Questions tagged [literature]

Questions citing excerpts from works of literature.

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95
votes
124answers
64k views

What words are commonly mispronounced by literate people who read them before they heard them?

Quite a few words are mispronounced by under-educated people, or people learning English as a second language. Some words are often mispronounced by quite educated people who read, and began reading ...
34
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2answers
8k views

Is the phrase “yellow card” slang for a female body part?

In Hemmingway's The Sun Also Rises, Braddocks says of Georgette that: "She was rather splendid, you know. Showed her yellow card and demanded the patronne's daughter's too." But they weren't ...
29
votes
6answers
11k views

What great writers have used coordinating conjunctions at the start of sentences?

I had a discussion today with a friend over the validity of using (coordinating, correlative) conjunctions like but or and at the start of sentences. His position was that it breaks a rule of grammar....
24
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7answers
5k views

What do we call 'Shakespearean trash-talk'?

A classic example: In the opening scene of Richard II, Henry Bolingbroke and Mowbray seeks the adjudication of the king. They hurl accusations of treachery and cowardliness at each other. They ...
24
votes
3answers
6k views

What does “FRANCE TO PLACE” mean?

From Pat Hobby, Putative Father by F. Scott Fitzgerald: He searched the orange pages frantically. Below the form sheets, the past performances, the endless oracles for endless racetracks, his eye ...
24
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1answer
2k views

What does “stick-at-naught” mean?

Over on a question about The Lord of the Rings, the phrase "stick-at-naught" has been brought up. There's some debate over its meaning. In The Lord of the Rings, Book One, Chapter 11: A Knife in the ...
22
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2answers
3k views

The “F-word” in N-gram Viewer

I was simply fiddling with Ngram viewer when my apparently naughty mind made me type the (real) "F-word" onto the text field, (the time was also chosen randomly, (1750-to-1993)), the results baffled ...
20
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3answers
4k views

What is the meaning of “you has the wind of me”?

I ran into this excerpt from the book Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson: I can see, can't I? I've tried my fling, I have, and I've lost, and it's you has the wind of me. Source: Google ...
19
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1answer
3k views

Does “-een” denote endearment?

When reading Nabokov's The Annotated Lolita I came across these two terms on p. 104: girleen, Laureen. After all, Dante fell madly in love with his Beatrice when she was nine, a sparkling girleen, ...
18
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5answers
3k views

Tolkien and archaic English [closed]

I once read that JRR Tolkien, a linguist by profession and of The Lord of the Rings fame, wrote his masterpiece using elements of archaic English to emulate the Bible. Following a question on writers....
17
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6answers
7k views

“I you already know”: is this proper English?

I found this sentence in Terry Pratchett's "Interesting Times": (*) “Great wizard,” said Butterfly, bowing. “I you already know, but these two are Lotus Blossom and Three Yoked Oxen, other members ...
17
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3answers
18k views

What is the meaning of “A.C. or D.C.?”

In Heinlein's A stranger in a strange land, there is a moment when nurse Jill kisses Martian man named Mike and another man, Jubal, puts a comment on it. It comes as follows: “Son,” he said, “you ...
16
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6answers
4k views

What are the rules in composing a Haiku? (aside from the syllable count)

Aside from the syllable count what else do I need consider when writing a Haiku? I'm referring to the English imitation of a Haiku. I have been told that the first two lines should be descriptions ...
14
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2answers
756 views

Meaning of “cry creek” and “cock of the game”

I'm reading an excerpt from John Lyly (1554–1606), and there are some phrases that I can't find anything about on the net or elsewhere. Here is the context: Though Cutio be as hot as a toast, yet ...
14
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2answers
21k views

For whom the bell tolls - origin of “ask not” instead of “never send to know”

"Ask not for whom the bell tolls" is a popular cliche. My understanding is that it comes from John Donne's Meditation XVII (1623). But in Donne's poem, the line is any man's death diminishes me, ...
13
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3answers
2k views

What does “rhumatis” mean?

I know that Uncle Tom's Cabin is full of neologisms, and I try my best to grit my teeth and infer as best I can without racing down every such rabbit hole that presents itself, but with rhumatis, for ...
12
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3answers
2k views

“Open sesame”: how widely understood is it, and how else to put it?

