I’ve been rereading That Hideous Strength. I’m going through it slowly this time, paying attention to details I glossed over before.
For example, early in the book we’re told that the head of a college has the nickname N.O.
N.O., which stood for Non-Olet, was the nickname of Charles Place, the warden of Bracton.
The first time I read the novel I zoomed past this tidbit. “Must be some Latin thing.” This time I looked it up.
It is indeed a Latin thing. It’s a reference to “Pecunia non olet” which translates as “Money doesn’t stink.” The idea is that money is money, and it doesn’t matter if it comes from a distasteful source.
The phrase goes back to the tax paid by those who bought the contents of public urinals as a source of ammonia. When Emperor Vespasian’s son Titus complained about the disgusting nature of the urine tax, the emperor held up a gold coin and said “Pecunia non olet.”
We’re told that the warden was “an elderly civil servant,” not an academic, and that his biggest accomplishment was that he had written “a monumental report on National Sanitation.”
So the nickname N.O. works on several levels. It implies that he’s willing to take money wherever he can get it, and it’s an allusion to the fact that he’s more qualified to be a sanitation engineer than a college president. I suppose it also implies that he’s inclined to say “no” to everything except money.