It was a brisk night to begin with

Tea Addict

Senior Member
Republic of Korea Korean
Hello everyone. I would like to know what "It was a brisk night to begin with" means in the following sentences:

“Odd that,” Kenward mutters, almost to himself. “It was a brisk night to begin with, and then the temperature dropped from forty-one degrees at six o’clock last evening to thirty-six degrees at midnight. Wouldn’t a warm fur coat like that have been welcome if you’d had the choice to wear it? The chance to put it on?”

- Marie Benedict, The Mystery of Mrs. Christie, Part One, Chapter Twelve

This is a mystery novel published in the United States in 2020. The story is mainly set at the present time in 1926, when Agatha Christie suddenly went missing for eleven days, but also goes back to the past time in the 1910's. In this scene, set in 1926, the narrator Archie sees that his missing wife Agatha's car--the Morris Cowley--is abandoned in the bush near the Silent Pool. Finding a fur coat in the abandoned vehicle, Deputy Chief Constable Kenward (who is in charge of the investigation of the disappearance of Agatha) mutters to himself as to why one should leave a fur coat in the vehicle on a brisk night.

In this part, I wonder what the underlined sentence means, especially what "to begin with" means.
(1) Would "brisk" here perhaps mean "cold but agreeable"? Or "cold to the point of unpleasantness, very cold"...?

(2) By "begin with," would it mean that it was cold at the night, right from the beginning of it (perhaps right from the hour when the night begins, after sunset)? Or is it perhaps similar to saying "First (=to begin with), the night was cold. Second (=and then), the temperature dropped...", and using "to begin with" to list the facts...?


I would very much appreciate your help. :)
 
  • Uncle Jack

    Senior Member
    British English
    "Brisk" means "sharp", which in this case means cold. There is no sense of it being agreeable, and it could be bitingly cold. This isn't a common use, so far as I am aware, but I have come across it before.

    (2) By "begin with," would it mean that it was cold at the night, right from the beginning of it (perhaps right from the hour when the night begins, after sunset)?
    Yes. We know this has to be the meaning because of "and then" followed by an expression of a change over time. "To begin with" refers to six o'clock or perhaps a little earlier. If "then" had not been followed by something concerning time, then "to begin with" might well refer to the steps in his reasoning.
     

    Tea Addict

    Senior Member
    Republic of Korea Korean
    Dear Uncle Jack,

    Thank you so much for the clear explanation.
    So "brisk" means "sharp" here, meaning that it was bitingly cold!
    In that case, I guess "brisk" would have the second meaning, especially the "sharp" part, in the dictionary:

    brisk - WordReference.com Dictionary of English

    Collins Concise English Dictionary © HarperCollins Publishers::

    brisk/brɪsk/adj
    1. lively and quick; vigorous: a brisk walk, trade was brisk
    2. invigorating or sharp: brisk weather

    And "to begin with" means "right from the beginning of the night", which refers to around six o'clock!

    So he is saying, "the night air was sharp (=cold) right from the beginning when it began at around six o'clock."

    Now I think my doubts are all solved! I sincerely appreciate your help, for letting me understand. :)
     

    kentix

    Senior Member
    English - U.S.
    I think temperature is a bit in the eye (or skin) of the beholder. One person's cold is another person's very cold.

    The way brisk is usually used in the U.S. is to mean cold but not overwhelmingly cold. But I actually associate it with wind as much as temperature, which contributes to the feeling of cold. One meaning of brisk is lively, and in the case of wind, that means blowing steadily with a bit of force. This is from the U.S. National Weather Service:

    Brisk Winds and Cold Temperatures will Continue​

    I would understand a brisk night as one with temperatures low enough to be definitely uncomfortable without a jacket of some kind and with enough wind to provide a bit of extra bite. I'm not sure a night with no wind would be called brisk. A brisk day would be cold, but comfortable with the right clothes, and might redden your cheeks. You might be out playing football and having a great fun staying warm. It's what I would consider classic late fall weather.

    I am puzzled by, "it was a brisk night to begin with and then at six". I'm not sure the night has even begun before six, let alone warranting an "and then". And a five degree Fahrenheit drop over six hours was hardly worth noticing. It's standard that time of year. I would call that "dropping a few degrees".
     

    Tea Addict

    Senior Member
    Republic of Korea Korean
    Dear AutumnOwl and kentix,

    Thank you very much for the detailed explanation.
    I am puzzled by, "it was a brisk night to begin with and then at six". I'm not sure the night has even begun before six, let alone warranting an "and then".
    Yes, I was wondering about that too! I could see that the speaker wanted to say (1) the night began cold (2) and then the night turned colder, (1) and (2) in a time sequence... But it would only make sense if the night starts before 6 o'clock. But, I don't know, it could be that the night had really begun before 6, maybe... :D (Edit: come to think of it, it could have really begun before six because it's wintertime, since the sun sets earlier in December in which the scene is set.)

    So "brisk" is often associated with wind, and it means cold but not overwhelmingly cold!
    I learned new things all thanks to you. I sincerely appreciate your help. :)
     

    Tea Addict

    Senior Member
    Republic of Korea Korean
    Dear Hermione Golightly,

    Thank you very much for the explanation.
    So sunset--the beginning of the night--would be around 4 p.m., and then next, the temperature dropped...
    I sincerely appreciate your help. :)
     
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