My wife and I are reading Trollope’s The Eustace Diamonds at night, and we’ve gotten to Volume 2, Chapter 55, which is called “Quints Or Semitenths.” This refers to Plantagenet Palliser’s cherished scheme to create a five-farthing penny (which, I now discover, was an actual proposal); I thought this passage near the start of the chapter was linguistically enjoyable enough to share:
The five-farthing bill had been laid upon the table on a Tuesday, and was to be read the first time on the following Monday week. On the Wednesday Lady Glencora had written to the duke, and had called in Hertford Street. On the following Sunday she was at Matching, looking after the duke;–but she returned to London on the Tuesday, and on the Wednesday there was a little dinner at Mr. Palliser’s house, given avowedly with the object of further friendly discussion respecting the new Palliser penny. The prime minister was to be there, and Mr. Bonteen, and Barrington Erle, and those special members of the Government who would be available for giving special help to the financial Hercules of the day. A question, perhaps of no great practical importance, had occurred to Mr. Palliser,–but one which, if overlooked, might be fatal to the ultimate success of the measure. There is so much in a name,–and then an ounce of ridicule is often more potent than a hundredweight of argument. By what denomination should the fifth part of a penny be hereafter known? Some one had, ill-naturedly, whispered to Mr. Palliser that a farthing meant a fourth, and at once there arose a new trouble, which for a time bore very heavily on him. Should he boldly disregard the original meaning of the useful old word; or should he venture on the dangers of new nomenclature? October, as he said to himself, is still the tenth month of the year, November the eleventh, and so on, though by these names they are so plainly called the eighth and ninth. All France tried to rid itself of this absurdity, and failed. Should he stick by the farthing; or should he call it a fifthing, a quint, or a semitenth? “There’s the ‘Fortnightly Review’ comes out but once a month,” he said to his friend Mr. Bonteen, “and I’m told that it does very well.” Mr. Bonteen, who was a rational man, thought the “Review” would do better if it were called by a more rational name, and was very much in favour of “a quint.” Mr. Gresham had expressed an opinion, somewhat off-hand, that English people would never be got to talk about quints, and so there was a difficulty. A little dinner was therefore arranged, and Mr. Palliser, as was his custom in such matters, put the affair of the dinner into his wife’s hands. When he was told that she had included Lord Fawn among the guests he opened his eyes. Lord Fawn, who might be good enough at the India Office, knew literally nothing about the penny. “He’ll take it as the greatest compliment in the world,” said Lady Glencora. “I don’t want to pay Lord Fawn a compliment,” said Mr. Palliser. “But I do,” said Lady Glencora. And so the matter was arranged.
It was a very nice little dinner. Mrs. Gresham and Mrs. Bonteen were there, and the great question of the day was settled in two minutes, before the guests went out of the drawing-room. “Stick to your farthing,” said Mr. Gresham.
“I think so,” said Mr. Palliser.
“Quint’s a very easy word,” said Mr. Bonteen.
“But squint is an easier,” said Mr. Gresham, with all a prime minister’s jocose authority.
“They’d certainly be called cock-eyes,” said Barrington Erle.
“There’s nothing of the sound of a quarter in farthing,” said Mr. Palliser.
“Stick to the old word,” said Mr. Gresham. And so the matter was decided […]
I think we all know “rational men” like Mr. Bonteen.