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From Typee by Herman Melville (1846):

The loins of the warrior were girt about with heavy folds of a dark-coloured tappa, hanging before and behind in clusters of braided tassels, while anklets and bracelets of curling human hair completed his unique costume. In his right hand he grasped a beautifully carved paddle-spear, nearly fifteen feet in length, made of the bright koar-wood, one end sharply pointed, and the other flattened like an oar-blade. Hanging obliquely from his girdle by a loop of sinnate was a richly decorated pipe; the slender reed forming its stem was coloured with a red pigment, and round it, as well as the idol-bowl, fluttered little streamers of the thinnest tappa.

I can't find anything about this word. Maybe it's a typo? If so, what could be the intended word?

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    I can't find anything either. But I doubt if it wouldn't have been corrected had it been a typo ... there's been enough time. Commented Jul 6 at 18:05
  • Sinnate refers to a particular type of leaf growth, with indentations. Could it be a plant that was used to produce a sort of string or twine? google.com/books/edition/…
    – TimR
    Commented Jul 6 at 18:24
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    Full OED sinnate (variant of sinnet) A kind of flat braided cordage formed by pleating together several strands of rope-yarn, coarse hemp, grass, or other fibrous material. Commented Jul 6 at 18:56
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    @FumbleFingers that seems to be it! Can you add it as an answer? Commented Jul 6 at 19:39
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    Done. I just looked in OED because I had it open at the time. Didn't realize you might not easily find an unusual spelling of a relatively rare and "past its sell-by date" word from Google. I've retracted my unthinking / unjustified vote to close as "look it up in the dictionary". If you don't get your OED subscription through some intermediary (me, the local public library), it's a very high subscription paywall. Commented Jul 6 at 19:56

1 Answer 1

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Full (subscription-only) Oxford English Dictionary...

sinnate (variant of sinnet1)
A kind of flat braided cordage formed by pleating together several strands of rope-yarn, coarse hemp, grass, or other fibrous material.


1 The OED has no cited usages since the 1800s, and a couple of them are for cinnet, rather than sinnate or sinnet.

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    I'm quite sure that the Ashley Book of Knots (1944) (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Ashley_Book_of_Knots) covers the topic, under the name sinnet, extensively. Commented Jul 6 at 21:14
  • @HighPerformanceMark: I didn't know the term myself, but my interest in such things is limited (but not non-existent! :) - whatever, I just assumed it was "rare" if it was unknown to the reader of a book it was used in. Actually, this NGram chart shows sinnet was dying out in the early 1900s, but got a huge boost through the 30s, 40s, and 50s. The heyday of Baden Powell's Scouting? Commented Jul 6 at 21:28
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    en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sennit makes the relation to Melville's text fairly clear
    – djs
    Commented Jul 7 at 11:04
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    The increased usage in the twentieth century is largely due to anthopological publications about Polynesian societies (where sennit has very broad cultural significance). The wiktionary entry for sennit has now been updated to include sinnate as an alternative form.
    – ekhumoro
    Commented Jul 7 at 11:43
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    The Sinnet Knot is a type of decorative knot used to shorten ropes en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chain_sinnet Commented Jul 7 at 17:07

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