In Treasure Island there is a description of Black Dog.

He was a pale, tallowy creature, wanting two fingers of the left hand, and though he wore a cutlass, he did not look much like a fighter.

What does the phrase wanting two fingers of the left hand mean?

Why did the Author not use "missing" or "without"?

  • 2
    Why? It sounds old-fashioned to me, a bit figurative, as though the hand really wanted two more fingers because it was ashamed next to the more filled out right hand. There's the proverb 'for want of a nail...' meaning a nail was lost. It's just how they said missing back then? – Mitch Apr 7 '17 at 13:22
  • Back then being 1881... – mplungjan Apr 7 '17 at 13:40

The word want is derived from the Old Norse vanta, which means "to lack."

The usage in your quote is a bit old yet quite familiar to readers of classic literature.

Should you consult a dictionary, you'll discover that the old meaning is still intact:


  1. to be without or be deficient in: to want judgment; to want knowledge.


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