All bets are "off"
U 16.1274-81: While the other was reading it on page two Boom (to give him for the nonce his new misnomer) whiled away a few odd leisure moments in fits and starts with the account of the third event at Ascot on page three, […] Betting 5 to 4 on Zinfandel, 20 to 1 Throwaway (off).
Only four horses competed in the Ascot Gold Cup of 16 June 1904: the favourite Zinfandel, Sceptre, Maximum II, and the outsider Throwaway. The advance notice of the race in the Freeman’s Journal of the same day showed that twelve horses had originally been entered. Throwaway confounded the odds by winning the race, followed by the favourite Zinfandel, then Sceptre, and finally Maximum II. Joyce scholars are well aware that the description cited above is abridged from the report published in the Dublin Evening Telegraph (page 3) that evening:
Some words do not attract comment, and it seems that the tiny “(off)” appearing at the end of the betting details is just such a word.1 Perhaps it means that these were the prices at the “off”, or at the beginning of the race; or that these are the “off[icial]” starting prices. But an examination of the format of betting odds in the newspapers of the time shows that neither of these is the correct interpretation.
The Freeman’s Journal for Bloomsday 1904 reports on the previous day’s racing. Here is the betting on the 2 o’clock race (p. 7):
“Off” here is spelt with a full-stop, suggesting it is an abbreviation. If this is the case, we might expect to find the extended version in other contemporary racing reports.
Evidence is not hard to find. The Freeman’s of Bloomsday 1904 gives the betting for the 5 pm Fifty-Second Triennial Stakes on the previous day at Ascot (p. 7: “Evens Polymelus, [...] 20 to 1 bar four (offered)”).2 Earlier, on 25 June 1902 (under “London Betting”) the paper comments on the Northumberland Plate:
There is no doubt that the abbreviation “Off”, or “Off.”, is short for “offered”. Bookmakers would both take bets at specific odds, and also offer odds on the horses. Stephen Regan, the editor of George Moore’s Esther Waters annotates a comparable passage in Moore’s novel:3
The terminology predates the Telegraph report by many years. The Irish Times of 12 April, 1859, for example, reports “Tattersall’s Betting” on the Great Northern Handicap:
And on 17 May, 1867:
The Dublin Evening Telegraph which Bloom reads states clearly that Throwaway was “on offer at twenties”:
Bloom was “nettled not a little” about the misprint “Boom” in the funeral report. We might note in turn that the Evening Telegraph once misspells Throwaway’s name in the main race commentary:
Translators, however, involuntarily document their misreadings of this term: Morel: 20 contre 1 Prospectus
(pris) = "taken"; Goyert: "off" not translated; Wollschläger: 20:1 Weggeworfen
(durch) = “through”; Giulio de Angelis: 20 a 1 Buttavia (Fuori) = "out".
Joyce's Words >