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Quote:

The fund was, of course, for the propagation and spread of the red-heads as well as for their maintenance. It is exceedingly unfortunate that you should be a bachelor.

My questions on this paragragh:

  1. According to the dictionary and the context, "the propogation" i guess means "the rapid growth in large numbers", but wouldn't that has the same meaning as "spread" do?

  2. The noun word "maintenance" = "a means of support; livelihood", right?

  3. According the the context, the applicant was a widower (his wife had died.) I am puzzled by the last sentence. Why did the interviewer said "It is exceedingly unfortunate that you should be a bachelor." Does "should be" imply a tone of sympathy?

Thanks.

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    This is really a question about writing style. Suffice to say that the Victorian style was more circumloquacious than that of today. The notice advertising the fund was consistent with the pomposity and grandiloquence of such a communication in that period.
    – Robusto
    Dec 12, 2021 at 4:18

2 Answers 2

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  1. A narrower definition of propagation is the one that you supplied, i.e. the sense of growth only in number or count. 'Spread' specifies the additional meaning of being distributed more widely across some physical space or geographical area. In some cases this would be redundant and the 'spread' meaning is already implied by 'propagate', but in this context of red-headed people you could have a family of impoverished people having many children but all living within the same house, who would be propagating but not necessarily spreading. By specifying 'spread' it conveys the intent for those individuals not only to increase in number, but to prosper or succeed or somehow have greater influence throughout society.

  2. Yes. For an example of the word being used in this context Singapore has a "Maintenance of Parents Act", a law related to families making sure that their elderly relatives have sufficient care in terms of meals / shelter etc, not that the parents need to have regular repairs/servicing like a piece of machinery (the more typical use of the word "maintenance").

  3. This usage of "should" is equivalent to "It is exceedingly unfortunate that you happen to be a bachelor" or "It is exceedingly unfortunate that you are a bachelor". The creator of the fund supposedly wants the red-headed 'gene' to flourish ('propagate') which obviously won't happen if the man is single and not having children. This other question is more focused on this usage of "should" https://ell.stackexchange.com/questions/90189/is-there-a-difference-in-meaning-among-should-happens-to-or-should-happen

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  • Why did the interviewer say "It is exceedingly unfortunate that you should be a bachelor." Does "should be" imply a tone of sympathy?*

It's not sympathy, but it is politeness: a way to soften the statement, instead of just saying "It is exceedingly unfortunate that you are a bachelor." In AmE we would be more likely to use would instead of should for this purpose: "I would like the vanilla, please," rather than "I want the vanilla."

Definitions of should:

  1. Used to moderate the directness or bluntness of a statement: I should think he would like to go.

https://www.ahdictionary.com/word/search.html?q=should

  1. Used in auxiliary function to express a request in a polite manner or to soften direct statement: I should suggest that a guide … is the first essential— L. D. Reddick

https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/should

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