Ken-ichi's Reviews > The Fortune of War

The Fortune of War by Patrick O'Brian
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's review
Nov 19, 08

really liked it
bookshelves: escape, historical-fiction
Read in March, 2006

Honestly, they're like candy. Even episodes like this one which take place predominantly on shore, as Jack and Stephen are "held" as prisoners of war in Boston. Naval warfare in this age just seems so preposterous in these books that I have difficulty believing it, but by all reports O'Brian was a fastidious scholar, so I guess I have to. Treating your defeated opponent to the highest civilities in the name of honor while simultaneously crystalizing the shame of defeat in the same act just seems so fictional. It doesn't seem like naval battles were any less horrendously violent than modern conventional warfare, perhaps even more so given the vulnerability of all hands, including the officers, to shot, splinters, or just plain drowning. But this pre-mechanized, pre-manufactured warfare is so personal, so hands-on, so natural that it seems almost right. It's like organic war.

ukase (n): an edict of the Russian government; an arbitrary command.
mumchance (n): A game of hazard played with cards in silence; a silent, stupid person. p. 95.
catharpings (n): small ropes that brace the shrouds of the lower masts under the top of a square-rigged vessel (from Dean King's A Sea of Words). p. 95.
forfantery (n): Anglicized version of the French word forfanterie, which means "boastfulness" (thanks lizw!). p. 132.
inspissate (v): to thicken or condense. p. 137.
octavo (n): a book made from a single sheet folded into eighths. p. 163.
appurtencance (n): an appendage or addendum; appurtenances are specialized equipment. p. 163.
propinquity (n): proximity; kinship. p. 179.
scabrous (adj): scabby; difficulty; scandalous. p. 205.
costive (n): constipated or causing constipation; sluggish; stingy. p. 209.
drabogue (n): from the Irish drabóg = draoibeog = slut; mud-spattered person. This one required some research. From p. 224, Stephen says,

Was the lady unsuitable? So many sailors take the strangest trollops to wife. Even drabogues.

Clearly somewhere along the lines of 'trollop,' but no dictionary I could lay hands on contained 'drabogue.' I found this mention of the word on a Patrick O'Brian mailing list, but remained unsatisfied. In one of the rare instances when a soulless network of computers failed to meet my informational needs, I instead turned to a network of people, people who speak Irish, namely my mom and my Aunt. One of my mom's friends sussed the definition out of "Niall Ó Dónaill's dictionary" (this one, I'm assuming). Thanks, Sean, for helping us all be better nerds.
altumal (adj): ?? possibly mercantile, or specialized, or marine? p. 272.
concupiscence (n): lust. p. 295.

Stephen discusses American English with an American:

'From the South? . . . Now that may account for a difference I have noticed in their manner of speech, a certain languor - what I might almost term a lisping deliberation in delivery, not unmelodious, but sometimes difficult for the unaccustomed ear. Whereas all that you say, sir, is instantly comprehensible'

'Why, sure,' said Evans, in his harsh nasal metallic bray, 'the right American English is spoke in Boston, and even as far as Watertown. You will find no corruption there, I believe, no colonial expressions, other than those that arise naturally from our intercourse with the Indians. Boston, sir, is a well of English, pure and undefiled.'

'I am fully persuaded of it,' said Stephen. 'Yet at breakfast this morning Mr Adams, who was also riz in Boston, stated that hominy grits cut no ice with him. I have been puzzling over his words ever since. I am acquainted with the grits, a grateful pap that might with advantage be exhibited in cases of duodenal debility, and I at once perceived that the expression was figurative. But in what does the figure consist? Is it desirable that ice should be cut? And if so, why? And what is the force of with?'

After barely a moments pause, Mr Evans said, 'Ah, there now, you have an Indian expression. It is a variant upon the Iroquois katno aiss' vizmi - I am unmoved, unimpressed.'

I have no idea if the etymology of 'cuts no ice' is in any way accurate, but God, I love Stephen. 'Duodenal debility' could keep me laughing for hours.
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