6

Consider:

‘Why what else are you?’ returned John, looking down upon her with a smile, and giving her waist as light a squeeze as his huge hand and arm could give. ‘A dot and’—here he glanced at the baby—‘a dot and carry—I won’t say it, for fear I should spoil it; but I was very near a joke. I don’t know as ever I was nearer.’

What does 'a dot and carry' mean in this context?

  • 1
    Welcome to ELU, saehee. I may be way out here, but the 'carry—' may show an ellipsis as well as a dash, so 'a dot and carry-cot'. Not very near a joke, but 'a dot and dash' seems even further away, and I can't think of many other possible continuations or collocations. – Edwin Ashworth May 25 at 13:36
  • 2
    Possible duplicate of British English phrase "dot and carry one" – Mari-Lou A May 26 at 6:32
15

"Dot and carry" is a fixed phrase common in British English in the 19th century, when Charles Dickens wrote "The Cricket on the Hearth". The phrase (also "dot and carry one") was a school name for a method used in some processes of elementary arithmetic (subtraction, division, and addition). When adding columns of tens, units, hundreds, etc, if the answer came to more than 10, one might write down the second digit and write a dot or dots to signify the figure to be 'carried' to the next column (one dot for 1, two dots for 2, etc). Dot is also a woman's name, a shortening of Dorothy. John is making a joke, as he says, based on his wife's name.

  • 2
    As shown in this discussion "Dot and carry one" was, up until the 1950s at least, a common way of describing the gait of someone with a limp. The term survived longer than the arithmetic teaching method and is, I suspect, the phrase being parodied in the exerpt. – BoldBen May 26 at 0:16
  • @BoldBen You should check your link then post this as an answer. – David Robinson May 26 at 0:33
  • 3
    If you can post some supporting evidence that would be of enormous help. – Mari-Lou A May 26 at 6:35
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    I am fairly sure that the 'limping gait' usage derives from the arithmetic one. One good step, followed by a 'carry' (a dragging step). I also think, although this is, of course opinion, that the 'dot and carry' joke is to do with Dot carrying the baby – Michael Harvey May 26 at 13:45
  • 1
    Well, a baby is surely an "addition" to a family. – Michael Harvey May 27 at 13:46
-1

Following David Robinson's suggestion I'm converting the following comment into an answer.

As shown in this discussion "Dot and carry one" was, up until the 1950s at least, a common way of describing the gait of someone with a limp. The term survived longer than the arithmetic teaching method and is, I suspect, the phrase being parodied in the exerpt.

  • ""Dot and carry one" was, up until the 1950s at least, a common way of describing the gait of someone with a limp. The term survived longer than the arithmetic teaching method". The story was written in 1845. – Michael Harvey May 27 at 14:04

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