In "The Oracle of the Dog" by G. K. Chesterton, Father Brown was talking about someone, saying:

"To be found with a weapon, let alone a blood-stained weapon, would be fatal in the search that was certain to follow. If he left it anywhere, it would be found and probably traced. Even if he threw it into the sea the action might be noticed, and thought noticeable—unless indeed he could think of some more natural way of covering the action. As you know, he did think of one, and a very good one. Being the only one of you with a watch, he told you it was not yet time to return, strolled a little farther, and started the game of throwing in sticks for the retriever. But how his eyes must have rolled darkly over all that desolate sea-shore before they alighted on the dog!”

What's meant here by "thought noticeable", as he already said that "the action might be noticed"?

And does "how his eyes ..." mean "it's a big wonder that his eyes ..."? If so, does Father Brown mean that this happened before this person started the game of throwing in sticks, and then he got the idea?


2 Answers 2


"Noticeable" here means more "worthy of being noticed" than "able to be noticed".

Noticeable has two different, albeit related meanings, which coul be summarised as "able to be noticed" and "worthy of being noticed":

  1. attracting notice or attention; capable of being noticed:
    a noticeable lack of interest.
  2. worthy or deserving of notice or attention; noteworthy:
    a book that is noticeable for its vivid historical background.

In this context, Father Brown is using the word in the second sense. An action can be noticed, and not thought noticeable. For example, the action of throwing sticks for a dog to fetch might also be noticed: I've often noticed people doing that at beaches or in parks, and rarely thought much of it. The criminal didn't care about being noticed, as long as he was not noticed doing something suspicious or memorable (noticeable).

"How" here is used as an exclamation.

Nowadays, exclamation "how" is usually used together with adjectives or adverbs:

How wonderful it is to see you!
How beautifully she sang! Everyone was delighted.

But in slightly more old-fashioned English (not old-fashioned as in Shakespearean; you'll see it commonly in writing from a few decades ago too), exclamation "how" can be used together with a whole sentence. Note the exclamation mark at the end of the sentence in your quote: it doesn't mean "it's a big wonder that his eyes must have rolled ..." but more along the lines of "think of how his eyes must have rolled ... !" It's similar to meaning B1 of "how" here: used for emphasis.


That "the action might be noticed" simply means that someone might just see him throwing the sword-stick into the sea. In addition, that witness may have "thought noticeable" what he saw, in other words, that person may have thought that it was significant. After all, throwing a sword-stick or a walking stick into the sea looks a bit strange, unlike throwing a normal stick or stones. In the context of the murder case, that witness may have remembered that action when asked by the police.

So the murderer was looking over the beach for a way to make throwing away that sword-stick more "natural", or, in Chesterton's words, "his eyes (...) rolled darkly over all that desolate sea-shore". When he sees the dog, he figures out what to do: throwing a stick into the water for a dog to fetch is a perfectly normal game. And during that game of throwing sticks, he also throws that sword-stick into the sea.

  • 1
    I'm so grateful for both of you, now it's clearer. May 5, 2020 at 18:59

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