Glossary Words.

Some interesting tidbits in this TLS column:

Should you find yourself sat in a crumby crib or a cockloft, a passing spring-cart audible without, with only a glass of negus to drink and toast-and-water to eat – alas, we fear you must have tumbled into the world of The Uncommercial Traveller by Charles Dickens.

This collection of sketches began as a series in Dickens’s journal All the Year Round. It roams “now about the city streets: now, about the country by-roads”, its narrator “seeing many little things, and some great things, which, because they interest me, I think may interest others”. It interests us in turn to see that The Uncommercial Traveller has now been published in the Oxford Edition of Charles Dickens, edited by J. H. Alexander (Oxford University Press, £190). This new edition boasts a glossary that could be useful to anyone who wishes to get to grips with the archaic lingo of the 1860s.

Happily (“perhaps”) a bobby has remained a familiar term, even if that’s not what most people would today call a policeman. Most people have no cause, meanwhile, to look out for the once-common drayman (a “driver of low horse-drawn beer cart”), still less a drysalter (a “dealer in articles for dyeing and related products”). We wish we could reintroduce into everyday usage the fine adjective cannibalic (“just awful, shockingly bad”) – not to mention the even finer saponaceous (“soapy”).

Beware of false friends, meanwhile: boxing-gloves denote mittens and your mother-in-law is probably your stepmother. But here we are straying into the glossary to Nicholas Nickleby, an earlier work by Dickens, that was also recently published in an Oxford volume, edited by Elizabeth James and Joel J. Brattin, with J. H. Alexander (Oxford University Press, £190).

By way of a repoussoir (“foil, contrast”), consider a third glossary: the shorter but equally formidable one appended to Oliver Herford’s edition of the Prefaces of Henry James (Cambridge University Press, £95). The latest volume in the Cambridge Edition of the Complete Fiction of Henry James, this set of critical introductions – which James composed for the New York Edition of his fiction (1907–09) – may be said to be concerned with many great things and some little things. Far above the Dickensian terra-firma (“solid ground”) soars the Master, as if over an arête (“mountain ridge”), high above the world of simple cocchieri (“cab-drivers”) and éclaireurs (“military scouts”). […]

The rest of the review is behind the paywall, but that’s enough to be going on with. I must say I’m shocked that terra firma, hyphenated or not, is now considered so obsolete it requires glossing, but such are the degenerate days we live in.


  1. Christopher says

    I was also surprised to see terra firma to be glossed, but a quick Google search shows only a dictionary definitions and a real estate firm by that names, so it would seem to fit the evidence.

    I’m also interested in how mother-in-law shifted in meaning over last century and a half.

  2. It’s not really that the meaning shifted: mother-in-law has always meant spouse’s mother, going back to Middle English. It’s that in some dialects (at various times) it could mean stepmother instead (or maybe also).

    See for instance here, answering here.

  3. I don’t agree with the definition of dray. A dray is a cart, usually without sides, used to transport any kind of heavy load, not just beer barrels.

    Drayage frequently refers to transporting a ship’s cargo to its destination in the port, such as a warehouse. Drayage, in English usage, perhaps refers to transport over fairly short distances. But this is due to the limitations of drayhorses.

    In Australia, bullock drays were used to transport heavy cargo, such as wool, wheat, timber, etc., over long distances.

  4. A fine ballad of “Barclay and Perkin’s Draymen” from the English ballads archive of the National Library of Scotland. These draymen were working for a brewery; maybe beer was the dray-load most commonly seen by city dwellers.

  5. Jen in Edinburgh says

    I thought toast and water was another thing to drink – water flavoured with a small piece of toast, rather than soggy bread.

    Arête is still about – it’s kind of technical, but not so much that it’s not used by hillwalkers as well as geographers.

    English ‘without’ meaning outside seems to survive only in street names, but Scottish ‘outwith’ is still on the go. I recommend it.

  6. Stu Clayton says

    English ‘without’ meaning outside seems to survive only in street names

    One Spanish radio tertulia I’ve been listening to for years conventionally begins with the contertulianos each saying something about their local weather. They never use afuera when referring to the outdoor temperature (to contrast it with the temperature indoors), but instead en la calle. It’s clear that they mean “outside”, not “in the street in front of my house”.

