28 votes
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What does "Bool-var" mean in "In the Midst of Alarms"?

The spelling "Bool-var" is an attempt to render the French pronunciation of boulevard, in which the 'e' in the middle and the 'd' at the end are silent: /bul.vaʁ/ (in IPA). In the English ...
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  • 38.5k
22 votes
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What does "if the court knows herself" mean?

“If the court knows herself” is a catch-phrase referencing a joke that was popular in mid-19th-century America. The earliest version of the joke that I have been able to find is from 1853: When a ...
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11 votes
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What does "it never takes the poignancy of the sting away from a beating received" mean?

The phrase is ‘the sword so often quoted’ and refers to the Sword of Damocles, which in turn refers to the: moral parable popularized by the Roman philosopher Cicero in his 45 B.C. book “Tusculan ...
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10 votes
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Was it normal to mix up the word "lady" with a man in Canada in 1894?

The title of the question isn't applicable to the provided example, because as Hosek and shoover point out in their answers, Mr. Barr is never referring to Mr. Bartlett as a "lady" in the ...
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  • 216
10 votes
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How could the victor be vanquished at the same time?

Making land suitable for farming can require a lot of work. Examples of this can be found in other literary works. For example, the father in Federico García Lorca's play Blood Wedding / Bodas de ...
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8 votes
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How could the volumes of higher mathematics contain expletives in the late 19th century?

The word "expletive" is commonly understood to mean a swear word, but that is not, in fact, its oldest meaning. Merriam-Webster defines expletive as follows: 1 a : a syllable, word, or ...
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7 votes

Did "equator" have a different meaning from its common one in 19th-century English literature?

Googling revealed the same phrase used by O. Henry in "A Cosmopolite in a Cafe" (published in The Four Million, 1906 — i.e., after your quotation). My cosmopolite was named E. Rushmore ...
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7 votes

Was it normal to mix up the word "lady" with a man in Canada in 1894?

"Mrs. 1812" refers to Mrs. Bartlett, the housekeeper. In Chapter III, Mr. Hiram Bartlett appears in the bar. After he leaves, the barkeep describes him as obsessed with the War of 1812, thus ...
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  • 1,015
7 votes

Was it normal to mix up the word "lady" with a man in Canada in 1894?

In my reading of the passage, Stilly(?) says “Who? 1812?” because he’s confused by the sudden mention of a motherly old lady—he knows that 1812 is a man and then there’s a sudden mention of a female, ...
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  • 2,430
6 votes
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Did "equator" have a different meaning from its common one in 19th-century English literature?

Nothing in the passage suggests it means anything but the ordinary meaning of "equator." The significance of the sentence is to explain how servile and obsequious he is being. Is there any ...
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  • 4,184
5 votes

Was it common in the late 19th century to write normal places, like "cross roads" and "corners" in capital letters?

I don't know about this specific book, but they could simply be actual place names. For instance: Cross Roads, Pennsylvania. And an 1861 NYT news article reports that "The skirmish took place ...
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5 votes
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What does "Dirt is matter out of place" mean in this situation?

"Dirt is matter out of place" is a phrase apparently originating from Lord Palmerston, but nowadays associated more with Mary Douglas who cited it to Lord Chesterfield. The origin of this ...
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5 votes
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What's meant here by "libation to the rites of good-fellowship"?

He's saying he can't offer anyone a drink. Formally, a libation is a religious ritual involving the pouring of liquid (such as alcohol) to appease a god or spirit or as an offering. In a more casual, ...
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4 votes

Did "equator" have a different meaning from its common one in 19th-century English literature?

Barr is using the noun equator in its geographical sense. However, the Equator contrasts with Professor Stillson Renmark and University College in Toronto, in two ways: from a Canadian point of view, ...
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4 votes
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Who is "they" that "rake him in" or "gather him in" in this passage from In the Midst of Alarms?

From a grammatical point of view, the only plural antecedent is "protracted meetings" in the discussion that precedes the quoted passage: "What's the matter with MacDonald? Doesn't he ...
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4 votes
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What does "hard pushed in argument" mean in this context?

Your understanding of "hard pushed" is correct. "hard pushed in argument" means "facing great difficulty in putting his side of the argument". "fling the New Yorker ...
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4 votes
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How could "chaperonage" be the right of a girl?

American girls were, indeed, much less chaperoned than their European counterparts and regarded this as their right. This would give them freedoms, such as going for a walk with a gentleman, or going ...
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  • 4,184
3 votes
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What's the significance of "at least" here?

"At least" here qualifies a statement from the preceding sentence, namely "kissed her before she knew what was about to happen". That statement at first looks like a statement from ...
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  • 38.5k
3 votes
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How could someone be beaten without knowing that?

There is a difference between not knowing you are beaten and not admitting it, if the denial includes not admitting it to oneself. This is the difference between a literal and figurative usage. While ‘...
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  • 15.5k
3 votes
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What does "keep happiness away with a shotgun" mean here in this context?

My interpretation is that the passage means that "happiness will surely follow". A shotgun is a rather fearsome weapon, which would be sufficient to ward off most things. However, once one ...
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3 votes
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Where is the main clause of "if" here?

"New York's a fool to it" means New York is a foolish thing compared to this place. At the link you provided, Green's Dictionary of Slang gives "a stupid or foolish thing" as the ...
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2 votes
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How could the cane be used instead of tobacco in cigarettes in the late 1800s?

Sugarcane is a known substitute for tobacco. Here are some examples: In India, a tobacco alternative made from sugarcane and called "Soex" is marketed for use in waterpipes. Mexico has ...
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  • 15.3k
2 votes

What does "Dirt is matter out of place" mean in this situation?

In this answer I’ll give a possible further antedating of the phrase “dirt is matter out of place”. First, the speech by Palmerston. As reported by Richard Fardon (Anthropology Today 29:1, p. 25), it ...
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2 votes
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Does "if" here mean "although"?

It's not necessarily perfect grammar. People often speak elliptically. Consider it like "These chocolate chip cookies are amazing, even if they do cost three dollars each." So he's saying: &...
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2 votes
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Does Renmark mean that he himself did not lack self-conceit in the old days in "In the Midst of the Alarms"?

No, Renmark is not saying that he himself did not lack self-conceit. Yates says that he and Renmark are both single, but for different reasons. He says Renmark was too diffident to propose to anybody, ...
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1 vote
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How can someone "make a lot of money and fail" in the same time?

To the first question: the intended meaning is indeed "fail + make a lot of money". Yates is not a Dutchman, so he is saying that he expects Spink (a) to "fail" and (b) to make a ...
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  • 38.5k
1 vote

Does Renmark mean that he himself did not lack self-conceit in the old days in "In the Midst of the Alarms"?

Professor Stillson Renmark does not say how he was in the old days, but he does not deny Yates's comment that he lacked the courage to propose to a woman. Courage is something different than self-...
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  • 38.5k
1 vote
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What does "the one man on earth to her" in "In the Midst of the Alarms"?

The sentence in bold ("The accent told plainly as speech that the word represented the one man on earth to her.") appears to describe the point of view of Yates, "her listener". ...
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1 vote
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What does "draw on" mean in "In the Midst of Alarms?

In Chapter XVI Yates had received a telegraph from his employer that ended with the following words: Draw on us for cash you need; and don't spare expense. Even though he was on vacation, the ...
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  • 38.5k
1 vote

How could "chaperonage" be the right of a girl?

It's the New World and the 20th Century is less than a decade away. North American girls now felt it was acceptable to not be chaperoned all the time. By saying "birthright", the author is ...
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