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The sun was shining very brightly, and yet there was an exhilarating nip in the air, which set an edge to a man's energy.

From the dictionary, there are two definitions which, in my opinion, are contradictory when applied to this sentence. I am not quite sure of the word edge here. Does it mean the side of a blade that cuts, which is a negative meaning; or does it mean an advantage over other people, which is a positive meaning. Does Conan say that the cold air damages man's energy, or actually that cold air makes a man inclined to move more which generates more heat in the body? Thank you.

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  • @TonyK: Spencer's aware; they're the one who removed the [american-english] tag (and added the [meaning-in-context] tag).
    – V2Blast
    Commented Dec 14, 2020 at 7:43
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    I feel it may possibly be related to "set on edge"
    – Henry
    Commented Dec 14, 2020 at 13:28
  • Which dictionary? This is one case where some are far more helpful than others. Commented Dec 14, 2020 at 15:01
  • I voted to close based on lack of research, although the close message says "opinion-based," which I don't think is appropriate. Commented Dec 14, 2020 at 15:58
  • I'm with @Azor Ahai -him (though 'lack of research shown' is the incontestable reason). Admittedly, the 'honed' sense was not in the first dictionary I looked in, but M-W excels with << edge:... FORCE, EFFECTIVENESS blunted the edge of the legislation (2): vigor or energy especially of body maintains his hard edge d(1): incisive or penetrating quality ... >>. Note that 'blunted the edge of ...' is the reversed extended metaphor, 'reduced the strength of'. Commented Dec 14, 2020 at 16:12

3 Answers 3

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The question is about edge but the term involved is to set an edge. "To set an edge" to anything is to make it finer and sharper. When not attributed to a physical cutting edge it means to heighten, to increase to a great extent. A good walk before a meal can set an edge to your appetite as it increases your hunger just before you are to satisfy it. There is a satisfaction to this as it makes the meal more enjoyable.

The edge of anything is neither good nor bad but a tool to be put to a task. That may be good or bad. Putting an edge to a man's energy means to make them well prepared for an activity. Sounds like the beginning of most Holmes stories.

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I interpret the "edge" used here to mean a heightened sense of awareness about oneself and immediate surroundings alongside feelings of adrenaline as when "the warriors battled furiously, their thoughts on nothing except one another's movement."

The bright sun and [sharp] air was stimulating to a focused place of mind on a task at hand, such as one might experience doing something dangerous like battling for ones life with an enemy.

Furthermore, that battling for life and death is the top quality of [edge],the quality referenced in the quote is diminished, similar to stealing a wallet but closer to going for a long run in the country.

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To add a referenced answer:

From Collins English Dictionary via The free dictionary, edge can be defined as:

  1. the sharp cutting side of a blade
  2. keenness, sharpness, or urgency: the walk gave an edge to his appetite.

In context, this means that the cold air gave the man's energy a sense of sharpness or urgency. He might move faster or more decisively because it's slightly cold (the "nip"), but not necessarily to generate more heat. His energy is focussed (like the edge of a blade).

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