  7. Similarly the Russian phrase на улице, literally ‘in the street,’ can also mean generally ‘outside, outdoors.’

  8. Stu Clayton says

    Is it customary to formulate that differently when, say, your house is way out in the country, approached only by a curved drive lined with lime trees instead of a “street” ? Or when you live in a shack in the woods ? These are pressing questions that weigh on inquiring minds.

  9. Quiz and Phiz were Dickens associates, pen-names, but also words that may call for a gloss.
    Earlier, in 1748, Tobias Smollett, in Adventures of Roderick Random, wrote, “….what is called a queer phiz, occasioned by a long chin, an hook nose, and high cheek bones, rendered him on the whole a very fit subject for mirth and pleasantry.”
    Phiz is from physiognomy, as is well known.
    But quiz is disputed. Some, unconvincingly, say it’s from Latin quis.
    Quiz originally referred to an odd-looking person.
    As some old British public school lads knew:
    Quiz is a blend of queer and phiz.

  10. J.W. Brewer says

    I can tell you from personal experience (working on a lawsuit related to a fire that burned down a building on W 34th St and caused smoke damage in neighboring premises), that “cockloft” remains a lexeme in active use in certain varieties of AmEng, including the variety used by fire marshals who write up official reports about fires, their progress, instensity, and apparent causes, for the reasons explained in the second paragraph here:

  11. Is it customary to formulate that differently when, say, your house is way out in the country, approached only by a curved drive lined with lime trees instead of a “street” ? Or when you live in a shack in the woods ?

    Nope, it’s an idiom. People say “I’m going to bed” even if they’re going to lie on a futon and “Keep on truckin’!” even if no trucks are involved.

  12. In fact, it’s used in a Rytkheu novel about a guy living in a Chukchi encampment of yarangas, with no literal street for hundreds of miles around.

  13. I find en la calle interesting for another reason. Even as someone who spent a fair amount of my life in Chicago apartments, for me the weather is something that happens in a place defined by the presence of vegetation (albeit dormant), not asphalt or cut stone. That’s true for me of “outside”. The street can’t serve as metonymy for me because it’s not a representative part of outside.

    This makes me think of my friend Dan, who describes himself as indoorsy.

  14. PlasticPaddy says

    It’s a long way from dirt roads you were raised…

  15. When I was young I would occasionally hear “phizzog” (not sure of the spelling) for ‘face’, usually not in a complimentary context. But it was dated even then and doesn’t seem to have survived.

  16. J.W. Brewer says

    Wiktionary describes the “outside” sense of “without” as “(archaic or literary).” I think it’s easy enough to grok in poetic use, esp. when contrasted with “within.” Thus T.S. Eliot: “There were enemies without to destroy him. / And spies and self-seekers within.” Or (from the same work) “The Church must be forever building, for it is forever decaying within and attacked from without.” And yet also (still from the same work) “They constantly try to escape / From the darkness outside and within,” when “darkness without and within” would seem to have been workable.

  17. I find “darkness outside and within” incoherent as compared to “darkness without and within.” If you don’t want to use “without” in that sense, do a complete rewrite.

  18. J.W. Brewer says

    Apparently Faber & Faber back in 1934 had more loosey-goosey editors than hat assigned to the Eliot account!

  19. J.W. Brewer says

    There’s also the old-fashioned parallelism in the title here But who knows if it really comes through in the actual lyrics and the ideal listener was probably assumed to be too stoned to be parsing anything very carefully.

  20. Keith Ivey says
  21. I’m sad to see that the Roman churches St Paul Without the Walls and St Laurence Without the Walls have re-branded as “Outside the Walls”. The names used to puzzle me as a child.

  22. David Eddyshaw says

    In Scotland, they would be “outwith the walls.” Much better.

  23. So OUP has decided to continue its Dickens edition. I remember reading a number of years ago that OUP had given up on it – which meant that the (much more affordable) Oxford World Classics editions had to reprint unreliable texts; for certain Dickens novels the Penguin Classics editions (freshly edited texts, roughly according to the same principles as OUPs Dickens edition) was definitely the better alternative.

