Questions citing excerpts from works of literature.

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95
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124answers
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What words are commonly mispronounced by literate people who read them before they heard them?

Quite a few words are mispronounced by under-educated people, or people learning English as a second language. Some words are often mispronounced by quite educated people who read, and began reading ...
29
votes
6answers
5k views

What great writers have used coordinating conjunctions at the start of sentences?

I had a discussion today with a friend over the validity of using (coordinating, correlative) conjunctions like but or and at the start of sentences. His position was that it breaks a rule of grammar....
22
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6answers
4k views

What do we call 'Shakespearean trash-talk'?

A classic example: In the opening scene of Richard II, Henry Bolingbroke and Mowbray seeks the adjudication of the king. They hurl accusations of treachery and cowardliness at each other. They ...
21
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2answers
3k views

The “F-word” in N-gram Viewer

I was simply fiddling with Ngram viewer when my apparently naughty mind made me type the (real) "F-word" onto the text field, (the time was also chosen randomly, (1750-to-1993)), the results baffled ...
17
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3answers
10k views

What is the meaning of “A.C. or D.C.?”

In Heinlein's A stranger in a strange land, there is a moment when nurse Jill kisses Martian man named Mike and another man, Jubal, puts a comment on it. It comes as follows: “Son,” he said, “you ...
16
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5answers
1k views

Tolkien and archaic English

I once read that JRR Tolkien, a linguist by profession and of The Lord of the Rings fame, wrote his masterpiece using elements of archaic English to emulate the Bible. Following a question on writers....
16
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6answers
3k views

What are the rules in composing a Haiku? (aside from the syllable count)

Aside from the syllable count what else do I need consider when writing a Haiku? I'm referring to the English imitation of a Haiku. I have been told that the first two lines should be descriptions ...
14
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2answers
515 views

Meaning of “cry creek” and “cock of the game”

I'm reading an excerpt from John Lyly (1554–1606), and there are some phrases that I can't find anything about on the net or elsewhere. Here is the context: Though Cutio be as hot as a toast, yet ...
12
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3answers
1k views

“Open sesame”: how widely understood is it, and how else to put it?

“Open sesame” is a passphrase opening the treasure cave in the tale of Ali Baba and the Fourty Thieves. In French at least, it is a widely used phrase to say jokingly when using keys or any other mean ...
11
votes
5answers
947 views

What does Maugham mean by “his spaghetti were”? [duplicate]

Possible Duplicate: Was the usage "Spaghetti were" ever acceptable or common? [Following up from, but not a duplicate of, this question by another user, which was unresolved…] ...
11
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2answers
22k views

What is the etymology of “…kick ass and take names”?

Inspired by What is this idiom?, but that question doesn't actually ask for where the expression originated. I Googled around, but couldn't find any reliable source. Surely the expression originates ...
9
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2answers
882 views

Meaning of “dust” when referring to a person

I stumbled upon the following passage while reading Lord Dunsany (The Sphinx at Gizeh). Delilah was younger than she, and Delilah is dust. Time hath loved nothing but this worthless painted face....
9
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3answers
1k views

“just because… doesn't mean…”

It appears to me that the construction "just because… doesn't mean…" isn't used in literature at all. Is its use limited to colloquial speech and informal writing? Note that while some people seem to ...
8
votes
4answers
2k views

What does the initial fragment of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy mean?

I begun reading Douglas Adams' The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. This is one of the initial fragments, emphasis mine: This planet has - or rather had - a problem, which was this: most of ...
8
votes
3answers
1k views

Meaning of “Where will wants not, a way opens”

I have been reading "The Lord of the Rings" and came across this phrase in the "The Return of the King". “Where will wants not, a way opens, so we say,” he whispered. “and so I have found myself.” ...
8
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5answers
2k views

What do you call the word used in prose to describe the surroundings to make prose richer?

There is a word in English which is used to describe the technique used by authors where they describe the surroundings (like sight, sounds, smells, etc.) to make the scene more rich. Like "there was ...
7
votes
8answers
3k views

“Directly” in the meaning of “As soon as”

I've just read my first James Bond novel, Casino Royale. In it, I have found several instances of the word "directly" being used in a way I am not familiar with. It appears to have the meaning "when" ...
7
votes
2answers
101 views

Who is “Martha” alluded to in “Eight Cousins”?

