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I'm working on a translation of Resurrection in Bronze, by Oliver Onions (1935), and I can't seem to find anywhere the meaning of the expression "finger-tipping" as an adjective. The context: a wife is trying to make her husband jealous because she herself is jealous of his work, which is making them drift apart from each other. She tells him she's going to meet some friends and that they're going to bring a young nephew who used to be "a little in love" with her. The exact sentence that puzzles me is

"But no finger-tipping, after-tea-calling, young man had made the breach >between them."

I understand the general meaning of the sentence, but to translate it I need something more precise. My guess is thath it may be one of those crazy 1930's idioms (I had the same suspicion about "after-tea-calling", but since the guy in question is going to call on the wife that evening, I'm prone to believe it's just literal.)

The only thing I could find, which did not help at all, was a Wikitionary page: https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/fingertipping (No Way! And guess what? The meaning of the verb to fingertip, which seems to exist on wikitionary only and is supported by a way too recent quote from 2011, shed no light on what exactly Mr. Onions meant by calling a young man "finger-tipping".)

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    It's not a "standard" English usage, but in context it probably means discrete physical contact (lightly brushing one's finger-tips on another's body or clothing), with overtones of suppressed sexuality/flirting. Probably the more modern equivalent would be playing footsie, but that's far more "up-front" (to the participants, at least). – FumbleFingers Nov 13 '15 at 18:46
  • This is an interesting possibility, perhaps the meaning is a mix between being sexually allusive and discarding the possible rival as effeminate/dandy. – Elena Nov 13 '15 at 19:16
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    I don't know Oliver Onions, and just one sentence isn't much to go on, but it looks like a pretty loose/creative" style to me (quite possibly no other Anglophone has ever used adjectival "after-tea-calling" like that, and "made the breach between them" is certainly florid, if not downright weird in this context). Maybe he intends an allusion to foppishness, but the style doesn't really look that sophisticated to me, and I can't see why the young man should be thus labelled. I expect it just implies "relatively conventional/polite". – FumbleFingers Nov 13 '15 at 22:51
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Unfortunately, the word is used in a number of ways in the era in question. As a noun, it refers to decorative detail work (1). As a verb, it might be slang for drinking (2), clapping silently with the fingertips (3, 4), or weakly shaking hands (5).

The "drinking" usage is tenuous: the phrase to tip the little finger was apparently Australian slang for to drink, while the usage here is by a British author and the word "little" is not mentioned.

The decorative detail work option is a possibility, especially if the man is elsewhere said to have an interest in decorating ornaments.

Of the remaining two verb options, the first would not be a literal usage unless the man is a poet or music teacher. The second, however, indicates weakness and effeminacy.

These last three usages all have similar connotations that might be captured by ideas like "effeminacy" and "not wanting to get his hands dirty." Based on this, I'd interpret the passage to be communicating that the man is a dandy, one who is seen as relatively effeminate and weak.

  • The interpretation of the young man being a dandy is most interesting, as the protagonist has just been scolded by his wife for not shaving. Plus he is a sculptor, and a few lines above is said to be " back to thumbing his clay", which may sound opposed to the "finger-tipping young man" in question. – Elena Nov 13 '15 at 19:09

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