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Sherlock Holmes and English
Posted: 28 September 2012 03:40 AM   [ Ignore ]
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I’ve recently obtained the complete Sherlock Holmes. I don’t have much recreational reading time these days but I will get through it by and by.

I should like to use this thread to post my observations of interesting features of the English used in these works (and, of course, would be glad if others made similar contributions).

I’ve noticed that Doyle prefers the diaeresis over the hyphen (e.g. reëntered in The Hound of the Baskervilles).

That novel also contains the use of check (rather than cheque) and indorse (rather than endorse).

About these, Dave has said:

The check spelling arose in British use in the eighteenth century and became the standard British convention for a while. Check is the spelling used in Johnson’s dictionary, for example. Check is not, therefore, one of Noah Webster’s spelling innovations; in this case the American usage is simply the survival of the standard eighteenth century British spelling. Around the mid nineteenth century, British usage shifted back to the older cheque. So Conan Doyle, who started writing the Holmes stories in 1887, is a little behind the times, but his use of the spelling is not surprising.

Indorse has a long history in British usage as well. It was the spelling preferred in statute and in legal circles until the twentieth century, and the OED citations from the nineteenth century are filled with British uses of indorse. That dictionary also includes a usage note from Bithell’s 1893 Counting-house Dictionary, “as to the forms Indorse and Endorse, practice appears to be entirely controlled by the taste of the writer.” The endorse spelling didn’t drive indorse out of British usage until well into the twentieth century.

[I’ll have no hard feelings if DW decides to remove this thread as an inappropriate use of his forum]

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Posted: 28 September 2012 04:25 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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This isn’t inappropriate at all. This kind of thing is exactly what the forum is for.

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Posted: 28 September 2012 05:35 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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Thanks, Dave.

In Valley of Fear:

“And attended their smoking concerts"cent

A smoking concert was, it seems, a live concert with an audience of men. Gentlemen did not smoke in the presence of ladies in the England of early 20th century England, I suppose. I assume that is when this novel is set. It was published in 1914 but like the bulk of the Sherlock Holmes stories is presented as an account by Watson of an earlier adventure.

Something else in Valley of Fear that made me ponder about the chronology is a phrase that is _not_ used.

Lying across his chest was a curious weapon, a shotgun with a barrel sawed off a foot in front of the triggers.

The sawed-off shotgun, and the term sawed-off shotgun, were not unknown in 1914 Doyle’s decision to use this long phrase suggests to me that he feared his audience would not be familiar with the term, or perhaps he wanted to impress upon them that Watson would have been unfamiliar with the term. (BTW, isn’t it odd that it is a sawed-off shotgun, rather than a sawn-off shotgun?)

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Posted: 28 September 2012 07:22 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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OED has 13 entries for Conan Doyle under “first evidence of a word”, in other words earliest cite.

grimpen, n., a marshy area, etymology uncertain, from Hound of the Baskervilles

lunkah, n., a kind of strong cheroot, Originally attrib. use of Hindi laŋka, the local term for the ‘islands’ of the Godavery Delta in which the tobacco is grown (Yule Hobson-Jobson 1886), from Sign of Four.

manso, n. and adj., A meek, tame, or cowardly person or animal, esp. a tame or timid bull, < Spanish manso tame, unaggressive, domesticated (1220–50), probably < post-classical Latin mansus tame, from Lost World.

moorsman, n., A person who lives on a moor or moorland; a person familiar with moors, from Micah Clarke.

outflame, n., An outburst of flame or (fig.) of passion or colour., from Micah Clarke.

playwoman, n., an actress, from Micah Clarke.

pringle, v. to prickle, tingle, Probably a variant of prinkle v., to have or cause a pricking sensation, like pins and needles, from Micah Clarke.

roundhouse, v., To confine or store in a roundhouse, from Micah Clarke. (The punch came later, first cite 1934 from a US source.

snackle, v., trans. To secure, make fast., of obscure origin, from Study in Scarlet.

snick, n.3, a sharp noise, a click, from Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes.

Throgmorton Street, n., Used allusively for the Stock Exchange or its members, from Green Flag.

tibbin, n., hay or chopped straw, < Arabic tibn, from Green Flag.

I know, only 12 there. I omitted pringling, which has a separate OED entry but is really covered by pringle above.

That pringle has a Dodgsonian ring. The words cited from the Holmes stories, especially grimpen and lunkah, are redolent of Baker Street!

[ Edited: 28 September 2012 07:25 AM by aldiboronti ]
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Posted: 28 September 2012 12:22 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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OP Tipping - 28 September 2012 05:35 AM

...



Something else in Valley of Fear that made me ponder about the chronology is a phrase that is _not_ used.

Lying across his chest was a curious weapon, a shotgun with a barrel sawed off a foot in front of the triggers.

