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I’d like to ask about the following sentence from The Missing Three Quarter by Conan Doyle.

and the old boy is nearly eighty—cram full of gout, too. They say he could chalk his billiard-cue with his knuckles.

This “old boy” is Lord Mount-James in the episode. I don’t quite understand the latter part “he could chalk his billiard-cue with his knuckles” This “could” is hedged by the equivalent of 'allegedly': it doesn’t really matter if Lord Mount-James actually is able to do the thing they say he could. But what are they saying? My guess is either...

A: Some fingers of Lord Mount-James are so twisted the other way (almost like an upside-down arch shape) by the gout that he could place his billiard cue on his knuckles, and the cue can even stick there.

B: Because of his age and gout, Lord Mount-James’ hands have got so powdery that his knuckles could even act as chalk (a slip resistance) when he plays billiards.

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Gout is a medical condition, which, in its chronic stage, can give crystalline deposits of a chemical called uric acid in various joints of the body. These deposits are called tophi (which is why this form of the condition is called "tophaceous gout"). They often have the appearance of small fragments of chalk just underneath the skin of the joints.

Here is an image showing these deposits:

Gouty tophi

The chalky appearance is actually clearer in the image of the toes.

Now note that chalk (actual chalk, which is the mineral calcite, or calcium carbonate) is often rubbed across the end of a billiard cue to enhance friction to increase accuracy of the shot. The passage is fancifully comparing the chalky appearance of the poor old chap's gouty knuckle joints to the actual chalk used in the game of billiards and imagining that he could use his knuckles to directly "chalk" the cue stick (clearly this can't literally be true).

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  • Thank you. A fine answer (but belongs on Medical Sciences SE!) (or Horror SE) Nov 23, 2019 at 12:30
  • @EdwinAshworth Thank you. I would've avoided the gory details, but I felt they were necessary for a complete answer.
    – Deepak
    Nov 23, 2019 at 13:23
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The second guess is almost right. Gout makes your joints crumbly, so they could be used as a chalk for the billiard-cue, not his actual knuckles.

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