a pit like the "area" of a London house before each

Discussion in 'English Only' started by Couch Tomato, Feb 24, 2013.

  1. Couch Tomato

    Couch Tomato Senior Member

    Russian & Dutch
    The Time Traveller and his companion, Weena, are in a museum.

    The end I had come in at was quite above ground, and was lit by rare slit-like windows. As you went down the length, the ground came up against these windows, until at last there was a pit like the "area" of a London house before each, and only a narrow line of daylight at the top. I went slowly along, puzzling about the machines, and had been too intent upon them to notice the gradual diminution of the light, until Weena's increasing apprehensions drew my attention.
    (The Time Machine – H. G. Wells)

    Why did he put quotation marks around "area"? The most likely reason seems to be that it wasn't really an area, yet I don't know exactly what he is talking about for I am not familiar with the London houses of which he speaks. Could you please shed some light upon this matter?

    Thank you in advance.
  2. wandle

    wandle Senior Member

    English - British
    He is referring to town houses built with a basement which is half below street level.
    These houses typically have an excavated area in front of the basement, bridged by a flight of steps leading up to the front door.
    There may be another flight of steps leading down to a basement entrance.
  3. Andygc

    Andygc Senior Member

    British English
    A standard pattern of large terraced house in London (and many other cities) has a space between the edge of the pavement and the front of the house. There's a row of railings along the edge of the pavement. The space provides access to the cellar of the house (where the kitchen and scullery are) and to the coal cellar (which is under the pavement). This is the "area". I tried to find a good image but failed - if you have ever seen the film "Mary Poppins" you'll have seen the type of house.

    (cross-posted with wandle - he posted while I was hunting a picture)
  4. wandle

    wandle Senior Member

    English - British
    This page has a typical image.
    This blog illustrates a basement area in Edinburgh.

    (Cross-posted with Andygc - he posted while I was hunting a picture.)
    Last edited: Feb 24, 2013
  5. Couch Tomato

    Couch Tomato Senior Member

    Russian & Dutch
    Thank you, Andygc and wandle.
  6. se16teddy

    se16teddy Senior Member

    London but from Yorkshire
    English - England
    I didn't know this, but it's in the OED:2. An enclosed court, spec. a sunken court, shut off from the pavement by railings, and approached by a flight of steps, which gives access to the basement of dwelling-houses.

    1649 Bp. J. Taylor Great Exemplar ii. 24 The Temple was the area and court of Religion.
    1694 London Gaz. mmmxii/4 The Dining-Room Floor..hath..a pleasant Airy 30 foot long.
    1712 R. Steele Spectator No. 454. ⁋6 One of the Windows which opened to the Area below.
    1810 Duke of Wellington Dispatches (1838) VI. 9 To go, like gentlemen, out of the hall door..and not out of the back door, or by the area.
    1838 Dickens Oliver Twist I. x. 150 Pulling the caps from the heads of small boys and tossing them down areas.
  7. exgerman Senior Member

    English but my first language was German
    The AE equivalent is areaway. it's used in New York for exactly the same sort of sunken space giving access to the semi-underground floor.
  8. Couch Tomato

    Couch Tomato Senior Member

    Russian & Dutch
    Thank you, se16teddy.

    Thank you, exgerman. I did not know this word.
  9. Keith Bradford

    Keith Bradford Senior Member

    Brittany, NW France
    English (Midlands UK)
    Now, to address your question: why did the author use inverted commas (quotation marks)?

    This is because the most usual meaning of area by far is "square footage" - the amount of space taken up on the ground by X... in this case a house. To prevent the reader from thinking immediately of the space the house takes up in the landscape, the author used inverted commas to indicate "and I don't mean the usual sense of the word". He succeeded, didn't he!
  10. Couch Tomato

    Couch Tomato Senior Member

    Russian & Dutch
    Thank you, Keith Bradford.


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