Questions citing excerpts from works of literature.

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93
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123answers
31k views

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 ...
15
votes
6answers
2k 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
votes
2answers
375 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
votes
3answers
791 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
723 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…] ...
9
votes
2answers
397 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 ...
9
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2answers
7k 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 ...
8
votes
3answers
912 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
votes
5answers
1k 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
2answers
78 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
5answers
1k 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" ...
6
votes
4answers
511 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 ...
6
votes
2answers
2k 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
3answers
690 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 ...
6
votes
1answer
127 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
131 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
4answers
345 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 ...
6
votes
2answers
348 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
votes
4answers
804 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
votes
1answer
236 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
2answers
137 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
207 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”, ...
4
votes
3answers
247 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
269 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
273 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. ...
4
votes
2answers
129 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
128 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
0answers
142 views

How is she to describe how she likes him, when he doesn't know? [closed]

There's a friend of mine—let's call her Lily—and a guy—David. Lily told me that she feels very happy each time she meets, talks, plays games, dines (and so on) with David. I guess she's falling in ...
3
votes
4answers
2k 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
1answer
50 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
310 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’?
2
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3answers
333 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; ...
2
votes
3answers
445 views

Gender, generally associated with “toad” characters in English fiction and folklore

Common noun for a toad ("жаба") is of female gender in Russian. From all English literature that I read, I can remember only one toad-like character: Mr. Toad from The Wind in The Willows, and he is ...
2
votes
2answers
553 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 ...
2
votes
2answers
2k views

Charles Dickens' “for good and for evil” and “superlative degree of comparison”

Charles Dickens' "Tale of Two Cities" starts with the words: It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of ...
2
votes
1answer
353 views

Words at beginning of sentences with first letter displayed within brackets?

I've been reading The Deer Slayer, and I can't help but notice that some words at the beginning of sentences display their first letter within square brackets. Here are some examples: [W]hen five ...
2
votes
2answers
174 views

Meaning of “catch birds for”?

I am reading B. Traven's adventure The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, which is about three men who secretly go prospecting for gold. On their way home with their new-found loot they cover their tracks ...
2
votes
2answers
1k views

Quintology or Pentalogy?

Recently I was looking at the X-Men box set and saw that currently five have been released. I had it in my head that these would be called a quintology but I have seen them being called a pentalogy. ...
2
votes
1answer
72 views

What does “passion-tearing” mean?

What does "passion-tearing" mean in the following context? My parents were at the summer theater singing a first matinee performance of "You Can't Take It With You". In summer stock productions ...
2
votes
1answer
64 views

What does 'turn things over his fingers' mean?

Below is the first paragraph of Salinger's "The Ocean Full of Bowling Balls". I wonder what to turn things over his fingers means in this context? I imagine the little boy juggling things, but I don't ...
2
votes
1answer
317 views

How to use refer to previous literature/researches in research papers?

If I am talking about the topic Singapore English and I want to briefly survey the previous researches on the same topic, does the following sentences sound natural in English? In literature on ...
1
vote
3answers
696 views

Technical term for `avoiding responsibility` with decision-makers?

Suppose a parliament that tries to "outsource" their responsibility in various ways (they take the gains but not wanting to take the risks). Of course, the situation cannot last: risks and gains ...
1
vote
3answers
268 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"?
1
vote
3answers
785 views

What is between dystopian and utopian?

There are many speculative fiction pieces that are labeled "dystopian" and some "utopian". Is there a specific word for the reasoned middle ground? Please let me know if this is better suited to the ...
1
vote
3answers
130 views

Who really gave two figs?

The statement was in a poem whose name is " the White Troops Had Their Orders but the Negroes looked like Men". The context:... Who really gave two figs? Neither the earth nor heaven ever trembled... ...
1
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1answer
67 views

What does “disarm and waylay one's heart” mean?

In Salinger's "Paula" there is the following passage: "I so desperately want our baby born safely, darling. I’m afraid of falling. I’m afraid of a thousand things." Mrs. Hincher paused, suddenly ...
1
vote
1answer
141 views

Impugned and pugn'd

In Jingo, by Terry Pratchet, Lord Vetinari says: "... Sergeant Colon and Corporal Nobbs have never been pugn'd in their entire lives." What about "pugn'd"? Is it just a contraction for ...
1
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1answer
91 views

Is there a countable form for “literature”?

Literature is an uncountable noun, so we can't say one literature or two literatures. But is there a countable form, as there is for information? One piece of information, for instance.
1
vote
1answer
296 views

Can someone please explain the following passage from Milton's Paradise Lost?

I understand all the words, but not quite the meaning of the following passage, from Milton's Paradise Lost, Book I: 635 For me be witness all the host of heaven, 636 If counsels different, or ...
1
vote
1answer
322 views

Does the word “system” have any special meaning in literature?

I'm writing an English rendition of a Farsi passage. There's a word I'm hunting for which means methods of literary styles of writing. I came across with the word "system" in a "Farsi to English ...