Word help: Washable Accent?

I don’t often come across words I can’t figure out, but this line from a 1941 mystery has me stumped.

Not washable? WTF? Nothing comes up in any search, except for washable accent rugs.

Any ideas?

The more common idiom is "it didn’t wash with me ", which means in the context of fakes and trickery, “I wasn’t fooled by it.”

“Wash” is in a dictionary as an idiom … if it did wash, it was found acceptable. If it didnt wash, the result (of the washing, or some test or process), not acceptable.

How about “wash” in the sense of “stand up to investigation”—the accent was pseudo-British, and not going to be able to pass the test.

Interesting simulpost.

That’s a reasonable interpretation. I wouldn’t think it was really necessary to double up on the “pseudo,” though. Clearly the accent is a pose; obviously it wouldn’t wash. Why invent a word to re-say it? I assumed it had to say something more than just repeat “phony.” Or maybe the author just liked the coinage.

Let’s see what others suggest.

Can you provide an extended quote to help out with the narrative context, or at the very least identify the work in question? I mean, nice of you to tell us the year and all, but there were a lot of mystery novels published (or are you in fact talking about a movie?) in 1941.

By the way, what that completely-devoid-of-context-or-identification line suggests to me is “not washable” in the sense of delicate or flimsy fabrics being “not washable”: i.e., it won’t survive the ordinary stresses of everyday use, so it’s merely a fragile and temporary decoration.

The idiom “it won’t wash” in the sense of “I don’t buy it” is derived from the same source, but my guess is that this reference is directly invoking the laundry metaphor rather than the related “it won’t wash” phrase. We may be able to make better guesses once you tell us more about the quote.

Well, at a wild guess, “pseudo-British” is the authorial voice telling us that the accent was assumed, not genuine, and “not washable” tells us that it wasn’t a convincing British accent; people were unlikely to be fooled by it.

The book is “If a Body,” by George Worthing Yates, an American writer. I didn’t think more of the book would help any. It just reinforces that the character, a woman, was being a rich phony in an unlikely place to find her, a grocery attached to a roadside motel in rural Ohio. She was looking for canned Cream of Shrimp soup, which the owner had never heard of. Never had I, for that matter, but Campbell’s still makes it.

I do like the spin you put on the word, though.

Found it, thanks (p. 16). Yeah, there’s not much in the immediate context to explain that particular phrase, but the author’s general habit of somewhat ponderous whimsy (“the cabin had taken advantage of the total dark to expand and rearrange itself”?) strengthens my impression that “not washable” was intended to suggest “flimsy superficial ornament rather than robust quality”.

I don’t know if this helps, or is completely irrelevant, but if I encountered the term ‘not washable’, I would regard it as synonymous with ‘dry-clean only’ or ‘hand wash only’ (on garments, it may appear as ‘dry clean only’, or ‘not machine washable’)

That doesn’t seem like it fits the context here, but:
‘dry-clean only’ instructions are generally regarded as a nuisance or inconvenience - in practice, it often means the owner of the garment will treat the thing as disposable - of limited lifespan - to be discarded as soon as it is soiled.

So… could it be some sort of analogy for ‘requiring very careful handling’, ‘difficult for no very good reason’, or ‘nice while it lasts’?

ETA: Kimstu’s ‘flimsy’ interpretation makes a lot of sense.

Yes, and often because, if you wash it, the color runs…

In 1941?

Getting paid by the word, maybe.

This wasn’t in a pulp magazine, but in a book. Books worked the same way then as now, one price overall.

I don’t think he has invented a word, as such. My first thought on reading the extract was that the author was likely using a figurative sense of a then-popular word to add a little colour, in the style of Hammett or Chandler.

A search on Google Ngram seems to show that “washable” rose to a peak of popularity in American English right around the date of the novel.

I’d imagine it was a frequently used adjective in advertising around then, possibly to do with developments in synthetic fabrics and dyes and sales of domestic washing machines.

I’m not saying he made up a brand new word. However, he gave an older word a brand new meaning, one that I haven’t found any precedence for - or aftermath, either.

Is that technically a coinage? It is now that I’ve used it that way. :cool:

It reads as something Phillip Marlowe would say.

It’s not saying the same thing twice. The “pseudo” says that it’s fake. The “non-washable” says that it’s not a credible fake.

This was the 1940s though. I don’t think any clothes were regarded as disposable, especially the kind of clothes that are dry-clean only.