The sawed-off shotgun, and the term sawed-off shotgun, were not unknown in 1914 Doyle’s decision to use this long phrase suggests to me that he feared his audience would not be familiar with the term, or perhaps he wanted to impress upon them that Watson would have been unfamiliar with the term. (BTW, isn’t it odd that it is a sawed-off shotgun, rather than a sawn-off shotgun?)

I would suggest that it was a simply a choice made based on his stylistic choice. It has been quite a while since I’ve read any of Doyle’s work, so when presented with a small fragment like this, I lack immediate context for his style of writing.

Reading the quoted sentence, I thought as follows:

Lying across his chest [I assume this is a lead-in, with the circumstances given earlier] was a curious weapon, [OK, how curious is it?] a shotgun [That’s a pretty devastating weapon for a concert or theater] with a barrel sawed off [Are there two barrels, and only one was sawed off? Nah, probably just one] a foot in front of the triggers. [That’s pretty short. Triggers may be behind the primer, so the chamber could have been counted in that foot, making the barrel even shorter. But wait. There were “triggers” plural; thus two barrels?]

A very curious weapon indeed.

If the sentence were: “Lying across his chest was a curious weapon, a sawed-off shotgun with a barrel sawed off a foot in front of the triggers.”

It would have a different “feel” and to me it seems a bit cumbersome due to the location of the barrel sawing being (likely) an important detail that might become blurred in re-writes such as: “Lying across his chest was a curious weapon, a sawed-off shotgun with a barrel a foot long.”

LOL Now you’ve made me want to read it just to find out how many barrels there actually were.

...

Further idle speculation:

Maybe they weren’t that curious (for, as OP points out, they “were not unknown in 1914"), so it could have been re-written, “Lying across his chest was a sawed-off shotgun with a barrel a foot long.”

Or stripped even further, because sawed-off shotguns are, by definition, short: “Lying across his chest was a sawed-off shotgun.”

I like the original far better than any of these others. But I have read much if not all of Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes published writing and I recall that details are very important in it.

.

Does “barrel” as it applies to multi-barreled shotguns include all barrels?

Fine differences in the meaning of the words “a” vs. “one”—“with a barrel sawed off a foot in front of the triggers.” vs. “with one barrel sawed off a foot in front of the triggers.”

“Hero grabbed the shotgun by the barrel.” vs. “Hero grabbed the shotgun by the barrels.”

What about, “It was a double-barreled shotgun. Hero grabbed it by the barrel.” vs. “It was a double-barreled shotgun. Hero grabbed it by the barrels.”

[ Edited: 28 September 2012 02:30 PM by sobiest ]
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Posted: 28 September 2012 02:10 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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The OED has several citations for smoking concert under smoking, n., ranging from 1886 to 1945. It indicates that it would quite straightforwardly be a concert where smoking was allowed. (I don’t know about the presence of women, but certainly by 1945 this wasn’t an issue.) It also has the same usage under smoker. The OED says the use of smoker to refer to a stag party is a US usage; I did not know that.

I agree with Sobiest; the description of the shotgun is really a matter of personal writing style. I don’t see anything unusual about it, and I quite like the flow of the sentence myself.

However, the OED says that sawn-off is “now more usu. than sawed-off exc. in N. Amer.” The first citation for sawn-off shotgun is from Valley of Fear (but not the same passage—a strong indication that the longer description is simply style and not due to unfamiliarity the the type of weapon). Sawed-off shotgun dates to 1898 and the citations are primarily (all?) US ones.

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Posted: 28 September 2012 09:56 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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It was an American-made “sawed-off shotgun” with two barrels:

OP’s quote (from post #2), slightly expanded for clarity and corrected [bold]:

...The man had been horribly injured. Lying across his chest was a curious weapon, a shotgun with the barrel sawed off a foot in front of the triggers… [One rather gory sentence is deleted here] ...The triggers had been wired together, so as to make the simultaneous discharge more destructive....

Here, it is revealed that it is (likely to be) an American shotgun, along with the first of three instances of the OP-interested term, “sawed-off shotgun”:

..."No doubt it is an American shotgun,” White Mason continued. “I seem to have read that a sawed-off shotgun is a weapon used in some parts of America. Apart from the name upon the barrel, the idea had occurred to me. There is some evidence then, that this man who entered the house and
killed its master was an American."…

The second instance of “sawed-off shotgun”:

“...In the latter was a sawed-off shotgun; so he came with the deliberate purpose of crime....”

And the third instance of “sawed off shotgun(s)”:

..."It is no case of sawed-off shotguns and clumsy six-shooters."…

I also noticed an instance of the slightly different term, “cut-off shotgun”:

“...Why a cut-off shotgun of all weapons--and an American one at that?...”