“Open sesame” is a passphrase opening the treasure cave in the tale of Ali Baba and the Fourty Thieves. In French at least, it is a widely used phrase to say jokingly when using keys or any other mean ...
11
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5answers
1k views

What does Maugham mean by “his spaghetti were”? [duplicate]

Possible Duplicate: Was the usage "Spaghetti were" ever acceptable or common? [Following up from, but not a duplicate of, this question by another user, which was unresolved…] Somerset ...
11
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3answers
976 views

The meaning and usage of ‘stiffs’ in “Of Mice and Men”

I would really appreciate it if someone could confirm whether I have interpreted correctly the meaning of “stiffs” in the following excerpt “I had enough,” he said angrily. “You ain't wanted here. ...
11
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2answers
36k views

What is the etymology of “…kick ass and take names”?

Inspired by What is this idiom: "I'm going to start taking names and..."?, but that question doesn't actually ask for where the expression originated. I Googled around, but couldn't find ...
10
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2answers
1k views

Meaning of “native bottoms” in Thoreau's Walden

I'm not sure what native bottoms means in this paragraph from Thoreau's Walden. Is it a nautical term? Would someone kindly shed some light on this? Search results on the matter are... ahem... ...
9
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4answers
4k views

What does the initial fragment of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy mean?

I begun reading Douglas Adams' The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. This is one of the initial fragments, emphasis mine: This planet has - or rather had - a problem, which was this: most of the ...
9
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2answers
2k views

Meaning of “dust” when referring to a person

I stumbled upon the following passage while reading Lord Dunsany (The Sphinx at Gizeh). Delilah was younger than she, and Delilah is dust. Time hath loved nothing but this worthless painted face. ...
9
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5answers
3k views

What do you call the word used in prose to describe the surroundings to make prose richer?

There is a word in English which is used to describe the technique used by authors where they describe the surroundings (like sight, sounds, smells, etc.) to make the scene more rich. Like "there was ...
9
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3answers
2k views

“just because… doesn't mean…”

It appears to me that the construction "just because… doesn't mean…" isn't used in literature at all. Is its use limited to colloquial speech and informal writing? Note that while some people seem to ...
9
votes
2answers
444 views

What’s the history of the adjective “dwarven”?

A simple Google seach will show that many people use “dwarven” as an adjective meaning “of or related to dwarves”. People can say things like “very dwarven”. But not many dictionaries list this ...
8
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3answers
2k views

Can't make sense of a paragraph from Lovecraft

I decided to start reading some work of Lovecraft.  Reading The Beast in the Cave, I got stuck at the first paragraph I encountered: The horrible conclusion which had been gradually obtruding ...
8
votes
3answers
2k views

Meaning of “Where will wants not, a way opens”

I have been reading "The Lord of the Rings" and came across this phrase in the "The Return of the King". “Where will wants not, a way opens, so we say,” he whispered. “and so I have found myself.” ...
8
votes
8answers
6k views

“Directly” in the meaning of “As soon as”

I've just read my first James Bond novel, Casino Royale. In it, I have found several instances of the word "directly" being used in a way I am not familiar with. It appears to have the meaning "when" ...
8
votes
1answer
2k views

Sam Weller in The Pickwick Papers: What accent is Dickens portraying?

In Dickens' Pickwick Papers, there's a character "Sam Weller". Weller's dialogue is written somewhat phonetically, I presume, but I'm struggling to understand what accent Dickens is trying to portray. ...
8
votes
1answer
7k views

Literature: 'Why' at the beginning of sentences [duplicate]

I’m currently reading George Martin’s A Song Of Ice And Fire novels in English. As a non-native speaker (I’m German), I stumbled upon some grammatical constructs that I’ve never seen before, one of ...
7
votes
2answers
867 views

What do “Sech” and “Vich” mean in this sentence?

I am reading a book on life lessons, and the author quotes one of Charles Dickens's characters, Sarah Gamp, from his novel, Martin Chuzzlewit: Sech is life. Vich likeways is the hend of all things....
7
votes
2answers
157 views

Who is “Martha” alluded to in “Eight Cousins”?

