16 July 2010

That's a "finger-post" in the drawing

They had stopped to rest beneath a finger-post where four roads met…

From Master Humphrey’s clock vol.1 , by Charles Dickens, illustrated by George Cattermole and Hablot Knight Browne. London, 1840.  Via the OBI Scrapbook Blog.

The OED lists usages going back to the late 18th-century and notes that a finger-post typically had arms which terminated in the shape of a finger.

Searching the term, I came across this connection to the word "crucial":
crucial - 1706, from Fr. crucial... from L. crux (gen. crucis) "cross." The meaning "decisive, critical" is extended from a logical term, Instantias Crucis, adopted by Francis Bacon (1620); the notion is of cross fingerboard signposts at forking roads, thus a requirement to choose
You learn something every day.


  1. Thank you. I think you just explained the title's meaning in Iain Pears' Novel, An Instance of the Fingerpost.

    I would highly recommend this if you have missed it so far.

  2. It's curious you should mention him. I have a note on my hard disk entitled "books/authors to check" that includes this citation from an unknown source:

    "The popularity of books like Pears’ itself requires explanation. The English have always had a higher tolerance for donnish mysteries in the Michael Innes and Iain Pears mode. American readers have tended to go for darker, nastier tales—Chandler and James M. Cain, or James Ellroy—with less intellectual payoff."

    but I never followed up on it. So now I'll give the guy a try, Pietr. Our library has 27 copies of that book (and no requests), so I should have it in hand soon...

  3. Another fan of Iain Pears. I think you would like the book.

  4. Mr. Pears, and I think Barbwire would agree, has fantastic oeuvres but also forgettable potboilers. Suggest Dream of Scipio and Stone's Fall if you want further reading.

    Colin Harrison writes fantastic, thoroughly American and intellectual thrillers, for want of a better word. His Bodies Electric is phenomenal. I would suggest reviewing your Walt Whitman intellectual data base before reading. He is far more predictably great than Pears.

    BTW: The poem,I Sing the Body Electric, can be found in Whtman's Leaves of Grass.

    Unfortunately, as your anonymous essayist states, Americans don't go for this genre. Raymond Chandler sold a lot more books.

  5. I would agree. I didn't care as much for "Dream of Scipio", but I liked "Stone's Fall" quite a bit. I'll be on the lookout for Colin Harrison. Thanks.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...