a sum well on toward the second hundred

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AlexanderIII

Senior Member
Russian
Dear all,
this from the story by Dorothy Parker 'Dusk Before Fireworks'.

There was no more to her frock than some dull, dark silk and a little chiffon, but the recurrent bill for it demanded, in bitter black and white, a sum well on toward the second hundred.

Does the sentence in question mean more than 100 or not much less than 200 ? It's clear that these two variants do not contradict one another but which of them is closer to the intended meaning?

Thank you.
 
  • Rhye

    Senior Member
    English - American
    "Well on toward" is a particularly vague expression and I think the "estimates" would vary greatly from person to person if you asked each one of us. I reckon it's at least 130 or so and probably less than 170, but in choosing such a vague expression the author surely is implying that the exact values don't matter.
     

    PaulQ

    Senior Member
    UK
    English - England
    a sum well on toward the second hundred. = a sum well on the way toward the second hundred. = a sum approaching $200.
     

    Edinburgher

    Senior Member
    German/English bilingual
    Consider the phrase "a three-figure sum". This means we need at least three "figures" (i.e. digits) to describe it, so the amount must be at least 100.
    We say that something is "well into triple figures" when it comfortably exceeds 100.
    If we were to say that something is "well on the way to triple figures" it would mean that we are "almost into triple figures", which clearly means "not quite 100".

    Therefore I see another possibility for "toward the second hundred":

    The first hundred is complete once we reach or exceed 100. The second hundred is complete when we reach 200, but starts as soon as the first hundred is complete.
    Therefore "well on toward the second hundred" is perhaps ambiguous as to whether it means we're well on the way to starting or completing the second hundred.
    If the former, the sum could be less than 100.

    The Squirrel family have stockpiled nuts for the winter, all neatly packed in bags of 100.
    They start eating the contents of the first bag. After a few days, Mrs Squirrel fears that at their present rate of consumption they may not have enough to last till spring.
    Noting that the first bag is almost empty, she says to Mr Squirrel: "we're well on toward the second hundred", meaning we're almost at the point of having to open the second bag.
     

    PaulQ

    Senior Member
    UK
    English - England
    Hmmm... interesting. However, in the numbers 0 - 99 there is no "hundred". When 100 arrives, that is the first hundred. As the numbers increase, they increase towards the second hundred.

    In this case "hundred" = a number whose final digits are 00.
     

    Edinburgher

    Senior Member
    German/English bilingual
    However, in the numbers 0 - 99 there is no "hundred". When 100 arrives, that is the first hundred.
    Well, that's one way of looking at it, but not the only way. A child aged 0-9 is in its first decade of life. I am in my first century. :) That's my first hundred, isn't it?
     

    PaulQ

    Senior Member
    UK
    English - England
    Ok, there's a distinction between "a hundred" being the number 100 and 'a hundred' being an amount/; 'the second hundred.' means that there has already been the first hundred.

    So in "the recurrent bill for it demanded, in bitter black and white, a sum well on toward the second hundred." we would have to ask what the first hundred was.
     

    Edinburgher

    Senior Member
    German/English bilingual
    Indeed, but in addition it can also be an interval, so "the first hundred" could be the range from $1 to $100.
    I'm speaking hypothetically, of course, and don't deny that in the original text the amount in question is more likely to be approaching $200 than $100.
     

    Thomas Tompion

    Senior Member
    English - England
    The 'bitter black and white' is a clue here, Alexander.

    Dorothy Parker likes to look at her young men through the eyes of a vamp and they are described with a gourmet's taste for detail.

    This young woman is clearly attracted to 'the very good-looking young man' and has dressed herself expensively on hearing that he likes simple elegant clothes on women - this makes an ironic pendant later in the paragraph of the moment when she learns that he is 'also partial to ladies given to garments of slap-dash cut, and color like the sound of big brass instruments'.

    He is careless of speech, and she remembers every word, and these things make life difficult for her.

    This was a very expensive frock indeed; $180 in 1925 would be about $2,500 today, in the 'bitter black and white' of the ink on the paper of the bill, which remains unpaid.

    The point about 'the sum well on toward the second hundred' is that they consider it indelicate to talk very precisely about money. There are still some French women who put on gloves before touching any.
     
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