And, finally, there were certainly two barrels:

“...They were buckshot cartridges, and, as Sergeant Wilson pointed out, the triggers were wired together so that, if you pulled on the hinder one, both barrels were discharged....”

From the plain text version at http://gutenberg.org/ebooks/3289

It was “the barrel” rather than “a barrel.” That indefinite “a” made for the now-humorous misunderstanding on my part.

Could it be that this is a typo in the (I assume) printed version you have, OP? Or is the gutenberg.org version I used incorrect?

.

The gutenberg.org version I used may have errors, or be from a different edition, because Dave indicates above:

...However, the OED says that sawn-off is “now more usu. than sawed-off exc. in N. Amer.” The first citation for sawn-off shotgun is from Valley of Fear (but not the same passage—a strong indication that the longer description is simply style and not due to unfamiliarity the the type of weapon). Sawed-off shotgun dates to 1898 and the citations are primarily (all?) US ones.

And I can’t find “sawn-off shotgun” or even “sawn” in the gutenberg.org .txt version I used.

I also checked most of the available gutenberg.org versions, including the .txt, the .html, the .epub, the .plucker, the .kindle, and the two text-file versions in the available archive, the “vfear10.txt 17-Mar-2001 00:00 329K” version, and the “vfear11.txt 12-Feb-2005 00:00 329K” version. It wasn’t there either.

So, are there multiple editions, or does the gutenberg.org version I used have errors? I doubt that the OED is in error.

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Posted: 29 September 2012 04:12 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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“...In the latter was a sawed-off shotgun; so he came with the deliberate purpose of crime....”

This was the sentence the OED had for sawn-off.  I’ve checked a number of electronic editions and several “look inside the book” editions on Amazon, and they all have sawed. I doubt the OED would make an error in this case. Unfortunately, Google Books isn’t giving me a preview of the first edition. (But strangely, they do give previews of several editions from the 60s and 70s.) I’ll bet that the spelling was changed in later editions—an example of why you must be very careful of what edition you consult when doing this type of work.

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Posted: 29 September 2012 04:46 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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“I don’t see anything unusual about it, and I quite like the flow of the sentence myself. ”

It didn’t strike me as unusual, but I figured that that choice signified _something_ about the author’s intentions. Perhaps I should finish novels before I make these comments: later in Valley of Fear, Holmes uses the phrase “sawed-off shotgun” and explains that it is used by some criminals in the United States (which proves relevant).  I suppose it makes sense that Watson (the narrator) might be less familiar with these things than Holmes, who knows everything.

Although Watson is not a complete ignoramus in the field of criminology, Doyle does use the fact that his narrator is not an expert in the field to effect some exposition.

grimpen, n., a marshy area, etymology uncertain, from Hound of the Baskervilles

Note that Doyle only uses the term in the proper noun Grimpen Marsh, a particular fictional marsh in Devonshire

EDIT: SORRY! It is the policeman MacDonald who uses the phrase sawed-off shotgun.

[ Edited: 29 September 2012 05:11 AM by OP Tipping ]
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Posted: 29 September 2012 04:47 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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What a profound culture gap this thread reveals between left and right banks of the pond!

The only firearms which a British civilian may legally possess, are guns for killing birds and other game (I don’t know if a license is required today for such things). The possession of any other kind of firearm by civilians (this latter category used to include policemen, but times, alas, are changing, and I don’t know what the case is today), is subject to all kinds of very strict regulation. This has been the situation since the nineteenth century at least. No Briton in his right mind would dream of ruining a valuable thing like a shotgun, by sawing off its barrel or barrels. This was equally true in Conan Doyle’s time. Had he used the expression “a sawed-off shotgun” without further qualification, many - probably most - of his British readers wouldn’t even have known what part of the gun was sawed off, let alone why, until after they’d read the book.

Sawed-off shotguns are a part of the American cultural heritage (what well-equipped saloon in the Wild West would ever be without one?). But in Conan Doyle’s heyday, Wild West literature was still in its infancy, and a sawed-off shotgun would have been, to most Britons, an exotic, wholly unfamiliar object.

Quibbling about “sawed/sawn”, by the way, strikes me as utterly pointless. Who’d say “thawn” for “thawed”, or “flawn” for “flawed”?  Or, on the other hand, who’d say “drawed” for “drawn”? Why must somebody always be looking for rules, for goodness’ sake? For my part, I’m 100% with Fred Astaire on this: “You say tomatoes, I say tomatoes.....Let’s call the whole thing off”. ;-)

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Posted: 29 September 2012 05:07 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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Quibbling about “sawed/sawn”, by the way, strikes me as utterly pointless.

In fairness, I don’t think anyone is making value judgements on the matter. We’re just discussing the variations.

