Woolly Wordings 6

In the years since Sir Arthur Conan Doyle penned the sixty stories of Sherlock Holmes, many changes have come about in the English language, and many words and phrases have passed in and out of common use. This post takes two of the now less common words from that time and attempts to clarify them for the modern reader.

In ‘The Crooked Man’ we find a dead man who had fallen over a chair and cut his head on the corner of a fender in his own morning-room, but what is this fender inside the house? In this case, it is a metal border for the fireplace that is meant to keep the coal, soot, and ash of the fire inside the fireplace.

In ‘The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton’ we find Holmes and Watson breaking and entering Milverton’s home, and, in the course of describing the interior of the house, Watson writes “a portière at the farther side showed the entrance to [Milverton’s] bedroom.” You may find yourself asking, as I did, what is a portière? It is a door curtain used as a decorative addition or to prevent drafts, and it usually indicated an upper class Victorian home.

NEXT WEEK: A little feature I like to call Time Benders.


The Text over the Fire

In his explanation at the end of ‘The Crooked Man,’ Henry Wood asserted the following:

“. . . at the sight of me he looked as I have never seen a man look before, and over he went with his head on the fender.  But he was dead before he fell.  I read death on his face as plain as I can read that text over the fire.  The bare sight of me was like a bullet through his guilty heart.”

I could not help but be reminded of the passage in the biblical book of Daniel in chapter five from which the phrase “The hand writing on the wall” is derived.  What do you suppose was written on Henry Wood’s wall?

NEXT WEEK: The unambitious older brother.