attar of roses gave me pause

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Senior Member
Dear all,
this is from the novel The Many Lives & Secret Sorrows of Josephine B. by Sandra Gulland.

This evening I was visited by a market woman, a poissarde. The scent of attar of roses gave me pause.

It's clear that the market woman brought with her an odor of fish and attar of roses was quite to the point. But could you please comment on the expression to give smb a pause?
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  • AlexanderIII

    Senior Member
    According to several French-Russian dictionaries poissarde is an old (end of XVIII centure) word for a woman-fishmonger.
    Anyway it was Rosa's aunt in disguise who came to visit her. So Rose was perplexed by the rose odour, that was not typical for a market worman.
    Thank you, Velisarius.
    As you note, Rose was perplexed that a fishwife would smell like perfume. When you are perplexed, you often need to stop and think about whatever it is that is confusing you -- and that is what the expression "give [someone] pause" means: you are hesitant in some way, either because you are puzzled, or because you think something might be unpleasant (as in "hearing that sushi is made of raw fish gave me pause the first time I tried it, but now I love it.") Note that there is no "a" before "pause."

    (You might also note that despite the impression you can get from materials used by learners, native English speakers never use the abbreviation "smb" to mean "somebody", and most would probably have no idea what these letters mean. If you want to be understood by native speakers, you must always write out the full word.)
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