Questions tagged [wording-choice]

Questions about a writer's precise selection of words as determined by a number of factors, including denotative and connotative meaning, specificity, level of diction, tone, and audience.

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Meaning of a "dry palate" and "frozen rain" in Achebe's "Things Fall Apart"

I am currently reading Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe, consider the following passage. The colonizers just came to the tribe of Mbanta and everyone seemed uninterested... But there was a young ...
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3 votes
0 answers
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Why is Len Deighton so fond of American English?

I am British and have lived in Britain my entire life. I have never heard anyone refer to an estate car as a “station wagon”. I have never heard anyone refer to a criminal as a “hood”. I have never ...
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1 vote
1 answer
111 views

Why does Tolkien keep referring to the Fellowship as "the Company"?

I noticed that the group making the journey from Rivendell is called "the Company" rather than "the Fellowship". The title of the book has "The Fellowship", yet he doesn'...
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2 votes
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Meaning and significance of "cacheremo" in the Decameron?

In Day 3 Story 8 of the Decameron (Italian original), a prisoner in an abbey, who believes himself to be in purgatory, asks how far he is from his own country, and received the following reply: “And ...
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8 votes
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What can be gleaned from Lovecraft's usage of the words "obscene" and "blasphemous"?

Throughout his collective writings, the author H. P. Lovecraft makes frequent use of the words "obscene" and "blasphemous" in order to convey a sense that something is the object ...
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2 votes
1 answer
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What did Virginia Woolf mean by "walked on the past the flower–bed" in Kew Gardens?

From Virginia Woolf's short story "Kew Gardens": They walked on the past the flower-bed, now walking four abreast, and soon diminished in size among the trees and looked half transparent as ...
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7 votes
1 answer
779 views

Why is Philoktetes specifically hunting "doves"?

I am reading James Scully's translation of Philoktetes (also known as Philoctetes), in The Complete Plays of Sophocles, translated by Robert Bagg & James Scully. Twice it is mentioned that the ...
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3 votes
2 answers
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Why are "doves" used in this simile from "Aias"?

This is from James Scully's translation of Aias (also known as Ajax), in The Complete Plays of Sophocles, translated by Robert Bagg & James Scully. Son of Telamon, rock of Salamis towering up ...
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4 votes
1 answer
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Why "Cagots" for albinos in Morpurgo's Robin Hood story?

In Michael Morpurgo's short novel Robin of Sherwood (1998), republished in 2012 as Outlaw: the True Story of Robin Hood, the band of outlaws in Sherwood forest starts off as outcast misfits including ...
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4 votes
1 answer
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What does it mean to "graze on the fizzy air"?

This is from James Scully's translation of Aias (also known as Ajax), in The Complete Plays of Sophocles, translated by Robert Bagg & James Scully.                      Dear boy may you be ...
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2 votes
1 answer
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What does "beak first" mean in "An Ode to America"?

From "An Ode to America" (The Atlantic's Jan/Feb 2022 issue): “Pretty good nose you got there! You do much fighting with that nose?” New Orleans, 1989. I’m standing on a balcony south of ...
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6 votes
1 answer
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Why is Helen's speech here in the Iliad described as being given "warmly"?

In Book VI of The Iliad, when Hector has come to try to get Paris to fight, Helen chips in with her point of view: Hector answered nothing, but Helen said warmly: "Brother dear, I am ashamed; I ...
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6 votes
1 answer
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Why is snow compared to "ash" in the poem "Snowfall"?

"Snowfall", by Ravi Shankar, has this as its first verse: Particulate as ash, new year's first snow falls upon peaked roofs, car hoods, undulant hills, in imitation of motion that moves the ...
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1 vote
0 answers
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In Halsey's "You Should Be Sad", why is the expression "alligator tears" instead of "crocodile tears"?

In Halsey's "You Should Be Sad", there's one part that goes like this: I'm just glad I made it out without breakin' down And then ran so fuckin' far That you would never ever touch me again ...
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12 votes
3 answers
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Why is a "cucumber sandwich" specifically used as what English faith has "only just enough teeth to get through"?

In Chapter 34 of The Kingdoms, Kite goes on this musing about religion: The golden dome of the cathedral at Cadiz showed, just. He had been trying not to stare at it as much as he'd been trying not ...
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11 votes
2 answers
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Use of "pounds" instead of "roubles" in passage of "The Idiot"

In the 1st Chapter, Part I of Dostoevsky's The Idiot (Eva Martin's translation) you can find the following passage: These men generally have about a hundred pounds a year to live on (...) In this ...
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4 votes
2 answers
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Use of the word "tyke" in American English, as it is used in "Gathering Blue"

In Lois Lowry's Gathering Blue, she used the word "tyke" instead of "boy" or "child". Do Americans use this word in a specific context? Her world in this novel is ...
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3 votes
2 answers
115 views

Why does Mussolini refer to war as female?

