In chapter 6 of The Just Men of Cordova by Edgar Wallace, the author was describing a young boxer constable and his work under his bad superior.

Frank Fellowe was agitating a punch-ball in one of the upper rooms of his little cottage, and with good reason.

He was “taking out” of the ball all the grievances he had against the petty irritants of life.

Sergeant Gurden had bothered him with a dozen and one forms of petty annoyance. He had been given the least congenial of jobs; he had been put upon melancholy point work; and he seemed to be getting more than his share of extra duty. And, in addition, he had the extra worry of checking, at the same time, the work of Black’s organization. He might, had he wished, put away all the restrictions which hampered his movements, but that was not his way. The frustration of Black’s plans was one of Frank’s absorbing passions. If he had other passions which threatened to be equally absorbing, he had the sense to check them—for a while—

I found that "put upon" may mean have too much work, but it has been actually said after it that he get "more than his share of extra duty", so I think it means another meaning, but I can't get it!

And what's exactly meant by this "point work" term?!

And I think that "dozen and one" means "a lot of" not "thirteen" literally, doesn't it?

1 Answer 1

  1. “Put upon” is just being used in its ordinary (non-idiomatic) sense of “placed in a particular situation or position”. The constable has been put upon (assigned to) a particular duty, namely that of “point work”.

    You noted in the question that “put upon” has another sense, namely “imposed on, taken advantage of” and this other sense is attractive because the context is one of Constable Fellowe being given unpleasant duty by his Sergeant. I think this is just an unfortunate choice of words: if Wallace had written “he had been put on melancholy point work” then the meaning would have been the same and the confusion would not have arisen.

  2. I think that “point work” is a mistake for (or just possibly a rare variant of) “point duty”, that is,

    point duty, n. The duty of a police constable stationed at a particular point in a thoroughfare, to regulate traffic, etc.

    Oxford English Dictionary.

    Here’s an example of its use:

    The Hampshire County Council decided on Monday not to destroy the picturesque bridge which carries the Romsey-to-Ringwood main road at Romsey, and which is known as Middlebridge. On account of its steep gradient, which prevents approaching drivers obtaining a line of sight until they are within a short distance of each other, it was decided to erect large warning notices on each side, and to ask the Standing Joint Committee to consider the possibility of stationing permanently a police-constable on point duty at the spot.

    The Building News No. 3058 (15th August 1913), p.238.

    Point duty is “melancholy” (sad) because it’s tedious and lonely.

  3. The question is right that “dozen and one” is used in the sense of “many” or “umpteen”. Here are a couple of examples:

    [Went] to a party at William Strutt’s, where I found duets on the harp and pianoforte going on; and, in spite of my dozen and one speeches, was obliged to muster up voice enough for the same number of songs.

    Thomas Moore. Diary entry for 31st February 1828. In John Russell, ed. (1854). Memoirs, Journal, and Correspondence of Thomas Moore, volume V, p. 256. London: Longman.

    Nearly always some bad judgment about food or drink causes the headaches, sleeplessness, bowel troubles, heart failure, nervousness and a dozen and one other disturbances.

    Advertisement for ‘Postums’. In Harper’s Weekly (4th October 1913), p. 29.

  • Thank you so much, Gareth. I would never reach this interpretation. Commented Oct 19, 2020 at 14:53

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