Too too shy-making

A word I discovered while writing my shyness book: ‘shy-making’. In his 1930 novel Vile Bodies, Evelyn Waugh had nailed the polarising private slang of the bright young things of the previous decade, in which everything was either ‘divine’ or ‘bogus’ or socially mortifying: ‘too, too shaming’, ‘perfectly sheepish’ or ‘shy-making’. ‘As soon as I get to London,’ say Agatha Runcible in Waugh’s novel, ‘I shall just ring up every Cabinet Minister and all the newspapers and give them all the most shy-making details.’ The word reappears in Brideshead Revisited, published 15 years later. On showing Charles Ryder the art nouveau chapel at Brideshead, Sebastian Flyte says, ‘It is a bit shy-making, isn’t it?’ 

Waugh learned this vocabulary from the ‘Guinness set’. For this group of rich and fashionable young people, supposedly inedible food, or sometimes cocaine, was ‘ill-making’. The right antidote – or alcohol – was ‘very better making’. But someone opening the curtains while a bright young thing was still in bed and hung over was ‘blind-making’.

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