Questions related to English vocabulary, forms, phrases, and syntax that is now more commonly seen in written literature than in everyday speech.

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What does it mean by “bondsman's two hundred and fifty years of…” in Lincoln's 2nd inaugural adress?

I'm not sure who is the bondsman and why his wealth matters here. Here is the quote, from the paragraph of Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the ...
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4answers
2k views

Why did English change so much between Chaucer and Shakespeare?

My inexpert perception of things is that the distance between The Canterbury Tales (end 14th century) and Romeo and Juliet (end 16th), from a language perspective, is vast, and vastly greater than the ...
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3answers
116 views

Therefore vs. wherefore [closed]

I saw these words in The Silmarillion: Then there was unrest among the Ainur; but Ilúvatar called to them, and said: ‘I know the desire of your minds that what ye have seen should verily be, not ...
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4answers
2k views

What does “better angel” mean in Abraham Lincoln’s first inaugural address?

I'm reading the book Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln. It mentioned that Lincoln replaced the phase "guardian angel" to "better angel". I don't understand what the phrase means. ...
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1answer
346 views

What does this “Change” mean in Charles Dickens’ ‘A Christmas Carol’?

The word Change doesn't seem to make much sense in this quote from A Christmas Carol. To emphasis the sentence, I kept it in bold-type. MARLEY was dead, to begin with. There is no doubt whatever ...
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1answer
44 views

Is 'sluttish time' a metaphor?

The phrase 'sluttish time' is used by Shakespeare in one of his sonnets. Can it be termed as a transferred epithet as the word 'sluttish' here seems to be an epithet(adjective) or is it essentially a ...
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1answer
51 views

Is there a more proper way to denote the question-and-answer literature, as title of academic work? [closed]

In a context of an academic publication addressing readers favoring British English, what would be the better way to denote the "Questions and Answers" genre? I am looking for a more specialised way ...
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4answers
889 views

What does “ 'Nation ” stand for in this context?

I was reading the novel A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens. In Chapter 2, there are sentences like: “I hope there ain’t, but can’t make so ’Nation sure of that,” said the guard, in gruff ...
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3answers
413 views

Collective noun for lightning(s) / thunderbolts

What is the collective noun for lightning(s) / thunderbolts? A ________ of thunderbolts/lightning(s) Can we use the plural form of lightning with a collective noun? Or should it stay in ...
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3answers
296 views

Semantic shift in “around”

I'm interested in the use of "around" as a synomym for "about, concerning, related to", which doesn't seem to be recorded in current dictionaries. I'd call it an academic/pseudo-academic usage and ...
3
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1answer
254 views

Meaning of “bile” from Great Expectations

In the book Great Expectations by Charles Dickens, the character Joe tells Pip, “Somebody must keep the pot a biling, Pip, or the pot won’t bile, don't you know?” What does the word bile mean in ...
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1answer
58 views

Use of “nay” - still current?

I get the sense that the interjection nay is seen as outdated and used only for humorous effect. Is this assumption true, or is it still acceptable in serious writing?
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1answer
1k views

Is “oftener” obsolete?

Does any native speaker of the English Language ever use oftener instead of more often?
4
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2answers
168 views

Is the word, “kinda-sorta” accepted as a normal word to be used in writing?

I was drawn to the word, “kinda, sorta” which appeared in the article of Time magazine (April 27) under the headline, “The Clippers Should Have Boycotted Game After Owner’s Racist Remarks”: The ...
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2answers
73 views

Can “lackadaisical” be used in literature?

Has lackadaisical ever been used in literary works? My Oxford Dictionary of Quotations has no quotation that includes this word. Who first used lackadaisical in the 1760s as the OED claims?
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3answers
578 views

Why are foreign words used in modern vernacular?

Why are seemingly foreign words such as hors d’œuvres, maître d’, garçon, and Gesundheit used in American vernacular?
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3answers
221 views

Is there any archaic word for “finally”?

So I was wondering whether there is any archaic word that means "finally" or "at last"?
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2answers
163 views

Word that describes a dramatic device that disrupts equilibrium

I am seeking a word, should it indeed exist, that describes a dramatic or literary device found when a new character is introduced into a story which disrupts the natural equilibrium, driving the ...
2
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2answers
93 views

Does the phase “what's an honest man to do?” have a specific literary origin, or is it simply a common-usage rhetorical question?

I have seen the phrase used in this form or as a template for other rhetorical questions - e.g., "what's an honest economist to do?"; "what's an honest business owner to do?";"what's an honest ...
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8answers
605 views

Searching for a rare word for “something taken as truth due to having been repeated so much”

I'm searching for a certain single, rare, literary word meaning "something taken as truth due to having been repeated so much". This "something" could be either true or false. It is not necessarily ...
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3answers
4k views

Why is quixotic pronounced as it is?

Since "quixotic" was coined with Don Quixote as its basis, why is it pronounced "kwicks-OTT-ick" when it should by rights/origin be pronounced "Key-HO-tick"? It even sounds more onomatopoeiatic the ...
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6answers
7k views

Words that describe food and eating [closed]

I'm writing a piece that relates to food and eating and am looking for adjectives that describe both. I just picked up the word prandial and that piqued my interest. Are there any similar words out ...
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2answers
1k views

What does “a woman of mean understanding” mean?

In the end of the first chapter of Jane Austin's Pride and Prejudice, Mrs. Bennet is described as a "woman of mean understanding". On the Web, I found two meanings: of little knowledge bad temper ...
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3answers
88 views

What does 'had been took with fits and held down in 'em' mean?

The following appears in The Haunted House by Charles Dickens. What is the meaning of the bolded phrase? This very concise summary of the facts was all I could learn, except that a young man, as ...
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2answers
147 views

What does 'sanding a doorstep' mean?

What does "sanding a doorstep" mean? Does it mean polishing the doorstep? Or filling it in with sand? I read this expression in Charles Dickens' book, The Haunted House where it says, I found ...
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1answer
482 views

Capitalization of certain terms in English Literature

In English literature, improper capitalization of some phrases is common. A friend of mine calls them 'Milnesian Capitals'. These tend to be used in late 19th early 20th century British writings. ...
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3answers
858 views

How to use “learn you” [closed]

While I was reading "The Adventures of Tom sawyer",I came across this phrase. Huck said ,"I will learn you." Is it right to say like that?Or we should say "I will learn from you"?
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1answer
779 views

Use of “many good wishes 'to carry with you'”

In "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz" there is two times this phrase: "many good wishes to carry with you": And the Winkies gave them three cheers and many good wishes to carry with them. But he at once ...
2
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1answer
143 views

Does “the cornet of horse” mean a knight/rider? [closed]

The original sentence: The first that stood up, to open the ball, were a cornet of horse, and that sweetest of olive-beauties, the soft and amorous Louisa. ...
2
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3answers
226 views

What word describes the shape of a whirlwind when seen from above?

What word describes the shape of a whirlwind when seen from above? Swirl Whorl Radial The shape they make when seen from above resembles a radial pattern or even a whorl.
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2answers
202 views

Is the phrase “breed of men” weird or just different?

Forgive me for asking two questions in a single post, but I think it would make more sense to post them together. So please indulge me. Sentence: He is not unique. We should be able to discover such ...
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2answers
461 views

Usage of 'on the brink of'

(Talking about a chimp): "In human age, he would have been on the brink of puberty." I was told that this sentence is odd because 'be on the brink of' is usually used for something negative: ...