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Unexpected Meanings from Sherlock Holmes Login/Join
 
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This week we’ll investigate the short stories of Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and detect unfamiliar meanings of familiar words.
    [S]tarting from under her window, we could follow her footmarks easily across the lawn to the edge of the mere, where they vanished close to the gravel path which leads out of the grounds. The lake there is eight feet deep, and you can imagine our feelings when we saw that the trail of the poor demented girl came to an end at the edge of it
    The Musgrave Ritual
mere (noun) – a sheet of standing water; a lake; a pond, a pool
[This is etymologically unrelated to our familiar term mere, and in that sense it it is not truly the “same” word. According to OED, the latter is Latinate, and the former is Germanic. But I wonder, noting that French la mer (as in Debussy) means “the sea”.]
 
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chaff – light-hearted joking (verb: to tease)
[probably unrelated to chaff – the husks of grain or other seed separated by winnowing or threshing]
    Another fact, which had struck Major Murphy and three out of five of the other officers with whom I conversed, was the singular sort of depression which came upon him [Colonel Barclay] at times. As the major expressed it, the smile had often been struck from his mouth, as if by some invisible hand, when he has been joining the gayeties and chaff of the mess-table. For days on end, when the mood was on him, he has been sunk in the deepest gloom.
    The Crooked Man
 
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[This is etymologically unrelated to our familiar term mere, and in that sense it it is not truly the “same” word. According to OED, the latter is Latinate, and the former is Germanic. But I wonder, noting that French la mer (as in Debussy) means “the sea”.]

Well, English mere, as in a body of water, does go back past the Old English period to Common Germanic (or Proto-Germanic); a reflex of it exists in most Germanic languages.French mer goes back to Latin maris 'sea'. Both the Italic and Germanic roots no doubt go back to PIE.


Ceci n'est pas un seing.
 
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Originally posted by wordcrafter:
[This is etymologically unrelated to our familiar term mere, and in that sense it it is not truly the “same” word. According to OED, the latter is Latinate, and the former is Germanic. But I wonder, noting that French la mer (as in Debussy) means “the sea”.]


Etymonline says 'mere' the body of water's German roots and also 'mare' the Latin sea both come from PIE mori-/mari. So 'la mer' would be part of the same picture as z suggests.

Same source describes 'mere' (nothing more than) once also meaning 'nothing less than' (pure, absolute)-- & that deriving from Latin 'merus' unmixed, clear, bright -- all going back to PIE mer- to gleam/glimmer/sparkle.

Can't help thinking the two PIE roots that led us to such different meanings today (mer-, mori/mari) started off as closely related, the one perhaps describing the other.
 
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Today’s word has a meaning which, though less-known than the usual one, is not completely unfamiliar. The root is the Latin for ‘twist back’, and you can see how that root sense also ties to the more usual meaning.
    Holmes was seated at his side-table clad in his dressing-gown, and working hard over a chemical investigation. A large curved retort was boiling furiously in the bluish flame of a Bunsen burner, and the distilled drops were condensing into a two-litre measure.
    The Naval Treaty
retort – a long-necked glass container, used in distilling liquids and other chemical operations
[Latin retorquere ‘twist back’, referring to the backward-bending neck of the glass container]
Nowadays, used more to mean “a container or furnace for carrying out a chemical process on a large or industrial scale”.
 
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The term triggered a sudden flashback to archaic scientific terms, a vision of what today might be called by "steampunk."

Alembic and cucurbit, Wimshurst machine, Atwood machine, Leyden jars, Van de Graaff generator, Jacob's Ladder, aeolipile, Antikythera mechanism, astrolabe, orrerry, alidade...


RJA
 
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steampunk

Difference engine. I've seen the one in the Computer History Museum actually working and printing a page of its results.


Ceci n'est pas un seing.
 
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Although retort and some similar terms for chemical apparatus may be 'archaic' by the standards of modern-day professional chemists, I well recall their use in the chem labs at school. From what I've seen since, they are still used in schools, especially for teaching and demonstrating some of the more basic chemical reactions.


