U 11.496-7: Mrs Marion Bloom has left off clothes of all descriptions
Don Gifford cites Vincent Deane’s explanation that the joke rests on the presence or absence of a hyphen in an old advertisement displayed on trams, in which “left-off” means “second-hand” or “cast-off” – “Miss White has left-off clothes of every description”. The expression was in fact widely used in advertisements at the end of the century. See, for example, the Irish Times of 13 January, 1883 (p. 8):
Wanted Left-Off Clothes of all Descriptions for the Colonies. Madame Lawrie, 42 Kildare Street, Dublin, Continues to give the utmost value (in cash) for all kinds of ladies’, gentlemen’s, and children’s left-off clothes, misfit uniforms, outfits, gold, or silver epaulettes, [etc.].
The advertisement generated comment and jokes before Joyce adopted it, as in Frank Leslie’s Pleasant Hours (1873: vol. 13, p. 476):
... in the interests of decency, we protest against the coolness of a certain tradesman who advertises daily that be "has left off clothes of every description".
and the Cleveland (Ohio) Medical Gazette of 1893 (vol. 8, p. 38):
A friend walking down Piccadilly one day saw this announcement in a show window: "Mr. and Mrs. Brown have left off clothes of every description, and invite your careful inspection at a shilling a head."
In 1894 the fashionable Pall Mall Magazine offered much the same humorous fare:
But the summit was probably reached in the startling advertisement: "Mr. and Mrs. Isaac Hyam have left off clothes of every description" — an announcement which must have caused considerable pain and surprise to Mr. and Mrs. Hyam's friends.
Pall Mall Magazine, volume 4, p. 230
Image by kind permission of Aida Yared
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