In the beginning of Chapter Three of his autobiography, Benito Mussolini writes the following: War had come — war — that female of dreads and fascinations. What is supposed to be conveyed by calling ...
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4 votes
2 answers
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Why did Hamlet tell Ophelia: "Get thee to a nunnery!"?

In Hamlet [III, 1], Hamlet tells Ophelia (lines 1814,27,34): Get thee to a nunnery! […] Go thy ways to a nunnery. […] Get thee to a nunnery. […] To a nunnery, go; and quickly too. […] To a nunnery, ...
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9 votes
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"Marry, in her buttocks: I found it out by the bogs."

From The Comedy of Errors, Act III Scene II: DROMIO OF SYRACUSE: No longer from head to foot than from hip to hip: she is spherical, like a globe; I could find out countries in her. ANTIPHOLUS OF ...
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1 vote
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Walter Malone's "The World is My Home"

Walter Malone's poem "The World is My Home" is, on the face of it, openly a plea for humanity to come together as one united brotherhood rather than engage in disputes and wars: Travel to ...
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4 votes
1 answer
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Why was "a world" used in this sentence of Melville?

I cannot make much sense of "a world" in the following passage from Moby-Dick: There’s your law of precedents; there’s your utility of traditions; there’s the story of your obstinate ...
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10 votes
1 answer
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Origin and significance of E-I-E-I-O in the Old MacDonald song

The well-known children's song "Old MacDonald had a Farm" has lyrics in the following format: Old MacDonald had a farm E-I-E-I-O ! And on that farm he had {article} {singular or plural ...
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0 votes
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What does "I ween that you are better where you are" in "The Heart of the Raven" mean?

The chorus of the song "The Heart of the Raven" by the German band MONO INC. goes like this: But here in the raven's heart Your heart is beating on I ween that you are better where you are ...
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5 votes
1 answer
319 views

Why are the lotos-eaters "mild-eyed" and "melancholy"?

In Tennyson's famous poem "The Lotos-eaters", a group of mariners find themselves on an island inhabited by "Lotos-eaters", and themselves decide to stay after eating lotos has had ...
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4 votes
1 answer
454 views

Which does this part refer to, a pencil or the words?

I’d like to ask about the sentence in The Red Circle by Conan Doyle. The words are written with a broad-pointed, violet-tinted pencil of a not unusual pattern. This is uttered by Holmes when he saw ...
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3 votes
0 answers
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Why these specific "things that fly" in "Kite-Flying"?

Rose Justice, the main character of Rose Under Fire, writes several poems that appear in various places in the book. This is the second verse of Kite-Flying: Hope waits stubbornly, watching the sky ...
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3 votes
1 answer
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Why is death a redeemer in Robinson Jeffers's "Hurt Hawks"?

The poem "Hurt Hawks" by Robinson Jeffers is about a red-tailed hawk whose wing is so badly hurt that he'll never be able to fly again. Two lines of this poem are as follows: The curs of ...
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0 votes
2 answers
90 views

"otherwise" in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein

In Chapter Seven of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (published 1816), I saw the following sentence: I remembered also the nervous fever with which I had been seized just at the time that I dated my ...
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3 votes
1 answer
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Why "in the midst of alarms" in William Cowper's poem "The Solitude of Alexander Selkirk"?

The second quatrain of William Cowper's poem "The Solitude of Alexander Selkirk" is: O Solitude! where are the charms That sages have seen in thy face? Better dwell in the midst of alarms, ...
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3 votes
0 answers
49 views

Is there any significance to the lemons and the port in Ko Un's "Asking the Way"?

"Asking the Way" is a short poem by Ko Un, addressing "You fools who ask what god is" and telling them to ask about life instead, illustrating the principle with examples about ...
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7 votes
3 answers
1k views

In Macbeth, why is Fleance 'scaped?

I've always been curious about the precise phrasing of this line from Macbeth, spoken by the First Murderer: Most royal sir, Fleance is 'scaped. The meaning of this, and as far as I can tell the ...
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0 votes
1 answer
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Why does Bradbury use "had to" in "what they had to offer."?

An excerpt from "Just this Side of Byzantium" by Ray Bradbury: I had to send myself back, with words as catalysts, to open the memories out and see what they had to offer. Why does the ...
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6 votes
3 answers
3k views

Why does Ray Bradbury use "flounder" for an action with a positive outcome?

From "Just this Side of Byzantium" by Ray Bradbury: It was with great relief, then, that in my early twenties I floundered into a word-association process in which I simply got out of bed ...
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21 votes
4 answers
6k views

Why do the Pern novels use regular words as profanity?

