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This is from a novel by Upton Sinclair, King Coal, 1917:

He was given the use of the building, by way of start over the saloons, which had to pay a heavy rental to the company.

He spoke about a clergyman employed by a mining company, I don't understand what he has to do with the saloons, to get the use of the building.

Can someone help ?

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  • It means the clergyman was given use of the building, rent-free, in order to give him an advantage over the saloons, who had to pay high rent for their use of the property. Whoever granted him the space wanted the church (representing morality and godliness) to prevail over the saloons (representing immorality and iniquity) in the hearts of the people of the town.
    – Dan Bron
    Jan 14, 2015 at 12:55
  • (That is, at best, very obscure language.)
    – Hot Licks
    Jan 14, 2015 at 12:58
  • @HotLicks, I imagine it's more archaic/obsolete than deliberately obscure. I suppose if "start" we're simply replaced by "headstart", the meaning would be immediately accessible and plain to modern readers.
    – Dan Bron
    Jan 14, 2015 at 12:59
  • @HotLicks it would have been less obscure at the time. "Head start" came into this sense about 50 years before this was written and has since become more commonly used in such a case, but even now "we got a start on them" and similar would be common enough in some people's use.
    – Jon Hanna
    Jan 14, 2015 at 13:01
  • It's not just the use of "start", but "by way of" (used in a backwards sense from the modern understanding), and the lack of an article. I've only read a little Sinclair, but my recollection is that he was fond of obscure language.
    – Hot Licks
    Jan 14, 2015 at 13:04

1 Answer 1

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Start in this sense means an initial advantage. I have an advantage over you at doing something quicker if I start earlier or start further along in the task, and this can apply figuratively to anything that gives someone an initial advantage. (Compare "head start").

The saloons would have been a competitor for the attentions of the clergyman's potential flock. They would likely have been a competitor in other ways depending on how liberal the clergyman was or was not when it came to the topic of alcohol, and on how many things happened in them that even a clergyman who tolerated liquor would object to.

By way of means (among other senses), "for the purpose of". Which is to say this rent-free arrangement was offered with the intention of providing this advantage.

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