The first time I came across the acronym SWMBO ("She who must be obeyed") was at Straight Razor Place, a learned forum for traditional and straight razor shavers, I was curious where I had heard it before. I knew I had under an important enough circumstance for the acronym to carve out a chunk in my memory.
Acronyms come and go in our lives and few stick with us. For some reason "She who must be obeyed" did with me, playing in my head at times like a repeated phrase. Where had I heard this curious phrase? I suppose I could have stormed over the Internet and eventually found out, but with a heavy amount of daily research I must do for my writing, the phrase held little priority.
In the traditional shaving world with the straight razor, SWMBO is a term of endearment reserved for the dearly beloved: a gentleman's wife or girlfriend, who must be obeyed. The extent of the acronym's reference often centers on tiptoeing around the subject of approval from one's mate for buying that razor one does not need, or scuttle, hone, strop and other traditional shaving accoutrements unnecessary for a gentleman's overall survival.
I am fortunate enough to have a saintly and patient wife who after 44 years still puts up with my idiosyncrasies and compulsions. When a new razor pops up in the razor rack, or a new soap mug squeezes in on the bathroom counter, or the hook gives birth to a new strop, she chuckles and shuffles away.
My wife did so yesterday when I was stropping a Thiers-Issard she had seen for the first time, even though I have owned the razor for some months. That's when the answer occured to me: "Rumpole of the Old Bailey." Of course. That's where I first read and then heard the phrase "She who must be obeyed."
"Rumpole of the Old Bailey" started as a series of humorous and thoughly delightful books by the late British writer John Mortimer. The main character in "Rumpole of the Old Baily" is a crusty and eccentric barrister in London named Horace Rumpole — he is a criminal lawyer — who loves his drink and little cigars. Mortimer's writing sparkles with great characters and crisp dialogue.
The BBC adapted the books for a feast of a TV series that starred the renowned British actor Leo McKern as Horace Rumpole. His wife is Hilda, and she is the one who must be obeyed. I suppose one can say that over their long marriage Rumpole and Hilda have a wavy love and tolerance relationship. That relationship is responsible for Mortiner's contribution to the catalog of colorful lines: "She who must be obeyed."
The line is from one episode in which, after a mild sniping between Rumpole and Hilda, Rumpole throws Hilda a side glance and in a tired and lamenting tone mutters, "She who must be obeyed." Little did Mortimer know his colorful line would find a place among the collection of acronyms in the traditional shaving world and straight razors.
Somewhere around the 50th stroke on the strop's leather side, after the dearly beloved had smiled and then shuffled out of my little shaving kingdom, is when I suddenly recalled where I had heard "She who must obeyed" (SWMBO). The words were uttered by one of my colorful literary heroes, Horace Rompole of the Old Bailey.
— Obie Yadgar