7

The protagonist in A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court uses this phrase:

But that should be nothing to his discredit; the man that can do THIS kind of miracle knows enough to keep hotel.

This led me to find another passage, this time in Twain's Notebooks, containing the phrase:

It is an art apart. Saint Francis of Assisi said, "All saints can do miracles, but few of them can keep hotel."

I still don't know what to make of it, though.

  • 1
    To "keep hotel" means to manage a hotel, or "run" a hotel. Similar to "keep house." – B. Clay Shannon Apr 24 at 11:11
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    @B.ClayShannon Want to post that as an answer? It would do fine as one, if you add a reference (such as this for example). – Rand al'Thor Apr 24 at 13:47
  • I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it’s about the ordinary meaning of an expression and should be migrated to English Language & Usage. – Chappo Apr 26 at 23:01
  • @Chappo I'm voting to leave open because questions about the meaning in context of passages in literature have always been on-topic here. This one seems answerable simply with a little knowledge of English idiom, but OTOH a little Googling suggests that Mark Twain is the only person to have used the phrase "keep hotel". – Rand al'Thor Apr 27 at 11:47
7

The Oxford English Dictionary has this definition for to keep:

To carry on and manage, to conduct as one's own (an establishment or business, a school, shop, etc.).

This sense of the verb well predates Twain, dating back to Middle English.

Two common expressions of this form are to keep house and to keep (a) shop.

Therefore "keep hotel" simply means run a hotel.

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