In the Pern novels, characters use words that would normally be innocuous as profanity. Some prominent examples are "shards" and "shells". There's a list of in-universe curse ...
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4 votes
1 answer
135 views

Harry Potter German translation - use of word "Eingeweide"

I am currently reading (aloud with my kids) the German translation of the Harry Potter series and I am a bit surprised that the German word 'Eingeweide' is used so often. 'Entrails', 'guts', 'bowels' ...
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4 votes
1 answer
1k views

What does "balks account" mean in Walt Whitman's "I Sing the Body Electric"?

Walt Whitman's poem "I Sing the Body Electric" is a sort of celebration of the human body. A phrase that recurs a few times is "balks account": The love of the body of man or ...
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-3 votes
1 answer
110 views

Does the line "writing in the time of covid-19" reference some work of literature? [closed]

Someone sent me this literature joke but I don't get it, can someone help me please? He wrote: *writing in the time of covid-19 Apparently the joke has something to do with literature, so if anyone ...
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2 votes
0 answers
97 views

Is a fish "Alive with breath" or "Alive without breath"?

J. R. R. Tolkien's The Hobbit contains many lovely riddles, posed in-universe by Gollum and Bilbo to each other. Most of them are original compositions by Tolkien himself, as he explained in one of ...
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15 votes
1 answer
1k views

Why are there three different versions of the "solid/sullied/sallied flesh" line in Hamlet?

While looking up about the passage asked about in this previous question, I noticed that there are different versions of the same line in Hamlet, Act I Scene II, line 333: O that this too too solid ...
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8 votes
2 answers
859 views

Bad Grammar in The Great Gatsby?

I'm sure many here have encountered a common error in written English, whereby 'have' is substituted by 'of'; 'should of', 'would of', 'could of', etc. It's my understanding that this is always ...
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9 votes
4 answers
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What does Lady Macbeth mean by "what thou art promised"?

In Macbeth Act I Scene 5, Lady Macbeth says the following: Glamis thou art, and Cawdor; and shalt be What thou art promised: yet do I fear thy nature; It is too full o' the milk of human ...
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6 votes
1 answer
129 views

What does "atom" mean in Don Quixote?

This is a question about Don Quijote de la Mancha (Edición conmemorativa de la RAE y la ASALE / 400th-anniversary commemorative edition by the Spanish language academies). In Chapter XXVI of the ...
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3 votes
1 answer
473 views

Shakespeare's vasty deep: was "vasty" a recognised variant of "vast" at the time?

From Shakespeare's Henry IV Part 1, Act III Scene 1: GLENDOWER: I can call spirits from the vasty deep. HOTSPUR: Why, so can I, or so can any man; But will they come when you do call for them? ...
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1 vote
1 answer
476 views

Why "a creeper climbs" in Our Casuarina Tree by Toru Dutt?

In the poem "Our Casuarina Tree" by Toru Dutt, why has she written 'a creeper climbs...'? Instead, she might have written 'a climber climbs'! Does it imply anything?
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6 votes
2 answers
2k views

Context of "swifter than arrow from the Tartar's bow"?

I go, I go; look how I go, Swifter than arrow from the Tartar's bow. -- Puck, Act III Scene II, A Midsummer Night's Dream This is a well-known line from a Shakespeare play, but did Shakespeare ...
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4 votes
2 answers
249 views

If Hamlet, being a prince, outranked Horatio, why did he address him as "sir"?

Hamlet Act 5 Scene 2: HAMLET: So much for this, sir. Now shall you see the other. You do remember all the circumstance? HORATIO: Remember it, my lord! Horatio replies to Hamlet calling ...
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  • 143
6 votes
2 answers
1k views

What does Hamlet mean when he calls Claudius a "villain"?

In Shakespeare's tragedy Hamlet, prince Hamlet repeatedly calls Claudius a "villain". Here is a quote from Act 2 Scene 2 : Bloody, bawdy villain! Remorseless, treacherous, lecherous, ...
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  • 491
2 votes
1 answer
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Does Joyce, in Finnegans Wake or Ulysses, link the sound form "hoe" to "whore"?

Does Joyce, in Finnegans Wake or Ulysses, link the sound form "hoe" to "whore", as in the current day "ho"? For example, is it probable that Joyce intended the (additional) modern day pun in the ...
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  • 1,508
7 votes
1 answer
447 views

Why does Mersault say "Hello image!" to his girlfriend?

I have read the novel A Happy Death by Albert Camus. In this novel Mersault (the absurd hero) at one point says to his girlfriend, "Hello, image!". I am wondering why he calls his girlfriend "image". ...
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