Monday, August 08, 2005


The Silver Chair
Chapter 1
  • Hols. Okay, it’d be easy enough to say “holidays” and let it go at that. But it’s probably worth pointing out that the British “holiday” is synonymous with the Yank “vacation.” So there’s a little more than just casual jargon working here. And the fact that the kids say “hols” instead of “holidays” tells the (British) reader that these kids are pretty posh.
  • Moor. On the one hand, a Moor is a person of Arabic descent. But that’s not what we’re talking about here. A moor, in this context (according to the American Heritage Dictionary), is a “broad area of open land, often high but poorly drained, with patches of heath and peat bogs.” I know, I know: How does that distinguish a moor from most of the rest of the British Isles? But there ya go.
Chapter 3
  • Serpent. I know what you’re thinking. “Gee, how stupid does he think we are?” But seriously: go back and look a few pages into Chapter III. This ain’t a snake we’re talking about here. The serpent was an odd wind instrument built during the 17th and 18th centuries, and shaped in serpentine form. It had six finger holes, requiring both hands to play. Which made it pretty difficult to hold, too.
Chapter 4
  • Crumpets. Apparently, it’s very British to burst out with something like “Crabs and crumpets!” instead of out-and-out cursing. But for the record, a crumpet is essentially what Americans call an “English Muffin.” Only better. And actually English.
  • Physic. Now, in others of Lewis’ books (like Prince Caspian), this word means “doctor.” Here, it most likely means “medicine.” What it doesn’t mean, in any case, is “physics,” the science, only with the s left off.
Chapter 5
  • Wigwam. I grew up thinking this was the same thing as a tepee. But it’s not. The tepee was used by the Plains Indians, while the wigwam (or wickiup) was a bark and skin covered dwelling used by Indians on the Eastern seaboard of America. The wigwam’s framework is shaped kind of like a beehive. So what’s a Marsh-wiggle doing in a wigwam? And how on earth does Lewis know anything about wigwams? Well, he knows about that serpent instrument, so I guess he knows about darn near everything.
  • Bobance. A brag or boast. Like, “I know what ‘wigwam’ means. So there!
  • Fricasseed. Cut into small pieces and made into a stew called a “fricassee.” We can just guess how that darn stew got its name. (From the French word for “fry and break up,” more or less.)
  • Pantomime. Ordinarily we associate this with something like what you do when you play charades. You know, no talking, just gestures and motions. But properly speaking, that’s more “mime” than “pantomime.” And in the period that Lewis is writing about, the word really just meant “acting,” more or less—and specifically, a fairy-tale type of entertainment for kids at Christmastime. My British friend Hellen says, The difficult bit for Americans to understand is that the principal boy is played by a female actor—a pantomime dame played by a man in drag!
  • Road-drill. A loud machine for breaking concrete, like a jackhammer. The point here is “loud.” Really loud.
Chapter 6
  • Cock-shies. A game in which you toss a ball (or large rock, apparently) at another object in order to knock it off its perch.
  • Balustrade. Okay, this is kind of interesting, because basically we’re just talking about a railing. But it’s called a “balustrade” because the rail is mounted on “balusters,” or pillars of a sort, in order to form a protective barrier along a parapet or stair well. So we’ve all seen balustrades but probably never called them that.
  • Kirtle. Fancy (and archaic) word for “dress,” pretty much. It’d be best not to confuse this with “girdle,” though, because it’d be pretty funny to see some lady riding a horse in nothing but a green girdle.
Chapter 7
  • Puttees. Cloths wrapped around the pant legs from ankle to knee. Like with gaiters, the point is to keep water and debris from easily getting into your boots.
Chapter 8
  • Possets. Ooh, ouch. These are spiced drinks made from sweetened milk mixed with wine or other alcoholic beverages, which curdles the milk. Yep. Sounds great!
  • Comfits. Seeds, nuts or bits of fruit coated with sugar. There. That sounds better.
  • Caraways. Cakes or sweetmeats flavored with caraway seed.
  • Cock-a-leekie. Aha. Now, I actually had some of this the last time I was in Scotland. It’s a soup made from chicken and leeks. There now, that was easy, wasn’t it?
  • Gasometer.Before gas was piped directly to homes, it was stored in a central location in huge tanks. These were called gasometers. In science, gasometers are still used to capture gas and, floating in a tank of water, tjen used to measure the weight of the gas pumped into the drum. I actually used one of these beasties back in the dark ages, before neat little electronic spirometers were invented.
Chapter 9
  • Made love. Okay, hasn’t this all just been a huge exercise in how drastically our language has changed? Today this means, basically, “had sex.” Here it means nothing of the sort. It simply means “buttered up.”
  • Scullery. The nasty, smelly part of the kitchen where the dishes are cleaned. So this is where all the refuse piles up. Not a nice thing in big old castles filled with giants.
  • Scullions. The poor unlucky servants who work in the scullery.
  • Hooters. Owls. Owls.
  • Joint. Wow. Can this just get out of hand, or what? This means “piece of meat,” specifically one with the bone in. Like leg of lamb, you know?
Chapter 10
  • Fast. Secure. Whew!
  • Coil. Noise and confusion; fuss and ruckus.
  • Nosegay. You can kind of see, I think, how the word “bouquet” became more common, can’t you?
Chapter 13
  • Christian name. The name that comes before the family name: your first name. It came to be called the “Christian” name because of the once-universal Western practice of infant baptism, during which the baby was officially christened with its given name.
Chapter 14
  • Pillar-box. A type of mailbox or postbox fashioned by cutting a slot in a metal cylinder or hollow pillar.
  • Mill-race. The stream of water that moves a water wheel, the source of hydraulic energy used for centuries to drive milling operations.
Chapter 16
  • Warped in. Towed in by a line.
  • Pavender. Okay, this word has actually been used a lot in these books, and I haven’t bothered to explain it yet. So I will now. It’s a type of fish. Don’t ask me what type—because I don’t know!


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