a mute

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SuprunP

Senior Member
Ukrainian & Russian
Or he might have been a mute recovering, like myself, from influenza.
‘Excuse me, sir,’ he said, ‘but could you oblige me with a match?’
‘Certainly.’
[...]
No, I did not think he was a mute, I thought he was a solicitor’s clerk who had lately buried his wife and been sent to Elsom by an indulgent employer to get over the first shock of his grief.
(W.S. Maugham; The Round Dozen)

He can speak so, I would think, he is not precluded from the exercise of speech.

What does 'a mute' mean here then?

I have found only two, more or less, in my humble opinion, suitable meanings:

1) An actor on the stage whose part is performed only in dumb-show.
2) A professional attendant at a funeral; a hired ‘mourner’.
OED
Is there a remote chance that he is either 1) or 2)?

Thanks.
 
  • Copyright

    Senior Member
    American English
    I'm surprised. If you look at the WR dictionary, which is the Concise Oxford, you'll find this as the first definition: mute: 1 a person without the power of speech.
     

    suzi br

    Senior Member
    English / England
    For some reason the narrator thought the guy was mute (incapable of speech) but then the guy speaks so he has to revise his idea. It is a bit odd, out of context like this, but I assume it reads better in the work as a whole.
     

    SuprunP

    Senior Member
    Ukrainian & Russian
    Thank you Copyright and suzi br.

    If it is quite usual for one to assume that a man who looks rather shabby and wears a thin black greatcoat, a somewhat battered bowler, and shabby black gloves should be a mute then, in my book, it is a bit odd even within this particular context, which leaves me slightly at a loss here.
     

    Beryl from Northallerton

    Senior Member
    British English
    If it is usual for one to assume that a man who looks rather shabby and wears a thin black greatcoat, a somewhat battered bowler, and shabby black gloves should be a mute then it is a bit odd even within this particular context, in my book, which leaves me slightly at a loss here.
    If you're asking (I'm not sure whether you are), then yes, the assumption is (was) standard - no dark glasses, and cane, therefore not blind.
     

    wandle

    Senior Member
    English - British
    The word 'might' is key, and the sentence before the quoted post is relevant.
    I noticed that he wore shabby black gloves, and surmised that he was a widower in straitened circumstances. Or he might have been a mute recovering, like myself, from influenza.
    This means (1) that the narrator's guess ['I surmised'] was that the man was 'a widower in straitened circumstances';
    (2) on the other hand ['or'], there was a possibility (no more than that) that he was ['he might have been'] 'a mute recovering...from influenza'.
    The latter possibility existed because up to that point the man had said nothing, but had shown signs of cold.
     
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    SuprunP

    Senior Member
    Ukrainian & Russian
    Thank you Beryl from Northallerton and wandle.

    If you're asking (I'm not sure whether you are), then yes, the assumption is (was) standard - no dark glasses, and cane, therefore not blind.
    Not blind - yes, but why assume that he is a mute then? If this is standard too then I would surmise there must be some obscure grounds for this sort of reasoning, which at the present moment are hidden from my sight.

    Incidentally, I've never ever been able to tell a mute from a 'non-mute', as it were, unless it was made clear in an explicit way, therefore, it seems strange to me that such a thought [(2) on the other hand ('or'), there was a possibility (no more than that) that he was ('he might have been') 'a mute recovering...from influenza'.)] would spring to one's mind just by looking at someone for the very first time, which might be why the idea behind the assumption of the sentence in question is beyond my grasp.
     
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    Beryl from Northallerton

    Senior Member
    British English
    Thank you, Beryl from Northallerton and wandle.



    Not blind - yes, but why assume that he is a mute then? If this is standard too then I would surmise there must be some obscure grounds for this sort of reasoning, which at the present moment are hidden from my sight.

    Incidentally, I've never ever been able to tell a mute from a 'non-mute', as it were, unless it was made clear in an explicit way, therefore, it seems strange to me that such a thought [(2) on the other hand ('or'), there was a possibility (no more than that) that he was ('he might have been') 'a mute recovering...from influenza'.)] would spring to one's mind just by looking at someone for the very first time, which might be why the idea behind the assumption of the sentence in question is beyond my grasp.
    Disabled people in those days used to hang about street corners on the cadge - they'd often have this kind of 'uniform' to make their intentions plain.
     

    Keith Bradford

    Senior Member
    English (Midlands UK)
    He was (presumably) really "a solicitor’s clerk who had lately buried his wife and been sent to Elsom by an indulgent employer to get over the first shock of his grief". Why did the writer think so? Presumably he was wearing dark formal clothes (a solicitor’s clerk), a black armband and/or tie (who had lately buried his wife) and showed signs of tears and choking (the first shock of his grief).

    But the clothes could also be interpreted as proof of him being a mute (a professional attendant at a funeral), and the tears and voice, evidence that he was recovering from influenza.
     
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