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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    It had been a close, rainy day in October. Our blinds were half-drawn, and Holmes lay curled upon the sofa, reading and re-reading a letter which he had received by the morning post. For myself, my term of service in India had trained me to stand heat better than cold, and a thermometer of 90 was no hardship. But the paper was uninteresting. Parliament had risen. Everybody was out of town, and I yearned for the glades of the New Forest or the shingle of Southsea.
    The Resident Patient
shingle – coarse beach-gravel; also, a beach covered with such gravel
You’ll see the Southsea shingle beach in this old photo and this new one.

Unclear etymology, but with interesting speculation. The word was originally chingle, perhaps imitating the sound that loose gravel makes when you walk on it. (Compare the chink or clink, sounds of coins or glasses jostled against each other.) chingle’s initial ch- later changed to sh-. The ch- to sh- shift parallels the change of the old word chivere (perhaps akin to chatter) into our modern shiver.
 
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The unexpected sense of today’s word is not just different from the usual sense. It is quite the opposite of it.

Come with me – or else.
    His visitor, on entering his rooms, had drawn a life-preserver from his sleeve, and had so impressed him with the fear of instant and inevitable death that he had kidnapped him … .
    The Greek Interpreter
life preserver – a hand weapon with a weighted head upon a small shaft (the shaft may be strappy or springy, making a blackjack, or it may be a stick)

OED defines it as a stick weighted at one end “and intended for use in self-defence. Often carried for protection by burglars.” I think that is nonsense, in that the device is for attack, not defense. A quote from another Sherlock Holmes work makes this clear.
    Oberstein had a short life-preserver. He always carried it with him. As West forced his way after us into the house Oberstein struck him on the head. The blow was a fatal one. He was dead within five minutes.
    The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans, a story in His Last Bow
- - - - - - -
By the way, do you agree with the dictionaries’ definition of the more usual meaning of “life preserver”? In rough terms, most define it either as “a life jacket” or as “a life jacket or other buoyancy device”. But in my view, the term explicitly excludes a life jacket; it specifically means a flotation device of doughnut shape.
 
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I would call the donut-shaped device a life preserver...and the jacket device a life jacket.
 
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Today’s word was not originally a military term.

cadet – a younger son or brother; a younger branch of a family; a member of a younger branch
[from the diminutive form of Latin caput head; hence, “little chief” or “little head” of a family]
    He was indeed a scion of one of the very oldest families in the kingdom, though his branch was a cadet one which had separated from the northern Musgraves some time in the sixteenth century.
    The Musgrave Ritual
 
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'Cadet' means younger (adj) or younger/youngest sibling (noun) in French. Etymology online claims the military association is from the 15th c. Gascon 'capdet', related to the Gascon tradition of sending younger sons of nobility to French court to serve as officers.
 
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    Yes, we've had a scare in this part lately. Old Acton, who is one of our county magnates, had his house broken into last Monday. No great damage done, but the fellows are still at large.
    The Reigate Puzzle
In Doyle’s usage, a magnate is a person of rank, power, influence, or distinction, in any field. Most dictionaries define it this way, although many (but not all; see Merriam-Webster) add “especially in business or industry”. I think that is wrong, and that is today’s usage the word applies solely to prominence in business.

magnate – a very wealthy or powerful businessman
 
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I'm a week behind, not having computer access in the hospital, so pardon a late entty re: chaff.
That also is the word for a radar countermeasure used by the British in World War II. Another name for it was Window.


Give a man a fish and he can eat for one day; give a man a fishing pole and he will find an excuse to never work again.
Nollidj is power.
 
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Originally posted by wordcrafter:
Unclear etymology, but with interesting speculation. The word was originally chingle, perhaps imitating the sound that loose gravel makes when you walk on it. (Compare the chink or clink, sounds of coins or glasses jostled against each other.) chingle’s initial ch- later changed to sh-. The ch- to sh- shift parallels the change of the old word chivere (perhaps akin to chatter) into our modern shiver.


Actually, as the surf works the rocks, it moves the back and forth on the beach which erodes them into a flattened shape. When you look at their distribution on a beach (and in ancient rocks that were shingled beach deposits) they are lapped one on another, just like roof shingles. So there is really no question as to where the name of this type of beach came from.
 
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So there is really no question as to where the name of this type of beach came from.

Not sure what you mean here. The word derives from Middle English, possibly from Old Norse, as is mentioned by Wordcrafter. The (primarily American) meaning of "roof tile" comes from different roots, and first appeared in English much later, in the 19th century; Latin scandula meant a roof tile.


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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