  24. Waugh, The Loved One:

    “You are standing in the Church of St. Peter-without-the-walls, Oxford, one of England’s oldest and most venerable places of worship […]
         This is more than a replica, it is a reconstruction. A building-again of what those old craftsmen sought to do with their rude implements of bygone ages. Time has worked its mischief on the beautiful original. Here you see it as the first builders dreamed of it long ago.
         “You will observe that the side aisles are constructed solely of glass and grade A steel. There is a beautiful anecdote connected with this beautiful feature. In 1935 Dr. Kenworthy was in Europe seeking in that treasure house of Art something worthy of Whispering Glades. His tour led him to Oxford and the famous Norman church of St. Peter. He found it dark. He found it full of conventional and depressing memorials. ‘Why,’ asked Dr. Kenworthy, ‘do you call it St. Peter-without-the-walls?’ and they told him it was because in the old days the city wall had stood between it and the business center. ‘My church,’ said Dr. Kenworthy, ‘shall have no walls.’ And so you see it today full of God’s sunshine and fresh air, bird-song and flowers…”

  25. PlasticPaddy says

    Clearly not fit for purpose. How can anyone go to sleep in a church like that?

  26. J.W. Brewer says

    £190 for a fancy edition of a public-domain work? No matter how good the glossary and other non-public-domain ancillary contents, that’s pretty hoity-toity pricing. Waugh would probably be better than Dickens in writing dialogue in which some character tries to justify it.

  27. The £190 is for academic libraries who will curse but cough it up. Per work.

  28. Waugh

    Naturally, been there, done that.

  29. If I may be so sacrilegious, Bob Dylan’s “Come all without, come all within, You’ll not see nothing like the mighty Quinn” is just stoopid. He wasn’t ashamed to write doggerel like this, but it is hard to distinguish from his purposefully obscure Serious Poetry.

  30. As I said a few years ago:

    People make way too much of lyrics in pop music (don’t get me started on Dylan’s Nobel). They’ve got to be there (barring the occasional instrumental), but they don’t gotta make sense.

  31. J.W. Brewer says

    Dylan wrote that particular one at a time when he was going through a deliberate stylistic shift away from a more overtly poetic/lofty/vatic style toward a more (very self-consciously!) unpretentious and vernacular one. While preserving the tic of deliberately messing with common idioms/cliches, e.g. in this one “not my cup of meat” for “… of tea.”

  32. David Marjanović says

    but they don’t gotta make sense.

    That brings this to mind.

  33. The few remaining Irish Placenames with “without”/”within” rarely make explicit within/without what. (Medieval walls usually, of course.)

  34. David Marjanović says

    Baronies and civil parishes? I had no idea.

  35. Is it customary to formulate that differently when, say, your house is way out in the country, approached only by a curved drive lined with lime trees instead of a “street” ?

    As Hat said it’s an idiom. One can say “на дворе” or “во дворе” (in the yard) with the same meaning, but it’s a matter of habit, not place.

  36. ktschwarz says

    Previous discussion of the Russian “in the street” idiom and the Rytkheu novel that languagehat mentioned in a comment above. Scroll down to the bottom to a quote where a Russian writer herself remarks on the incongruity of the idiom in a Chukchi deer-herder camp.

  37. Kate Bunting says

    Jen said:
    ‘English ‘without’ meaning outside seems to survive only in street names.’

    And of course in “There is a green hill far away/Without a city wall” which has puzzled generations of children.

  38. David Marjanović says

    English ‘without’ meaning outside seems to survive only in street names.

    Unless the contrast with within is explicit. Just today I came across this:

    Democratic candidate #1 is Executive of Prince George’s County Angela Alsobrooks. Her main advantage is that she is the candidate of the Democratic establishment, and she has been able to utilize that liberally, [sic] That is to say, every Alsobrooks speech, rally, etc. includes at least a few high-profile Democrats, some of them from within Maryland, some from without.

    and yesterday:

    Returning to the Vietnam example for a moment, the Lyndon Johnson administration (and the Richard Nixon administration) managed to keep that war going for a very long time, even after people within the administration and without began pointing out that there was no real plan to end the war.

    The author is an academic who seems to have lived in California all his life.

  39. John Cowan says

    I was also surprised to see terra firma to be glossed,

    I first encountered it in my youth in a comic book: “I’m glad to be back on terra firma.” / “Yes, the more firmer, the less terror.”

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