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Posted: 29 September 2012 07:41 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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The phrase “sawn-off shotgun” appears in the monthly magazine, The Anti-Philistine, ‘conducted’ by John Crowley, London, (complete, bound, short-lived, only 4 issues), Issues I-IV, (page 212); No. IV, September 15th, 1897, in that periodical’s printed version of the story, My Favorite Murder, by Ambrose Bierce:

books?id=lV9FAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA212&img=1&zoom=3&hl=en&sig=ACfU3U2dzJCzd6SeXy7jkfq6fGaoh3wy0A&ci=238,136,647,257&edge=0

Text:

...My father at once sent for his brother, the Hon. William Ridley of Stockton, and on his arrival turned over the agency to him, charging him nothing for the franchise or plant—the latter consisting of a Winchester rifle, a sawn-off shotgun, and an assortment of masks made out of flour sacks....

.

However, in My Favorite Murder, by Ambrose Bierce, the version said to have been first published in the San Francisco Examiner, September 16, 1888, the phrase “sawed-off shotgun” appears to have been chosen instead:

...My father at once sent for his brother, the Hon. William Ridley of Stockton, and on his arrival turned over the agency to him, charging him nothing for the franchise nor plant--the latter consisting of a Winchester rifle, a sawed-off shotgun, and an assortment of masks made out of flour sacks....

.

The above would seem to indicate that “sawed-off shotgun” appeared in print at least as early as 1888. And “sawn-off shotgun” appeared at least as early as 1897.

I at first thought The Anti-Philistine printing may have been a typo, but since some (fewer) other online versions also contain “sawn-off shotgun” and The Anti-Philistine is a GB publication, I thought maybe it was an editors choice for a Rightpondian edition.

.

gutenberg.org also has “sawed-off shotgun”

Here is another “sawn-off shotgun” version of Bierce’s story (in .pdf format)

[ Edited: 29 September 2012 09:19 AM by sobiest ]
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Posted: 29 September 2012 08:29 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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Certainly, in the edition of Valley of Fear that I have, “sawed-off shotgun” is the phrase used by various characters.

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Posted: 29 September 2012 11:45 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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Quibbling about “sawed/sawn”, by the way, strikes me as utterly pointless.
In fairness, I don’t think anyone is making value judgements on the matter. We’re just discussing the variations.

Point taken. Sorry for grumpy remark. Must have been something I drank. I must see about changing my brand of embrocation.

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Posted: 30 September 2012 03:49 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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lionello - 29 September 2012 04:47 AM

The only firearms which a British civilian may legally possess, are guns for killing birds and other game (I don’t know if a license is required today for such things). The possession of any other kind of firearm by civilians (this latter category used to include policemen, but times, alas, are changing, and I don’t know what the case is today), is subject to all kinds of very strict regulation. This has been the situation since the nineteenth century at least.

Er - it’s slightly more complicated than that:  in Sherlock Holmes’s time, a gentleman could happily walk around the streets tooled up, and Holmes frequently asked Watson to “kindly put your army revolver in your pocket” when they set out on an adventure.

Only in 1870 was a law introduced in the UK requiring anyone to have a licence for carrying a gun outside their own home (which presumably both Holmes and Watson would have had) and only in 1920 was a law passed requiring anyone possessing any sort of gun, apart from smooth-bored ones, to have a firearms certificate even if the gun was kept solely at home. After that the law became steadily more restrictive, and the 1997 Firearms Act banned the possession of handguns by the public almost completely. Possession of other weapons requires a firearms certificate or shotgun certificate, and “self-defence” is not a good enough reason to be granted a certificate. But even if you have a shotgun certificate, in the UK any shotgun with a barrel shorter than 60cm (24 inches) - sawn-off or otherwise - or with an overall length less than 102cm (40 inches) is defined as a “short-barrelled” shotgun and is banned.

As far as the UK police go, forces will have “authorised firearms officers”, who may be armed with pistols, rifles, shotguns, sub-machine guns and the like, but there are fewer than 7,000 police officers entitled to carry arms on duty.

[ Edited: 30 September 2012 03:59 AM by Zythophile ]
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Posted: 30 September 2012 05:30 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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Thank you for the update, Zythophile—it’s great to have one’s facts in proper working order.  I think you’ll agree, though, that your additional information doesn’t invalidate my contention that to the average UK civilian, pre-WW1, “a sawed-off shotgun” would have been something quite beyond his ken, calling for the word or two of explanation which Conan Doyle obligingly lays on.  As a rule, he’s very good about such things - it’s always struck me odd that he should mention the “jezail bullet” somewhere in his body, without another word. Perhaps jezails were commonplace objects in late 19th century Britain ;-). I know that when I first saw that word, I went straight to the nearest dictionary (even though “bullet” reveals a great deal).

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