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In the book I'm reading, Michael Connelly's Echo Park from 2006, the main character, Harry Bosch, an LAPD detective, is getting drunk on vodka and ice after he's learnt that he made a very costly mistake in an investigation 12 years before. He calls his former partner to let him know about it, hangs up and there follows this bit in the novel:

  • He got up off the floor and hung the phone on the wall. Before returning to the back deck he educated the ice in his glass once more with vodka. (p.89)

I've checked for meanings of educate that could account for its use here, but I couldn't find any. I wonder what it means.

Here are the other passages involving the vodka and ice before the one that baffled me:

  • He was drinking vodka sprinkled liberally over ice, the first time he'd gone with hard liquor since coming back on the job the year before. (p.85)
  • He shook the ice and vodka and took another deep drink until he finished the glass. How could anything so cold burn so intensely hot on the way down? He walked back inside the house to put more vodka on the ice. (p.85)
  • Bosch shook his glass and took a drink before answering. The ice tumbled against his mouth, and vodka spilled down his cheek. He wiped it with the sleeve of his jacket and then brought the phone back to his mouth. (p.86)
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    Maybe there is some more on "educate" prior this point. My guess to the meaning: he has drunk all the vodka, all that is left is ice, so he adds more vodka. – GEdgar Aug 31 at 21:41
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    Looks like a nonce. I am not familiar with the writer, but possibly they are looking for a noir feel. – Cascabel Aug 31 at 22:00
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    @Cascabel He had received bad news (of making a mistake in a past investigation), although the drink may well have helped. The passage is available in Google Books – Andrew Leach Aug 31 at 22:12
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    I agree this is rather a liberal and innovative use of educate, but I would interpret it rather as having its common meaning of providing education and culture – the bare ice is seen as wanting, uncultured, lacking the element of elegance that turns it into a cultured and worthy thing: the vodka. Along the same lines as “never trust a man who won’t drink whiskey” and similar axioms that implicitly create a direct link between drink (usually unmixed) and suave sophistication. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Aug 31 at 23:15
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    I checked the Russian translation of the book. It looks like the translator got similarly confused with this phrase and just wrote "he drank the remaining vodka" instead. So yeah, it's really idiosynchratic. – PavelAndré Sep 1 at 16:46
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I think it's a mistake to look for a way for that sentence to make sense. I would say instead that it's supposed not to make much sense.

Evidently the narration is in a very close third-person point of view, and it's describing the character's actions with the words he would use himself -- and in this case it seems clear that it's words he actually thinks.

The borderline-nonsensical choice of "educate" serves to characterize the character as an alcoholic who's trying to tell himself he's not. He's pouring vodka over the ice, but he's pretending that he's doing that to do the ice a favor (education is a good thing!), rather than drinking because he's addicted.

The bizarre phrasing also lets him feel clever about having invented such a colorful metaphor (and clever people are too smart to let themselves slide into alcoholism; he's clever; ergo he's not an alcoholic. Phew!)

The metaphor isn't really all that clever (for one thing, it doesn't make sense), but he's already drunk enough to be unable to see that.

  • I like it! Also, I noticed that he had already added vodka three times in previous pages, so by now the author was probably feeling some pressure to come up with a new formulation. – aparente001 Sep 2 at 0:57
  • The metaphor makes sense in the other direction, e.g. "throwing someone in at the deep end". Except that he's reverse engineering the metaphor, using education to refer to submersion instead of the other way around. I don't think it's as bad as this answer suggests, but I do think you're mostly right about the character (or the author - my money's on the author tbh) trying to be semantically inventive. – Flater Sep 2 at 14:24
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As Jason said in a comment, "educated" is being used metaphorically. Here's what the sentence means:

Before returning to the back deck he improved the ice in his glass once more with vodka.

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The meaning is certainly that he added more vodka to the remaining ice in the glass.

The use of the word educate is interesting. The only vaguely-related definition I could find is listed as obsolete in OED. The entry was updated in 2012 and the last citation for this usage is from 1806.

†b. To bring up, look after, or rear (a child or animal) with respect to food and other physical needs. Obsolete.

The usage is transferred to the inanimate ice, which presumably is thought of as having a physical need for vodka similar to his own.

  • could this possibly relate to the same duc-t (induct, produce, aquaeduct, ...). I sense a bit of a word play around the intelectual aspect of drinking, or the lack thereof. – vectory Aug 31 at 22:05
  • Well, the -duc- certainly comes from the Latin "to lead", but education in the sense of meeting physical needs (to lead to adulthood) rather than instilling knowledge (leading out of ignorance) is long dead. – Andrew Leach Aug 31 at 22:09
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    Unsurprisingly, the obsolete usage still has currency in Spanish. – Cascabel Aug 31 at 22:18
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    It's certainly being used metaphorically, and I don't think it has the same esoteric meaning you're straining to assign to it. I've kept a picture on my phone I found somewhere of a liquor store somewhere in the States with a sign that read the liver must be punished, indicating that it had been bad and needed to have liquor applied to it. The use here is very similar, but it's using educated rather than punished. With educated, the ice cubes are, metaphorically, gaining maturity and wisdom. – Jason Bassford Supports Monica Sep 1 at 0:21
  • @JasonBassford I came to comment almost exactly the same thing. With the other passage, "how could anything so cold burn so intensely hot on the way down," it's clear that the character thinks that the vodka is painful. This sense of educate comes across as a "fancy" way of saying "teach [X] a lesson" (as a euphemism for a corporal punishment). – Joshua Taylor Sep 2 at 20:16

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