36 votes
Accepted

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

While "flounder" is a negative term, it denotes a process, not an end result. If you flounder ashore after a shipwreck, that you have escaped drowning does not make your motion ...
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  • 4,754
34 votes

Use of "pounds" instead of "roubles" in passage of "The Idiot"

According to Wikipedia, Eva Martin's translation was published in 1915. At this period, it is likely that few British readers would have a reason to know the value (in Sterling) of the Russian Rouble ...
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  • 1,809
31 votes

Why do the Pern novels use regular words as profanity?

There are two issues here. Using real world profanity may make books fall afoul of censors. This was even more of an issue back in the 60s and 70s when the first books were published, especially ...
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  • 4,754
28 votes
Accepted

Why do the Pern novels use regular words as profanity?

Minced oaths, from well-known ones like "gosh" and "darn" and "heck" and "fricking", to more obscure ones, are common in the real world, but even more so in ...
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  • 64.3k
25 votes

Why is a "cucumber sandwich" specifically used as what English faith has "only just enough teeth to get through"?

Even though cucumber sandwiches were at one point associated with poshness, as Rand al'Thor writes, I don't think this is the association on which the passage is based. Nothing in the passage ...
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  • 39.2k
24 votes
Accepted

Where did the term Kwisatz Haderach in Dune originate?

Kefitzat Haderech is a Jewish phrase that means "contracting the path". Herbert defines Kwisatz Haderach as "the Shortening of the Way" (Dune: Appendix IV), clearly meaning to reference the Hebrew ...
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  • 1,273
18 votes
Accepted

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

Since Hamlet was published in several editions during the Jacobethan era, it is worth looking at how these early editions rendered these lines, using the old-spelling editions published by Internet ...
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14 votes
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Why does the Lady of Shalott stay instead of stray?

The word stay here means stop or pause. From Merriam-Webster: intransitive verb 1: to stop going forward : pause 2: to stop doing something : cease Or from the Macmillan dictionary: ...
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  • 15.3k
14 votes
Accepted

What does Lady Macbeth mean by "what thou art promised"?

The other answers have explained the meaning of the line—that Macbeth shall be king, as he was promised by the witches—but there is more to say about the choice of wording. The difficulty here arises ...
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  • 40.9k
14 votes

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

This is an interesting observation. Checking definitions of the word "flounder" reveals that they are, as the OP claims, mostly very negative. The key to the usage in this sentence is, I ...
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  • 14.9k
14 votes
Accepted

In Macbeth, why is Fleance 'scaped?

The murderer’s choice of words here is an attempt to deflect or minimize his responsibility for the failure to kill Fleance. He knows that he and his fellows failed Macbeth (“We have lost best half of ...
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  • 40.9k
14 votes

What can be gleaned from Lovecraft's usage of the words "obscene" and "blasphemous"?

The central theme of Lovecraftian horror is that the rest of the universe beyond our flat little neighborhood is so alien as to be practically incomprehensible to us, often in ways that are harmful to ...
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  • 590
12 votes
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"Marry, in her buttocks: I found it out by the bogs."

Stanley Wells's edition of the play (The New Penguin Shakespeare, 1972) has the following gloss for "bogs": bawdy; it is not certain whether bog meant "privy" in Shakespeare's ...
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  • 39.2k
12 votes
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Why is a "cucumber sandwich" specifically used as what English faith has "only just enough teeth to get through"?

Cucumber sandwiches, specifically, are a stereotypical part of English "posh" culture, along with afternoon tea and "More tea, vicar?" From Wikipedia: Cucumber sandwiches formed ...
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  • 64.3k
11 votes
Accepted

Why does Shelby Foote use the phrase "airline miles" in The Civil War: a Narrative?

This is the original sense of the word airline. Now obsolete, it survived in works on surveying and military history into the 1960s. The OED says: airline, n. 1. a. Chiefly U.S. A direct line through ...
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  • 40.9k
11 votes
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Harry Potter German translation - use of word "Eingeweide"

The first example in Der Orden des Phönix seems to be Solch wilde Gedanken wirbelten durch Harrys Kopf, und seine Eingeweide verknoteten sich vor Zorn The original English is These ...
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  • 630
10 votes
Accepted

Language in A View from the Bridge

Not only does it cast doubt on Rodolpho's masculinity, the context in which this quote comes from suggests a lot more of Eddie and his attitude towards Rodolpho. While I quite agree with the word ...
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10 votes

Language in A View from the Bridge

TL:DR - The language has been carefully chosen to cast doubt on Rodolfo's adulthood and masculinity Eddie is a traditional, older, blue collar dock worker with a conservative attitude to masculinity ...
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  • 14.9k
10 votes
Accepted

Origin and significance of E-I-E-I-O in the Old MacDonald song

As with any folk song, the origins of the lyrics can be a bit murky, but given transcriptions collected by folklorists in the early part of the twentieth century of this or related songs, we see that ...
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  • 2,468
10 votes
Accepted

Why is snow compared to "ash" in the poem "Snowfall"?

Ash particles are not the opposite colour from snow. Ash is generally pale grey to white in colour. The products of burning that are black are the heavier bits, the cinders, and the soot that deposits ...
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  • 15.8k
9 votes

Why did Emerson choose 'hobgoblin' in his quote 'A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds'?

Sense 2 of "Hobgoblin" in my OED is fig. An object which inspires superstitious dread or apprehension; a bogy, bugbear. It gives citations dating from 1709 to 1841-2, the latter being the ...
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  • 3,880
8 votes
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What is the "heap of broken images" in The Waste Land?

To say anything definitive about The Waste Land is challenging; indeed, this work seems to evade interpretation with each new line and stanza. With many interpretations carry with them some merit, I ...
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  • 1,325
8 votes

Comparing frequency of word use across Shakespeare's plays

I have used this in the past: Open Source Shakespeare: Concordance of Shakespeare's complete works. For example, you can type “beauty” into the box and get this page that shows the occurrences in each ...
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  • 1,294
8 votes
Accepted

Does Joyce, in Finnegans Wake or Ulysses, link the sound form "hoe" to "whore"?

Most of these aren't saying "whore". The one that does is "Hohore", which according to this page is actually "ho whore"; "ho" here is the exclamation. Also, note the r in "hore". The Oxford English ...
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  • 1,629
8 votes

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

The pencil. Holmes is saying that the "broad-pointed, violet-tinted" nature of the pencil is not an unusual pattern for pencils, so Holmes can't identify anything sufficiently unique about ...
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  • 6,654
8 votes

Why is Helen's speech here in the Iliad described as being given "warmly"?

The original Greek text is VI.332 τὸν δ᾽ Ἑλένη μύθοισι προσηύδα μειλιχίοισι: where μειλιχίοισι means “gentle, soothing” (the word is related to μέλι meaning “honey”). This adjective does not seem ...
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  • 40.9k
8 votes
Accepted

Why is Philoktetes specifically hunting "doves"?

TL;DR: Doves could have been a common bird that Philoktetes hunted and ate, given his situation in the play, making them the species that came most readily to mind in the quoted speeches. Philoktetes ...
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