Molesworth is often referred to by British readers of a certain age - those who have read books by Willan and Searle, originally published between 1953 and 1959, and cleverly targeted at an audience both of children between about 10 and 15, and, in a knowing way, their parents as well. This - the commonest result of an internet search for 'Molesworth' - is the meaning dealt with on this page. There are others. The surname Molesworth derives from the name of a village in Cambridgeshire: Mills, 1991 gives the etymology as "'Enclosure of a man called Mūl'. OE pers. name + worth". A distinguished bearer of the name was Mrs Molesworth, née Mary Louisa Stewart (1839-1921), a writer of children's books such as Tell Me a Story (1875), Carrots (1876), The Cuckoo Clock (1877), The Tapestry Room (1879), A Christmas Child (1880), and The Carved Lions (1895).
Nigel Molesworth, the subject of this page, is a fictional prep. school boy, the supposed narrator of four books by written by Geoffrey Willans and illustrated by Ronald Searle published between 1953 and 1959, and collected into one volume, The Compleet Molesworth [sic] in 1958. The books are a satirical view of a certain type of education and the pupils who undergo it. Willans mocks not only the uncouth young (Searle once draws Molesworth as a gorilla ("goriller"), on all fours, resting on his knuckles under a shock of unkempt hair), but also the state of the world more generally, poking fun at the space race, atomic weaponry, education and the curriculum, and many of the snobberies of British life.
Molesworth (as in most traditional boarding education, the [male] pupils are known by surnames only, distinguished if necessary from brothers, and other bearers of the same name, by the abbreviation ma. (for major, Latin 'greater' or 'older') and mi. (minor, 'lesser' or 'younger') - further 3, 4' etc) is a boy of around 10-12 years old who attends the boarding school St Custard's. He writes an account of it, his education ("Lat. french, geog. hist. algy, geom" [sic] are some of his subjects), his "teechers" such as "Sigismund the mad maths master" and the headmaster with his "kanes" and his contemporaries, such as his brother Molesworth 2, his "grate frend" Peason and "grabber" who is head of skool, in an idiosyncratic style which, together with the illustrations, is very funny. Molesworth's spelling is a mockery of the worst types of schoolchild confusion (the verb "say" is always written quasi-phonetically as sa) - and sometimes acute about the language, as when he consistently writes the name of the game as foopball, an accurate representation of a common assimilation among young speakers; and always refers to the bowler (the player who delivers the ball to the batsman in cricket) as "the blower". He also demonstrates the confusion in the odder rules of English orthography, in such attempts as "Cristopfer" (for Christopher), and "tuogh", often in the phrasal verb 'to tuogh [someone] up", meaning 'to beat someone up'. Some of his phrases have entered a shared culture and are quoted in such satirical contexts as Private Eye: "as any fule kno" is his way (copied from the teechers that are the bane of his life) of saying "you ought to know that" - usually in a situation where he cannot be expected to know it; his contemporary fotherington-tomas, who likes poetry and has aesthetic tendencies (he likes to skip around saying "hello clouds hello sky") is always described scornfully as "uterly wet and a wede"; disasters and disappointments are greeted with "chiz moan drone" ("a chiz is a swiz or a swindle as any fule kno"), and the descending kane always provokes a "coo ur gosh".