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Sherlock Holmes and English
Posted: 29 October 2012 11:16 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 76 ]
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The life-preserver plays a major part in Anthony Trollope’s novel Phineas Finn, first published as a monthly serial from October 1867 to May 1868. Finn, an up-and-coming young Irish politician, habitually carries a life-preserver in an inside coat pocket for self-defence against robbers when walking around London at night. One day on the steps of Parliament he unwisely takes it out and brandishes it for emphasis while inveighing against a political rival, which gets him in no end of trouble when said rival is shortly afterwards found bludgeoned in a London street.

When the BBC serialised Trollope’s Palliser novels in 1974, the said life-preserver was shown as a cudgel with a flexible neck and a round head; I can’t say how well researched that was but the Beeb are usually fairly scrupulous about that sort of stuff. Here are some original 19th-century examples:

MI18113_HR.jpg

http://www.thecanterburyauctiongalleries.com/catalogue/38/collectors_items_various?page=1

http://www.campaignfurniture.com/archivesdetailspage.asp?stockNo=80595&archive=0

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Posted: 29 October 2012 12:20 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 77 ]
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Looks like the OED has been vindicated.

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Posted: 29 October 2012 01:06 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 78 ]
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Yes

1.Withdraws statement regarding inadequacy of OED definition of “life preserver”. .2. Withdraws stopper of nearby vodka bottle. 3. Withdraws to enjoy the company of the liquid life preserver lurking therein.

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Posted: 29 October 2012 01:27 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 79 ]
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When this was first mentioned, I took it that the life being preserved was the victim’s: assault with a cosh would be less likely to kill the victim than assault with a knife or gun, and so a robber would run less risk of becoming a murderer as well.  OTOH the reference to carrying it for self-defense makes me think that the life it’s intended to preserve is that of the person who carries it.  Any thoughts?

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Posted: 29 October 2012 03:08 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 80 ]
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I’ve always taken it that the life preserved by a life-preserver was one’s own, ie that of the wielder of the club. As in the lifebelt sense it is something used when in peril of one’s life. As you say, the references to self-defence do bolster that view. It is an intriguing ambiguity though and one I’d never considered before this thread.

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Posted: 29 October 2012 07:57 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 81 ]
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I’d been toying with the same notion.

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Posted: 02 November 2012 10:46 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 82 ]
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Good Lord, but there’s some appalling racism in The Adventure of the Three Gables, even by the standards of the era. It’s quite a disappointing and unsatisfying story, to boot.

Some linguistic curios:

“terrific” meaning frightening. Exactly when did this usage die out? I assume we can consider it completely obsolete now: I’ve never encountered it in use during my lifetime.

Holmes speaks of “compounding a felony”, which seems from the context to mean to cover up a felony, to conceal it.

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Posted: 03 November 2012 03:02 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 83 ]
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For OPT, Here’s a little something to amuse you over the weekend:

http://www.prospectmagazine.co.uk/magazine/sherlock-holmes-pilgrims-conan-doyle/

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Posted: 03 November 2012 04:46 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 84 ]
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The last cite in the OED for that sense of terrific (entry dated September 2011) is from 1914. The OED marks it as “now rare,” not obsolete.

The OED has this note under the entry for the verb to compound: “to compound a felony (or the like): to forbear prosecution for some consideration, which is an offence at law.” It comes from the sense of compound meaning to settle a debt or obligation.

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Posted: 03 November 2012 05:03 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 85 ]
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OP Tipping - 02 November 2012 10:46 PM

Good Lord, but there’s some appalling racism in The Adventure of the Three Gables, even by the standards of the era. It’s quite a disappointing and unsatisfying story, to boot.

Some linguistic curios:

“terrific" meaning frightening. Exactly when did this usage die out? I assume we can consider it completely obsolete now: I’ve never encountered it in use during my lifetime.

Holmes speaks of “compounding a felony”, which seems from the context to mean to cover up a felony, to conceal it.

Here’s the passage:

Sherlock Holmes shrugged his shoulders.

“Well, well,” said he, “I suppose I shall have to compound a felony as usual. How much does it cost to go round the world in first-class style?”

The lady stared in amazement.

“Could it be done on five thousand pounds?”

“Well, I should think so, indeed!”

“Very good. I think you will sign me a check for that, and I will see that it comes to Mrs. Maberley. You owe her a little change of air. Meantime, lady”—he wagged a cautionary forefinger—“have a care! Have a care! You can’t play with edged tools forever without cutting those dainty hands.”

It doesn’t mean conceal really, rather settle by some other means than prosecution. At least I think so. Language Hat brought up the confusion arising from the phrase compound a felony in his blog.

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Posted: 03 November 2012 05:20 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 86 ]
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Thanks, all. I was not at all familiar with similar senses of compound.

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Posted: 03 November 2012 06:16 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 87 ]
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You and me both, OP. I’d always assumed that it meant making a felony worse by committing another crime or something, an error that seems pretty widespread as LH comments.

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Posted: 03 November 2012 11:28 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 88 ]
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I confess that I was under the same misapprehension up to now.

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Posted: 05 November 2012 08:58 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 89 ]
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Dave Wilton - 03 November 2012 04:46 AM

The last cite in the OED for that sense of terrific (entry dated September 2011) is from 1914. The OED marks it as “now rare,” not obsolete.

The OED has this note under the entry for the verb to compound: “to compound a felony (or the like): to forbear prosecution for some consideration, which is an offence at law.” It comes from the sense of compound meaning to settle a debt or obligation.

Does no-one here use the expression ‘a terrific din’ for a frightening noise? Or does it equate more with ‘a great noise’ without the frightening overtone? They both so nearly convey the same sense for me…

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Posted: 05 November 2012 12:36 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 90 ]
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Does no-one here use the expression ‘a terrific din’ for a frightening noise?

I think that “terrific” has strayed too far from its original sense to be of any use in that sense any more, venomousbede. Lon Chaney was horrific in “The Phantom of the Opera”; Judy Garland was terrific in “The Wizard of Oz”.

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