English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

I'm reading "The Portrait of a Lady" by Henry James, and I found the following two sentences.

"I suppose that after a girl has refused an English lord she may do anything," her aunt rejoined. "After that one needn't stand on trifles."

What does "one needn't stand on trifles" mean?

share|improve this question
Sounds sticky (assuming trifles to be puddings!) – neil Apr 30 '11 at 16:10

To stand on something means to insist on something, to be particular about something in this sentence.

Trifles are trivial things, things that are of little importance.

Hence your sentence means after that, it is unnecessary to be particular about trivial things. I don't know the story, which is why I don't know exactly why her aunt says this. Perhaps she means that refusing a lord increases a woman's status so much that, afterwards, one may safely risk some loss of status due to less reputable behaviour. Or perhaps it is just that, after this important event, anything else probably fades in comparison.

share|improve this answer
I'd think that refusing a lord would damage your reputation so much that anyything else is trivial in comparison. Oddly, this gives much the same result as your 2 theories. – TimLymington May 20 '11 at 21:36
@TimLymington: True... but I don't think it'd be damaging, on the contrary! – Cerberus May 21 '11 at 0:20

"Refusing an English lord" is a MOMENTOUS (social) undertaking. After doing that, anything else the lady could do would seem trivial "trifling," by comparison. Which means she can do anything at all, with less of an impact on her life than refusing the lord.

share|improve this answer

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.