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I'm reading "The Making of the Atomic Bomb" by Richard Rhodes, and there is a passage describing Neils Bohr when he first came to Cambridge.

quote:
He joined a soccer club; called on physiologists who had been students of his father; attended physics lectures; worked on an experiment Thomson had assigned him; allowed the English ladies, "absolute geniuses at drawing you out," to do their duty by him at dinner parties.


Can anyone explain what that last part means? "Drawing you out" and "do their duty by him" don't mean anything to me.
 
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Maybe you can get in touch with Richard Rhodes via his website and ask him.
 
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drawing someone out = subtly persuading someone to talk about something, especially if they are a little shy

do duty by someone = to do the right thing / here meaning to get him to join in with the dinner conversation so that he doesn't feel left out.

Both are common enough British expressions.

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I've heard both phrases here in the US, too, but maybe they're a bit out-dated.


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quote:
do their duty by him

This can often have a faint (or perhaps not so faint) air of salaciousness. A stallion will "do his duty by" a mare by providing her with a foal. A wife can similarly do her duty by her husband by consenting to sex. "Wifely duties" can be used as a euphemism for sex. I'm not suggesting the phrase is used in this way here, though. (Edwardian dinner parties at Cambridge might have been fun if it were, though!)

The phrases are rather outdated over here, too, but Bohr was at Cambridge around 1912.


Build a man a fire and he's warm for a day. Set a man on fire and he's warm for the rest of his life.
 
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I'd agree that "do one's duty by" sounds a little dated or formal, although it is still heard, but "draw someone out" is, in my opinion still current.
 
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<Asa Lovejoy>
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"Draw out" seems contemporary to me. When I read the "do one's duty to" phrase I thought much the same as arnie. However, the US Boy Scout promise says, "...do my duty to god and my country." Isn't it similar in the UK? While naughty Boy Scout leaders are nearly as common as perverted priests here in Portland, I doubt that was the intent of the oath.
 
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Now that I think about it more, I realize I've probably heard both phrases used in different contexts, but never together, and never meaning quite what people here seem to think. I detected a possible hint of salaciousness, as Arnie suggested, but it seemed out of place.
 
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quote:
Isn't it similar in the UK?

In the UK it is "To do my duty to God and the Queen".

We do not pledge allegiance to our country, but to our Monarch. The effect is probably much the same, though. Whether you are fighting for the Queen or the country, when you get blown to bits in Iraq it probably doesn't matter too much.


Richard English
 
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Or in the Boy Scout oath

quote:
On my honor, I will do my best, to do my duty, to God and my Country ...
 
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