Early in Louisa May Alcott's novel Eight Cousins, a character is described thus: Aunt Plenty was utterly dissimilar, being a stout, brisk old lady, with a sharp eye, a lively tongue, and a face ...
7
votes
1answer
94 views

For whom the bell tolls - origin of “ask not” instead of “never send to know”

"Ask not for whom the bell tolls" is a popular cliche. My understanding is that it comes from John Donne's Meditation XVII (1623). But in Donne's poem, the line is any man's death diminishes me, ...
6
votes
3answers
6k views

What does “in the sere and yellow” mean?

I am currently reading "A Study in Scarlet" by Arthur Conan Doyle. On page 33 is a sentence I don't understand: Well, if a man can stride four and a-half feet without the smallest effort, he can't ...
6
votes
1answer
161 views

Meaning of “holidays of hay”

What does this phrase, from Pynchon's novel Gravity's Rainbow, mean? Schnorp, his hair blown like holidays of hay… There are no references to "holidays" or "hay" in the preceding several pages.
6
votes
1answer
246 views

Meaning of “Let us hit with him, and not miss with him”

I'm reading one of Sir Philip Sidney's prose essays, "An Apology for Poetry" and I bumped into the following phrase which I never heard of. Can anyone please help me with it? Yet will some bring ...
6
votes
2answers
601 views

Meaning of “Y-o-u-u Tom!”

In the opening chapter of Twain's The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Tom's aunt Polly calls out to him in a rather peculiar fashion: She went to the open door and stood in it, and looked out among the ...
5
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4answers
2k views

What does 'rare device' refer to?

What does rare device refer to in the line 'It was a miracle of rare device' of Samuel Taylor Coleridge's poem, Kubla Khan?
5
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1answer
440 views

Could “old fashioned” mean “angry” or “disconsolate” in early 19th Century England?

Patrick O'Brian wrote the Aubrey/Maturin seafaring novels during the late 20th Century, but the novels read as if they were written during the early 1800s (at least as far as I can tell, which isn't ...
5
votes
4answers
584 views

What is a “blue card” in this context?

I'm reading Salinger's "Ocean Full Of Bowling Balls" and came across the "blue card". I wonder what that means in that context. I found that "blue card" is currently used for immigrant agricultural ...
5
votes
1answer
439 views

What does “uninterpenetratingly” mean?

I was looking up the longest words in certain works of fiction when I discovered this monstrosity: uninterpenetratingly. It is used in Chapter 108 of Moby Dick as follows: How dost thou know that ...
5
votes
2answers
1k views

Is a “blue bird” the same as a “bluebird”?

Is “blue bird” in the following quotation from Lady Chatterley’s Lover referring to an actual bluebird? The lush, dark green of hyacinths was a sea, with buds rising like pale corn, while in the ...
5
votes
2answers
554 views

What does the phrase “a fine one” mean in this context?

In one one Daniil Kharms' short stories, Tikakeyev “insults” Koratygin by saying: A fine one you are! This causes a fight between the two. When I first read this, I didn't see the “insult”, ...
5
votes
1answer
1k views

Literature: 'Why' at the beginning of sentences [duplicate]

I’m currently reading George Martin’s A Song Of Ice And Fire novels in English. As a non-native speaker (I’m German), I stumbled upon some grammatical constructs that I’ve never seen before, one of ...
5
votes
2answers
275 views

What does “cup and Chaucer” mean?

I've recently come across a phrase unknown to me: "cup and Chaucer". What does it mean? Obviously it is connected with the popularity and influence of Geoffrey Chaucer as the Father of English ...
4
votes
3answers
310 views

Where can I find a modern English version of King James’s “Counterblaste to Tobacco”?

