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Sherlock Holmes and English
Posted: 24 February 2013 09:08 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 181 ]
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2/ “I think I have touched bottom at last”

I only mention this because I would have guessed this to be a more modern expression.

The French, and particularly the Italians, have been doing it from an early age, since time immemorial. Englishmen, it is true, are traditionally a bit slow in getting round to that sort of thing; but Holmes was, of course, an unusually enterprising sort of chap, in many ways in advance of his time.

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Posted: 24 February 2013 12:45 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 182 ]
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Thanks, Dave. I had previously thought it a fairly new development, primarily in African-American English. It’s odd how these otherwise archaic usages are preserved in AAE. another e.g., wack.

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Posted: 27 February 2013 06:12 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 183 ]
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In The Yellow Face, a character has a “wideawake”, which as it turns out is a kind of hat.

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Posted: 27 February 2013 08:35 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 184 ]
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OED on Wide awake hat

3. Applied jocularly to a soft felt hat with broad brim and low crown: said to have been punningly so named as not having a ‘nap’.

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Posted: 09 March 2013 07:53 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 185 ]
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"A J-pen”

Mentioned in The Greek Interpreter.

I don’t really know what it means.

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Posted: 09 March 2013 09:09 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 186 ]
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I’d never heard of it, either, but here is a link to a discussion which not only explains what it is, but includes pictures.

Out of curiosity, does the fact that the nib in question was a J-pen in any way relate to the mystery, or is it just a bit of scenery, so to speak?

[ Edited: 09 March 2013 09:12 AM by Svinyard118 ]
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Posted: 09 March 2013 06:41 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 187 ]
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It is not crucial, but it is a detail that serves to highlight Mycroft’s power’s of observation.

A term that Doyle uses in several stories is “brain fever”. Several of his characters have come down with brain fever after a shock or severe strain.

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Posted: 09 March 2013 07:24 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 188 ]
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In The Naval Treaty

“future premier of England”

I have mentioned elsewhere that the word premier is sometimes used in reference to the Prime Minister of the UK. It is not the formal term, and usually Doyle uses the term Prime Minister, but it is understandable that an author might like to break things up a bit by using an alternative word when one is available.

“Do you keep plate in the house”

ie, cash.

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Posted: 10 March 2013 03:09 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 189 ]
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In The Adventure of the Dancing Men, a simple substitution cipher is used between a woman and her former lover. The total corpus written in this cipher was slight, consisting of a handful of very short and elliptical exchanges, a dozen words in total, such that in real life someone hoping to decrypt them might need a lucky break.

Doyle let me down a bit, here. Although Holmes is known for his happy insights and for following hunches, I found the account of his decryption of this cipher to be somewhat unconvincing.

He starts by assuming that the most common letter is E, which is fair enough: in such a short body of work it might _not_ be but it is a reasonable place to start.

He then gets to:
“Now in a single word I have already got the two E’s coming second and fourth in a word of five letters. It might be ‘sever’ or ‘lever’ or ‘never’. There can be no question that the latter as a reply to an appeal is far the most probable, and the circumstances pointed to its being a reply written by the lady.”

Well, yes it might be ‘sever’, ‘lever’, or ‘never’. It might also be ‘Helen’ or ‘Peter’ or ‘rebel’ or ‘renew’ or ‘seven’ or ‘jewel’ or ‘leper’ or ‘semen’ or ‘fever’ or any of hundreds of words. English isn’t short on five letter words with the 2nd and 4th letters being E.

Also: the latter of three? Tut tut.

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Posted: 10 March 2013 03:31 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 190 ]
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“Do you keep plate in the house”

ie, cash.

Are you sure it’s a reference to cash? (I don’t remember exactly what the situation is when Holmes asks this?) The use of plate to refer to coins went out of a fashion several centuries before Conan Doyle was born. In the nineteenth century the word in this context would generally have been understood to mean silver or gold-plated utensils and serving dishes.

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Posted: 10 March 2013 03:40 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 191 ]
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Are you sure it’s a reference to cash?

Not any more ...
Thanks.

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Posted: 10 March 2013 05:10 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 192 ]
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In The Adventure of the Solitary Cyclist

“He made odious love to me”

From the context it is clear that what is meant is that he pitched odious woo at her. I have seen this meaning of “to make love” in early 20th century literature but I assume it is completely dead now. I wonder when it petered out.

[ Edited: 10 March 2013 05:26 AM by OP Tipping ]
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Posted: 10 March 2013 05:34 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 193 ]
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In The Adventure of the Priory School

“He surprised my secret”

ie he discovered my secret.

Also, use is made of the word “entail”, meaning the order of inheritance to an estate.

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Posted: 10 March 2013 11:09 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 194 ]
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A previous discussion of make love.

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Posted: 10 March 2013 01:40 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 195 ]
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What a long-drawn-out discussion - clearly the interests of posters were deeply engaged. ;-)

Elephant’s child:

I don’t recall hearing about a woman “having him").

.

Gentleman caller (leaving lady’s apartment): “Thank you for having me!”

Lady: “It was a pleasure. Thank you for coming!”

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