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 this sentence?

1 Answer 1


That’s just eye-dialect for boil. The character Joe is speaking with a non-standard or rustic diction and accent, and Dickens is using funny spellings to show that.

In the broader passage surrounding that particular quotation I give below, I’ve set such deviations from Standard English in bold:

“Though mind you, Pip,” said Joe, with a judicial touch or two of the poker on the top bar, “rendering unto all their doo, and maintaining equal justice betwixt man and man, my father were that good in his hart, don’t you see?”

I didn’t see, but I didn’t say so.

“Well!” Joe pursued, “somebody must keep the pot a biling, Pip, or the pot won’t bile, don’t you know.”

I saw that, and said so.

“ ’Consequence, my father didn’t make objections to my going to work; so I went to work at my present calling, which were his too, if he would have followed it, and I worked tolerable hard, I assure you, Pip. In time I were able to keep him, and I kep him till he went off in a purple leptic fit. And it were my intentions to have had put upon his tombstone that Whatsume’er the failings on his part, Remember reader he were that good in his hart.”

  • 1
    If I'm not completely misinterpreting this, "purple leptic" an eggcorn for "epileptic" here. So shouldn't you put purple in bold as well? Jun 16, 2014 at 1:39
  • @PeterShor Yes, probably. I hadn’t originally because I can imagine someone dying in a “purple” epileptic fit.
    – tchrist
    Jun 16, 2014 at 16:31
  • 2
    @PeterShor: or possibly, "a purple leptic" is an eggcorn for "an apoplectic"
    – herisson
    Nov 1, 2017 at 20:40
  • @sumelic: Given when Great Expectations was written, that's probably more likely. Nov 2, 2017 at 0:44

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

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