Page 28. " dinner would be at 8 o'clock "

Dinner is served at 8 pm on the 8th day of the 8th month.

Is this significant?

Page 31. " Ten little Indian boys "

The original title of the book was neither And Then There Were None nor Ten Little Indians but Ten Little N_____s. This title apparently seemed inoffensive to Agatha Christie as it was an allusion to a well-known Victorian minstrel show song.

"In England . . . there was no mention of bias or racism in any reviews [of Ten Little N_____s], which thought the title a mere reflection of the nursery rhyme on which it was based" (Hack, Duchess of Death [Beverly Hills, CA: Phoenix Books, 2009], 158).

1874 Minstrel Show Advertisement, St. James's Hall
Public Domain1874 Minstrel Show Advertisement, St. James's Hall

Minstrel shows were a form of stage entertainment in which white actors would don "black face" and parody black speech patterns and singing styles for comic effect. The racism inherent in such entertainment was often lost upon white audiences.

The song "Ten Little N_____s," described as a "nursery rhyme" on page 30 of the book, was written by Frank Green with music by Mark Mason. It was published in 1869. Green wrote the song for a tenor with the Christy Minstrels. The song became very popular with children.

The lyrics were adapted from the American song Ten Little Indians by Septimus Winner, who also wrote 'Where Oh Where Has My Little Dog Gone?' (1864) 

St. James's Hall, Piccadilly, 1858
Public DomainSt. James's Hall, Piccadilly, 1858





When the original title of the song and book gave offense (especially to American audiences), both were changed to "Ten Little Indians." (For further discussion, see the third Bookmark for page 14.) 

An interesting side note: "Christie biographer Gwen Robyns points out that during a 1966 English revival of the play [based on the novel], an organized protest by a civil rights group resulted in the title of the play, during that run, at least, being changed to And Then There Were None, apparently with Christie's permission" (Sanders and Lovallo, 183).

In The New Bedside, Bathtub & Armchair Companion to Agatha Christie (Riley and McAllister [New York: Ungar, 1989]), author Pam McAllister gently takes Christie to task for her use of the term. "Perhaps Christie . . . thought n_____s to be an innocent word but the etymology doesn't let [her] off the hook. . . . About 1825, . . . American abolitionists and blacks objected to the word, claiming that it was a derogatory slang reference to people of the Negro race. Since the American Civil War, n____r has been considered a contemptuous word. . . . Certainly the word is considered offensive in the twentieth century, and so it is somewhat surprising that the questionable term was not only not buried on a back page of Christie's story, but put up front where it counts, on the cover" (144).

Fortunately, the use of the word in the book is completely gratuitous, and the plot is not harmed in any way by carefully eliminating it.

Page 31. " A red herring swallowed one "

"The 'red herring' which swallowed boy number four is not an alteration of the [original] text [of the poem], though Christie must have found the appearance of the phrase amusing" (Sanders and Lovallo, The Agatha Christie Companion, 179). In mystery stories, a red herring is a clue introduced to purposely distract the reader from the actual murderer.


Medieval herring fishing
Public DomainMedieval herring fishing

Why "red herring"? The term refers back to the "smoked herring . . . supposedly used by fugitives to put bloodhounds off the scent (1680s), hence metaphoric sense (1884) of 'something used to divert attention from the basic issue'" (Online Etymology Dictionary).

Page 33. " Where had he seen that frog-like face, that tortoise-like neck "
Justice Wargrave?
Creative Commons AttributionJustice Wargrave? - Credit: Michelle Meiklejohn

Wargrave is repeatedly referred to in reptilian imagery.

Lombard is often compared to a wolf. Christie's use of animal imagery increases later when the plot moves to the "Zoo" verse of the poem.

Page 33. " A hanging judge, some people said "

Hanging judges were those judges who had a reputation for handing out particularly harsh sentences. 

Page 35. " Indian Island, eh? There's a fly in the ointment. "
Public DomainHousefly

A "fly in the ointment" is a small problem or defect that spoils something desirable.

The phrase probably comes from Ecclesiastes 10:1 in the Bible: Dead flies cause the ointment of the apothecary to send forth a stinking savour: so doth a little folly him that is in reputation for wisdom and honour.

The phrase seems out of place here, and for good reason. The original line was, "N____r Island, eh? There's a n____r in the woodpile" (Sanders and Lovallo, 182). The meaning is similar but the pun is lost.


