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Towards night, I fixed upon a proper place, under a rock, and marked out a semicircle for my encampment ; which I resolved to strengthen with a work, wall, or fortification, made of double piles, lined within with cables, and without with turf.

The Life and Surprising Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, of York, Mariner By Daniel Defoe

First published on 25 April 1719, the book is considered to be a classic and a forerunner of the modern English novel, which explains why snippets or entire passages are cited in English grammar/language books for Italian high school students and why I end up translating this into Italian for private students. But I'm stumped here.

There are a number of things which I find puzzling; the first being the singular noun a work, it is tempting to say that it must refer to a job, or a task but how does one strengthen a task?

Oxford Dictionaries provides a solution in its sixth definition

6  usually (works) Military
[count noun] A defensive structure.

Therefore, when Crusoe talked about a work he must have been referring to a type of small fort. Is that correct?

My next perplexity is the phrase “lined within with cables”. Does it mean the walls were lined inside with cables?

Finally, that strange expression “without with turf”. This seems to be an oxymoron, the walls of Robinson Crusoe's shelter were wadded with cables and without turf? Or were the walls covered with clumps of turf?

What did/does "without with" mean?

  • Not a Beatles fan, I take it? ;-) – Janus Bahs Jacquet Jan 31 at 19:05
  • @JanusBahsJacquet The song isn't titled "Within you and without with you" tho' is it? – Mari-Lou A Jan 31 at 19:08
  • No, but it does use without as the opposite of within to mean ‘outside’. In the Crusoe example, without with is just two words who happen to be next to each other; change without to on the outside and you’d never notice anything unusual about the sentence. It’s only odd because a different (but much more common) meaning of without clashes with with. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Jan 31 at 19:15
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Without is an adverb or preposition meaning "outside" as Merriam-Webster shows. It is less common in modern English, but its historical popularity is shown by this dictionary giving this meaning before the modern one, in both the adverb and preposition sections.

It means what you would expect, once you treat it as the opposite of within.

In this context, therefore, it means that there was turf on the outside of the shelter, and the sentence would not have seemed odd at the time.

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This is a parallel construction employing adverbial uses of within and without:

lined within with cables, and [lined] without with turf.

In other words, he had cables running along the inside of the fence and turf running along the outside of it.

You have correctly surmised work as referring to a bulwark or fortification; in the plural, works can refer to any engineered structure.

  • 1
    The Victorian hymn "There is a green hill far away" confused several generations of children, including me with its line "There is a green hill far away without a city wall". Lots of us couldn't see why a green hill would want a city wall anyway! This shows that the use of "without" meaning "outside" (or if you're Scottish "outwith") had disappeared completely from normal use by the mid 20th century around a hundred years after the hymn had been written. – BoldBen Jan 31 at 19:05
  • @BoldBen I wouldn't say it has disappeared— it's still the first meaning AHD gives, for example— but it's literary, and rarely used without within because the prepositional use crowds out all others. It is likewise for the noun use, from within and from without. AHD also cites a dialectical use meaning unless, as when Huckleberry Finn says You don't know about me without you have read a book by the name of 'The Adventures of Tom Sawyer'. – choster Jan 31 at 19:13
  • I would agree that it hasn't disappeared entirely when used with "within" although I believe "inside and outside" to be much more common in normal conversation than "within and without". However I don't believe I've ever seen or heard "without" used to mean "outside" except in old (or period) literature or song (as in the hymn mentioned above) – BoldBen Feb 2 at 4:42
  • @choster The fact that it’s the first meaning given in a dictionary doesn’t mean much. Many dictionaries give the earliest attested meanings first, and ‘outside’ is the original meaning of without. – Janus Bahs Jacquet May 30 at 7:00

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