8

Pooh and Piglet and Owl had a chat in Owl's house but it was blown down.

Pooh sat on the floor which had once been a wall, and gazed up at the ceiling which had once been another wall, with a front door in it which had once been a front door, and tried to give his mind to it.

This is form "The house at Pooh corner". The ceiling which had once been another wall have a front door because of the following words "with a front door", but I think that the ceiling can't have a front door right now because of the following sentence "in it which had once been a front door". How can I understand this sentence?

5
  • 9
    This phrase is another example of Milne's delicate sense of humour. May 2, 2023 at 15:07
  • 7
    To add to @ErelSegal-Halevi's point, there's a fun thing that Pooh says: "People say 'nothing is impossible', but I do nothing every day." Milne understands the meaning of the phrase "nothing is impossible" but is having fun with it by having Pooh not understand the connotation of the phrase. May 2, 2023 at 16:49
  • 1
    ... "oh bother"
    – CGCampbell
    May 3, 2023 at 12:29
  • Imagine a basic house, four walls and a front door installed in one of them. Then imagine that instead of "blown down", this house has been upended such that the wall with the door installed is now at the top, making what used to be the rear wall the floor. This is basically what's being described. The front of the house is now up, and because the front of the house originally had the door, the door is now also up. It used to be the front door, and since "front door" can also refer to a particular style of door, it's still a front door despite its new location.
    – aroth
    May 5, 2023 at 13:22
  • This question was nominated as one of the best of the second quarter of 2023.
    – Rand al'Thor
    Aug 25, 2023 at 13:23

4 Answers 4

28

To add to verbose's answer (which explains what happened to the house but not how the same term can be used for what is is and what it "had once been"): the quoted sentence employs several parallel phrases:

the floor which had once been a wall

the ceiling which had once been another wall

a front door [...] which had once been a front door

The first two of these refer to the sides of the house that are now on the bottom and top, having once been the back and front walls before the house blew over. The third one doesn't make sense on the face of it - either the thing is a front door now, or it had once been a front door but isn't any more, you can't have both - but it's phrased in this way for parallelism with the preceding phrases.

4
  • 8
    Many nouns can be used to either describe an object which is constructed to fulfill a role, or an object which is presently fulfilling that role; the sentence construct here serves to highlight the distinction.
    – supercat
    May 2, 2023 at 15:40
  • 7
    @supercat I agree. Something can be a front door by design but not by current function. For example, a front door in a hardware store. Owls front door is now a front door in one sense but not in the other. I agree with this answer that it's humour and by analogy, but it's also less nonsensical than it seems at first reading, which adds to the humour.
    – Dan
    May 2, 2023 at 16:09
  • 5
    Reminds me of a Mitch Hedberg joke - "I used to do drugs. I still do, but I used to, too." Both rely on the atypical and comedic usage of "used to/had once been" to refer to something that still is. May 2, 2023 at 18:26
  • 1
    One also notes that it would reflect incoherent thinking, which would be very likely in the shocked moments after the fall.
    – Mary
    May 4, 2023 at 1:27
21

It both is and isn't a front door.

It is a "front door" in terms of its form, because that is what we call a physical object shaped like this that is intended to be used as the front entrance to a house:

enter image description here

But it is not a "front" door in terms of its position, because it is no longer at the front of the house now that the house is sideways. It used to be at the front of the house, but it isn't any more. That is why we can say that it "had once been a front door".

It also is not a front "door" in terms of its function, because it no longer allows them to move in and out of the room, which is what a door is supposed to do.

15

Because Owl's house has blown down, things are not where they used to be any more. The house is on its back, which means the front of the house is now at the top. What used to be the front wall is now the ceiling, so the front door of the house is now in the ceiling. So Pooh is sitting on what used to be the back wall but is now the floor; gazing up at what used to be the front wall but is now the ceiling; and looking at the front door, which used to be a front door but isn't a front door any more. Hope that makes sense!

2
  • Sorry - that's not what Milne intended. (WWIK? :-) ). Others have made the distinction of a door that was part of a front entrance and a front-door as a type of door. You have not conveyed this meaning. May 4, 2023 at 10:15
  • Having read the other answers, I don't see them making the distinction you're making either. I don't think such a distinction exists either in Milne or in the real world. But feel free to downvote this one and/or write your own answer.
    – verbose
    May 4, 2023 at 10:59
7

a front door in it which had once been a front door

The intended meaning uses a different definition for each usage of "front door".

The first usage is referring to what the object is, rather than what it can be used for. It is a door, the kind of door that you put in the entrance to a house.

The second usage is referring to what the object can be used for, rather than what it is. You used to be able to enter the house through this door.

To use a similar example with a clearer distinction of the two usages:

This wine bottle is filled with beer.

If it's filled with beer, isn't that bottle then a beer bottle? Well, not in the sense that it's being used here. "Wine bottle" refers to a tall green bottle that usually is used for wine, even though it isn't right now.


I think that the ceiling can't have a front door right now because of the following sentence "in it which had once been a front door"

So you're saying that once the house tilted to a certain degree, the door immediately ceased to be a front door. The logical conclusion would then be that you also disagree that I called the bottle a wine bottle when it contained beer.

More interestingly, what if that bottle had been empty? Would you have allowed me to call it a wine bottle?

The point I'm making is that you're assuming the words used must be currently applicable to the object being described, but that's just not a hard rule that language follows. Sometimes we describe things in a way that they are commonly used, even if that's not the case right now at this very second.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.