I find A Counterblaste to Tobacco by James I very interesting. Many people are under the impression that anti-tobacco sentiment began in the last century, and this document pretty thoroughly refutes ...
4
votes
3answers
364 views

Can you explain the pun “erpigarms”

Here is an extract from a short story: When Pushkin broke his legs, he started to go about on wheels. His friends used to enjoy teasing Pushkin and grabbing him by his wheels. Pushkin took this ...
4
votes
2answers
465 views

An Epithet of the River Styx

I have a question that falls under literature, but I remember that Dante, Greek mythology, and Milton were required reading in my English courses in high school and university. It's about an epithet ...
4
votes
1answer
515 views

Meaning of “shot” cloth

"A truly beautiful shade! A cloth of smoked grey, shot with flame colour!" —Gogol, trans. by D. J. Hogarth 'Shot' is what is confusing me. In my mind I imagine it refers to a repeated pattern. My ...
4
votes
2answers
171 views

Can “But!” be a sentence?

From Dune by Frank Herbert: "I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and ...
4
votes
2answers
163 views

What is the meaning of “pole of time” here?

In the translation of a story by Daniil Kharms, I see the following sentence: Thirty-five poles of time elapsed and mine host brought Ivan Ivanovich his entrecote on a round wooden platter. Two ...
4
votes
1answer
3k views

What is the proper pronunciation for Kipling's character-name “Mowgli”?

Does the first syllable rhyme with “glow” or with “how”? It is no use appealing to the Hindi for “Little Frog” or anything else, since Kipling confessed to making ...
4
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2answers
503 views

Literary device: frequently referenced object which never appears

What do you call an object or a person which is frequently referenced but never actually appears? For example, Godot from ‘Waiting for Godot’?
4
votes
1answer
29 views

Grammar questions regarding an excerpt from The Giver

I've been reading Lois Lowry's The Giver recently, and have questions regarding a sentence from her book. I know that some sentences in literature, like The Giver, do not always follow strict grammar ...
3
votes
10answers
2k views

What is the correct term to describe literary works that are only partly fictional?

I'm trying to find the correct English word to describe a body of literature that is fiction in essence, but all background like places, circumstances, organizations, etc. is actually borrowed from ...
3
votes
4answers
7k views

What is the meaning of the phrase “a man of the world”?

The name of one of the Ernest Hemingway's short stories is "A man of the world". It seems to me that I understand the meaning of this phrase out from the context of the short story. But all the same ...
3
votes
3answers
579 views

Noun genders in Moby Dick

English nouns do not have grammatical gender. But in Moby Dick, some nouns do seem to have gender, like "ship" (feminine) and "whale" (masculine). Some passages: And now the time of tide has come; ...
3
votes
3answers
3k views

Meaning of a mixed metaphor from “The Gift of The Magi”?

This is from The Gift of The Magi by O Henry (William Sydney Porter). Oh, and the next two hours tripped by on rosy wings. Forget the hashed metaphor. (part 4, paragraph 5 in the reference ...
3
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2answers
96 views

Would the “Purple Fawn” in this context refer to a shop? [closed]

Wodger, of the "Purple Fawn," and Mr. Jaggers, the cobbler, who also sold old second-hand ordinary bicycles, were stretching a string of union-jacks and royal ensigns (which had originally celebrated ...
3
votes
2answers
237 views

Does hunx have an origin?

I was reading Anthony Trollope's The Way We Live Now. A character calls an old man, "an old hunx" during an argument. I was wondering if Trollope was writing in an accent or if hunx was an old slang ...
3
votes
3answers
444 views

What do you call an abrupt, abstract ending to a sentence?

While reading the poem Pike by Ted Hughes, I came across this line: The gills kneading quietly, and the pectorals. As you can see, the line ends quite abruptly. How would one term this literary ...
3
votes
1answer
88 views

What is a “Web tailer”?

Yet another question from Salinger's Ocean Full of Bowling Balls. Holden writes to his brother from a camp: Ask him if he ever read corinthans. Corinthans is in the bible and is very good and ...
3
votes
2answers
69 views

What special connotation does the word Inverness hold in Shakespeare's play Macbeth?

I initially looked up the meaning of this word and found out that it means literally the mouth of River Ness. However, in the play, this castle has been associated with evil and dark images and I was ...
3
votes
1answer
607 views

What is an “aglet-baby” exactly?

This is a line from the Taming of the Shrew by Shakespeare Grumio [to Hortensio]: Marry him to a puppet or an aglet-baby . . . Although 'aglet' is an extremely uncommon word, its meaning can ...