Dear old “Wait and See”

From: Rosebery – Statesman in Turmoil (2005), by Leo McKinstry:

“…Apart from (Robert) Perks, most of the other Liberal Imperialists still adhered to the principle of Home Rule; they believed, however, that it should be achieved by gradual stages rather than by a single legislative onslaught, and only on the condition that throughout the process the supremacy of the Imperial Parliament at Westminster was maintained. This ‘step by step’ approach, as it was called by Asquith, involved such measures as stronger local government, reforms of the British administration at Dublin Castle, and executive devolution before the creation of an Irish legislative assembly.”

Pascal Tréguer writes at

“The phrase to wait and see means to await the course of events.

Although this phrase was already in usage at that time, it gained currency in 1910 from the fact that on Monday 4th April of that year the British Liberal statesman Herbert Henry Asquith (1852-1928), then Prime Minister, repeatedly replied wait and see to a succession of questions in Parliament.

This was reported, on that and the following days, by many British newspapers…

Herbert Henry Asquith came to be nicknamed (old) Wait and See, as exemplified by the following from Things that don’t Matter, by ‘Quidnunc’, published in The Bystander (London, England) of Wednesday 29th December 1915:

Mr. Asquith has confounded his critics. He has given two pledges in clear and absolutely unmistakable language, and it is all Lombard Street to the proverbial orange that he keeps both of them. The one is that he will not leave office and the other that he will draw his full salary.

Dear old “Wait and See” must in future be known as “Wait and Receive.”

In the above-quoted 1910 article, John Foster Fraser was mistaken in writing, of the phrase wait and see, that “next week it will probably be forgotten”, since it gave rise during the First World War to two British soldiers’ slang terms, Asquiths and wait and sees, coined to denote French friction-matches, which were notoriously difficult to ignite:

1: Asquiths—as explained in Soldiers’ Wit, published in The Daily Express (Dublin, County Dublin, Ireland) of Monday 9th November 1914:

On the field Thomas Atkins loves his smoke above all things; but even when he can come by tobacco, he finds it hard sometimes to get a light. Those who have travelled in France know to their cost how inefficient is the French match, product of a State monopoly. It must be carefully lit, the flickering blue flame must be nursed for a second or two, and the would-be smoker must wait till it is safely alight before he can venture to apply it to pipe or cigarette. The soldier, with delicious irony, calls French matches “Asquiths,” and even the Premier, one must suppose, need scarce feel any resentment at this tribute to a phrase which he has made his own, “Wait and see.”

2: wait and sees—as evoked in this appeal, published in The Bournemouth Guardian and Hants and Dorset Advertiser (Bournemouth, Hampshire, England) of Saturday 20th February 1915:

Send Matches.

What they want in France as much as anything are matches. Such things out there are very feeble stuff. The French match is a humorous affair. The soldiers call them “Wait and sees,” as they fizzle so long with a breath-taking sulphurous stink before lighting. Matches are a great boon. Tommy has lots of cigarettes. They are the common form of exchange and barter, and we have heard of 100 cigarettes being offered for a box of matches. If matches are sent out they should be tightly packed in a tin case or box, so that there is no rattle, and only safety matches should be sent, of course. The contents of any parcels should be written on it…”

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