Early in Louisa May Alcott's novel Eight Cousins, a character is described thus: Aunt Plenty was utterly dissimilar, being a stout, brisk old lady, with a sharp eye, a lively tongue, and a face ...
7
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4answers
4k views

Dickens: meaning of “preserves” in “preserves of loaves and fishes”

What is the meaning of preserves in the opening passage of Charles Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities? There were a king with a large jaw and a queen with a plain face, on the throne of England; there ...
7
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2answers
1k views

The term “handy” in “Of Mice and Men”

[Candy] "That's the boss's son," he said quietly. "Curley's pretty handy. He done quite a bit in the ring. He's a lightweight, and he's handy." "Well, let him be handy," said George. "He don't ...
6
votes
4answers
14k views

What does “in the sere and yellow” mean?

I am currently reading "A Study in Scarlet" by Arthur Conan Doyle. On page 33 is a sentence I don't understand: Well, if a man can stride four and a-half feet without the smallest effort, he can't ...
6
votes
2answers
3k views

What does the phrase “a fine one” mean in this context?

In one one Daniil Kharms' short stories, Tikakeyev “insults” Koratygin by saying: A fine one you are! This causes a fight between the two. When I first read this, I didn't see the “insult”, ...
6
votes
1answer
245 views

Meaning of “holidays of hay”

What does this phrase, from Pynchon's novel Gravity's Rainbow, mean? Schnorp, his hair blown like holidays of hay… There are no references to "holidays" or "hay" in the preceding several pages.
6
votes
1answer
486 views

Meaning of “Let us hit with him, and not miss with him”

I'm reading one of Sir Philip Sidney's prose essays, "An Apology for Poetry" and I bumped into the following phrase which I never heard of. Can anyone please help me with it? Yet will some bring in ...
6
votes
2answers
864 views

Meaning of “Y-o-u-u Tom!”

In the opening chapter of Twain's The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Tom's aunt Polly calls out to him in a rather peculiar fashion: She went to the open door and stood in it, and looked out among the ...
5
votes
4answers
640 views

Where can I find a modern English version of King James’s “Counterblaste to Tobacco”?

I find A Counterblaste to Tobacco by James I very interesting. Many people are under the impression that anti-tobacco sentiment began in the last century, and this document pretty thoroughly refutes ...
5
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4answers
5k views

What does 'rare device' refer to?

What does rare device refer to in the line 'It was a miracle of rare device' of Samuel Taylor Coleridge's poem, Kubla Khan?
5
votes
1answer
862 views

What does “making a league” mean?

I think this is an idiom/expression referring to happiness or relief, but it might also be a sailing term used by sailors. It's from Christopher Columbus’s journal (1492), as he writes about ...
5
votes
4answers
2k views

What is the nuanced difference between “at seeing” and “when seeing”?

A book about translation studies gives an example on how the nuance of the phrase at seeing will be lost if it is simply understood as when seeing. The sentence context is taken from The Way of the ...
5
votes
4answers
5k views

Meaning of “garn” in My Fair Lady

At the beginning of the My Fair Lady movie, there is a monologue of prof. Higgins like this: Hear a Yorkshireman, or worse Hear a Cornishman converse I'd rather hear a choir singing flat Chickens ...
5
votes
2answers
656 views

An Epithet of the River Styx

I have a question that falls under literature, but I remember that Dante, Greek mythology, and Milton were required reading in my English courses in high school and university. It's about an epithet ...
5
votes
1answer
820 views

What is a “dash-one”?

I'm reading Thomas Pynchon's Vineland, and I came across a phrase I'm unfamiliar with. For context, Zoyd (the main character) has taken a job playing music on a temperamental synthesizer in a flying ...
5
votes
1answer
586 views

Could “old fashioned” mean “angry” or “disconsolate” in early 19th Century England?

Patrick O'Brian wrote the Aubrey/Maturin seafaring novels during the late 20th Century, but the novels read as if they were written during the early 1800s (at least as far as I can tell, which isn't ...
5
votes
3answers
285 views

Was James Joyce confused about “prone” and “supine” or am I?

I've been re-reading "Ulysses" and noticed this Stephen totters, collapses, falls, stunned. He lies prone, his face to the sky (emphasis mine) and Stephen, prone, breathes to the stars. and a ...
5
votes
4answers
956 views

What is a “blue card” in this context?

I'm reading Salinger's "Ocean Full Of Bowling Balls" and came across the "blue card". I wonder what that means in that context. I found that "blue card" is currently used for immigrant agricultural ...