27 August 2019

Language in "The Mystery of the Yellow Room"

I jotted down a few notes while reading Gaston Leroux' The Mystery of the Yellow Room, a 1907 novel considered to be the first "locked room mystery."

The mystery takes place at a chateau: "The Glandier - ancient Glandierum - was so called from the quantity of glands (acorns) which, in all times, had been gathered in that neighborhood."  A standard French word, from the Old French glant, from the Latin glandem.

"Having explained so far, I cannot refrain from making one further reflexion."  When one ponders or considers a subject, the common term is that one "reflects" on the matter, but it is unexpected to see reflexion (or reflection) used in the noun form in this manner.  A reflection in a mirror, certainly, but as used here I was quite startled.

Now consider these unusual contractions:
"I have n't had them arrested."
"Are n't you satisfied?"
"A keeper is as much a servant as any other, is n't he?"
"But I've made him understand that his face does n't please me..."
I think I've listed a number of unusual contractions in my reviews of John Dickson Carr books, written in the 1930s.  This contracting of not to n't, unjoined to the verb is from decades earlier.  I don't know if this was common usage by copy editors of the time or not.

"When we were in complete darkness, he lit a wax vesta..."  Vesta was the Roman goddess of the hearth and the home, so I suppose the application of the name to a match is quite appropriate, though nowadays archaic.

"When I left my chamber, at half-past ten, my father was already at work in the laboratory.  We worked together till midday.  We then took half-an-hour's walk in the park, as we were accustomed to do, before breakfasting at the chateau."  Literally this makes logical sense; if you skip the morning meal and break your fast in the afternoon, that meal would be your "break-fast," but it does sound odd to the modern reader.

"Mademoiselle Stangerson threw a fichu shawl over her shoulders..."  A French novelist applies a French term: "Borrowed from French fichu ((noun) triangular scarf; (adjective) got up, put together) (in the sense of something thrown on without much thought), from ficher (to drive something (such as a nail) by its point), ultimately from Latin fīgō (to fasten, fix; to pierce, transfix; to drive (a nail))"

Related: Pildomatist (from Leroux' Phantom of the Opera)


  1. Shackleford HurtmoreAugust 27, 2019 at 5:41 PM

    "the application of the name [vesta] to a match is quite appropriate, though nowadays archaic."

    This made me feel old before my time, as Swan Vesta was a brand of match when I was growing up in the UK.


    1. And still available via Amazon -


    2. Conan Doyle used the term at least once in the Sherlock Holmes stories. 'The Adventure of Silver Blaze', I believe, contains a reference to 'a wax vesta, half-burned and nearly invisible in the mud' or words to that effect. Apologies but I'm unable to source the exact quote at the moment.

    3. You're quite right:

      "My dear Inspector, you surpass yourself!" Homes took the bag, and, descending into the hollow, he pushed the matting into a more central position. Then stretching himself upon his face and leaning his chin upon his hands, he made a careful study of the trampled mud in front of him. "Hullo!" said he, suddenly. "What's this?" It was a wax vesta half burned, which was so coated with mud that it looked at first like a little chip of wood.

    4. More on wax vestas (with a photo):
      He is a professional beggar, though in order to avoid the police regulations he pretends to a small trade in wax vestas. (Adventure VI, pg. 77)

      In 1832, William Newton patented the "wax vesta" in England. It consisted of a wax stem that embedded cotton threads and had a tip of phosphorus. Variants known as "candle matches" were made by Savaresse and Merckel in 1836.

      Source: http://s164303.blogspot.com/2014/06/wax-vestas-matches.html

  2. I want to make a new word, fastending, which will replace breakfast in my domicile.
    The fact that it could also apply to the latter part of my ablutions, when said quickly enough, makes it more betterer.

    When we spent some 18 months living on the Kings Road in Reading, England, in slow transit from Wales to Australia, I used a number of Swan Vespa matches to set a fire in the big shed behind the house. The paint cans helped made the ensuing fire a treat to my 7 year old self, as did the responding fire engines. This was around 1962 so you can imagine beauty of the fire trucks.

  3. The one example not unusual to me is the word breakfasting as a verb. I hear that all the time, maybe it's a California thing.

    1. Becoming less popular -



Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...