phrase in John Le Carré's novel Smiley's People. The whole sentence is:

The chattering customers in the café became the jeering claque of the State police; the slamming of the bagatelle tables, the crash of iron doors.

The State police here refers to Russian police; this was in the perspective of a Russian woman who had lived with a dissident in the Soviet Union.

What I want to ask is this: Here, does "the jeering claque" refer to a group of people employed by the State police to applaud the police and ridicule something? Or is there some more detailed explanation?

I looked in a couple of dictionaries before asking this question. I know what jeering means, as well as claque, but not the two words in combination. I also googled the phrase itself, but all the results were related to the same source from which this question arose. So don't close/delete my question!

  • Thanks for doing your research, and welcome to EL&U. I've moved your 'moderator note' to the end of the message; it's generally better to include your research and allow it to speak for itself, but the way you did it is fine, too. Given that this isn't a set, idiomatic phrase, you might wish to ask on Literature.SE, as the answer might be more of a contextual thing than a language thing. Commented Dec 11, 2023 at 1:59
  • This seems better fitted to Literature SE, as you know what the words mean but don't understand the writer's deeper meaning or the historical context. The state police didn't literally employ cheerleaders, but certain people would have cheered their actions.
    – Stuart F
    Commented Dec 11, 2023 at 10:19

1 Answer 1


The passage seems to describe a detachment from reality experienced by Maria in a café, when the words of her interlocutor threatened her.

The chattering customers became the jeering claque of the State Police...

They sounds of the café's customers seemed like the jeering of a group working for the state police. (There's not an established meaning for the phrase: it's an imagined experience.)

...the slamming of the bagatelle tables (became) the crash of iron doors.

  • Yes. The chattering became the jeering; the slamming, the crash. Commented Dec 13, 2023 at 3:10

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.