Page 37. " he was a queer chap. Not straight. He'd swear the man wasn't straight. "

The words "queer" and "straight" have taken on different meanings nowadays.

Macarthur's musings simply mean he doesn't trust Lombard--he thinks he's odd, not trustworthy.

Page 39. " The heathen are sunk down in the pit "

Emily Brent is reading from Psalm 9, verses 15 through 17, in the King James Version of the Bible. Here is the psalm in its entirety:

1  I will praise thee, O LORD, with my whole heart; I will shew forth all thy marvellous works.

2  I will be glad and rejoice in thee: I will sing praise to thy name, O thou most High.

3  When mine enemies are turned back, they shall fall and perish at thy presence.

4  For thou hast maintained my right and my cause; thou satest in the throne judging right.

5  Thou hast rebuked the heathen, thou hast destroyed the wicked, thou hast put out their name for ever and ever.

6  O thou enemy, destructions are come to a perpetual end: and thou hast destroyed cities; their memorial is perished with them.

7  But the LORD shall endure for ever: he hath prepared his throne for judgment.

8  And he shall judge the world in righteousness, he shall minister judgment to the people in uprightness.

9  The LORD also will be a refuge for the oppressed, a refuge in times of trouble.

10  And they that know thy name will put their trust in thee: for thou, LORD, hast not forsaken them that seek thee.

11  Sing praises to the LORD, which dwelleth in Zion: declare among the people his doings.

12  When he maketh inquisition for blood, he remembereth them: he forgetteth not the cry of the humble.

13  Have mercy upon me, O LORD; consider my trouble which I suffer of them that hate me, thou that liftest me up from the gates of death:

14  That I may shew forth all thy praise in the gates of the daughter of Zion: I will rejoice in thy salvation.

15  The heathen are sunk down in the pit that they made: in the net which they hid is their own foot taken.

16  The LORD is known by the judgment which he executeth: the wicked is snared in the work of his own hands. Higgaion. Selah.

17  The wicked shall be turned into hell, and all the nations that forget God.

18  For the needy shall not alway be forgotten: the expectation of the poor shall not perish for ever.

19  Arise, O LORD; let not man prevail: let the heathen be judged in thy sight.

20  Put them in fear, O LORD: that the nations may know themselves to be but men. Selah.

Page 41. " Mrs. Oliver has been lucky to get these two. "

Miss Brent is confused about the supposed name of her host and/or hostess; see page 9.

The name "Oliver" could be a veiled reference to another Christie creation: Ariadne Oliver, a character the novelist invented to poke fun at herself. Miss Oliver appeared first in a set of Christie short stories, Mr. Parker Pyne, Detective (1934), and subsequently appeared in Cards on the Table (1936), Mrs. McGinty's Dead (1952), Dead Man's Folly (1956), The Pale Horse (1961), Third Girl (1966), Hallowe'en Party (1969), and Elephants Can Remember (1972).


Miss Oliver is "a successful detective novelist. . . . She is a middle-aged woman with a penchant for apples. She is described in one of the novels as 'handsome in a rather untidy fashion, with fine eyes, substantial shoulders, and a large quantity of rebellious grey hair with which she was continuously experimenting.'" She is also "the author of 'forty-six works of fiction, all best sellers in England and America, and freely translated into French, German, Italian, Hungarian, Finnish, Japanese and Abyssinian.'" Her most famous detective is not a Belgian named Poirot, however; he is a Finn named Sven Hjerson (Sova, Agatha Christie A to Z [New York: Checkmark Books, 2000], 250).


Page 42. " Lombard turned over the pages of Punch that lay with the other papers on a table by the wall. "

 Punch was a British satirical magazine that ran from 1841 until 2002.

It featured political cartoons and comic writers such as Thackeray, P G Wodehouse and P J O’Rourke.

The cartoon shown here is from the 13 October 1920 issue.

Page 45. " On the table was a gramophone--an old-fashioned type with a large trumpet attached. "

The gramophone was the first device to play music from flat discs rather than cylinders. It was invented by Emile Berliner following Thomas Edison's invention of the phonograph and Alexander Graham Bell's invention of the graphophone.

The "large trumpet attached" is the device that amplified the sound.

Page 49. " It was entitled Swan Song "

A "swan song" usually refers to someone's last dramatic act before dying. It comes from the legend that swans sing only one song in their lives--right before they die.