I'm reading Uncle Tom's Cabin now. It contains:

He fetched me a good sum, too, for I bought him cheap of a man that was 'bliged to sell out; so I realized six hundred on him.

I can't understand the parts

  1. "I bought him cheap of a man"
  2. "that was obliged to sell out"

Does it mean to say that I bought him cheaply? Then is there any grammar like [adjective(cheap)+ of + person(a man)]?

And for the second part "that was obliged to sell out" — does this mean he will be sold?


I've used curly brackets below to group together those elements which ought to be interpreted as individual units, with explanations where they might be helpful:

"He fetched me a good sum, too, for {I bought him cheap} {of [= from] a man} {that was 'bliged to sell out [= who was forced to sell everything (presumably because he needed the money)]}; {so I realized} [= so I made a profit of] six hundred on him."

  • Excellent answer. But do we know for sure he needed to sell due to money? Alternative factors might create such necessity. – Jim Reynolds Jan 16 '15 at 7:42
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    @JimReynolds - I did say 'presumably', which I think makes it plain that I was only speculating. – Erik Kowal Jan 16 '15 at 8:00
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    Well, oops! You did!! – Jim Reynolds Jan 16 '15 at 8:59
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    I would interpret "realized" as "made a profit of" rather than "received payment of"; that is, he sold him for $600 more than he bought him for. – Harry Johnston Jan 16 '15 at 22:22
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    My reasoning is that it says "so I realized", implying that the reason he realized so much is that he didn't pay much originally. The middle part of the sentence seems irrelevant if he's talking about gross revenue rather than profit. – Harry Johnston Jan 16 '15 at 22:31

It's speech depiction, so it's more colloquial.

I bought him cheap of a man

I bought him from a man cheaply (for less money)... (of, here, is simply a way to say from)

that was (o)'bliged to sell out...

The man who sold the slave was obliged (forced by circumstance) to to sell the slave, that is, if one buys in to something, one can also sell out from something, so to speak.

  • "of a man" maybe be short for "off of a man" – Sled Jan 16 '15 at 20:03
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    @ArtB - Unfortunately not. I checked the page scans of the more than half a dozen different editions of Uncle Tom's Cabin that Google Books knows about, and every one of them has 'of', not 'off of' (or even just 'off'). – Erik Kowal Jan 16 '15 at 20:37
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    Just because it is "short for" doesn't mean it was written that way in the text. – GEdgar Jan 16 '15 at 21:59
  • Thank you! So I can understand 'of' in this text as colloquial at that time it's written? – BangolPhoenix Jan 17 '15 at 1:50
  • @sungminLee - yes, I believe so. – anongoodnurse Jan 17 '15 at 6:45

You can say to buy something cheap or to buy something cheaply. The Longmam English Grammar by Alexander says in paragraph 7.14 adverbs with two forms. Well, that's a view one can accept.

I would say to buy something cheap is more appropriate because one does not describe the manner of buying but the price. So the underlying concept is to buy sth at a cheap price. My view is here we have an adjective in adverb position.

But this is a borderline case and I think both views are acceptable and that's why "cheaply" is also used, simply because it is difficult to decide what would be more appropriate, adjective or adverb.

  • I'd agree with the secondary predication / depictive adjective (Resultative and Depictive Constructions in English_Chang-Su Lee) rather than the flat adverb interpretation here. A complication is that in 'buy something cheap', the adjective can be post-modifying the noun (buy something not costing too much / inexpensive); the construction is ambiguous. 'He's finished perfect' in snooker commentary may sound jarring, but is probably more logical than using the adverb would be. I live in hope that adverb usage will become more sensible. – Edwin Ashworth Jan 16 '15 at 10:37
  • I don't think the speaker was apt to be a fan of Longman's. – Hot Licks Jan 16 '15 at 18:10
  • The formulation of the Longman grammar covers "I bought him cheap". Whether "cheap" is an adjective or an adverb is actually not so important, the sense is the same. – rogermue Jan 16 '15 at 18:16
  • Thank you for your answer! I was confused because the word "of" was followed by what I thought was difficult to interpret too and the usage of "of" was still new to me:) – BangolPhoenix Jan 17 '15 at 1:59

"I bought him cheap," I bought a slave cheap.
"of a man who was obliged to sell out." FROM a man who needed the money, and had to sell things, including slaves.
"I realized six hundred on him." I flipped the slave for $600 more than (the cheap) price I paid.


In the text I have it reads:

for I bought him cheap off a man that was 'bliged to sell out

Also, in the dialect of the southern United States, obliged is a synonym for grateful. (e.g., "Much obliged" is equivalent to thank you.)

So, a loose translation would be: "I bought him cheap off a man, who was grateful to sell him."

  • The first half is valuable: 'bought off a man' and bought of a man' are both possible. But though there are many dialects where obliged means thankful, I know none where sell out means sell (him). – Tim Lymington Jan 16 '15 at 16:28
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    I don't think it can mean that the man was grateful to sell him. To be obliged means to be required by circumstances to do something. When someone receives a favor and says "I am much oblidged" he is literally saying that he is now required to do a favor in return. – David42 Jan 16 '15 at 18:49
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    Actually a web search reveals that the original which Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote was actually bought him cheap of a man. So the first half is mistaken (relying on a "helpful" editor) and the second half is very doubtful, as pointed out in comments already. Sorry, but I'm downvoting this. – Andrew Leach Jan 16 '15 at 22:51
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    Thank you. Though the word "obliged" might not mean "grateful" your comment really helps me think of different meanings of words! – BangolPhoenix Jan 17 '15 at 1:57

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