One mast was broken short off

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Gabriel Aparta

Senior Member
Español - Venezuela
Hello everybody, please, from David Copperfield by Dickens:

One mast was broken short off, six or eight feet from the deck, and lay over the side, entangled in a maze of sail and rigging;

David is watching a ship from the coast. He is in the middle of a storm. I don't get those two words together. Please, what do they mean?

Thanks a lot for your help!
 
  • Gabriel Aparta

    Senior Member
    Español - Venezuela
    Thanks a lot bennymix, so am I right in believing that this is the phrasal verb to break off with this meaning:

    to sever or detach or be severed or detached

    Could this be written like this, exchanging the place of the words?

    One mast was broken off short

    Thanks!
     
    Last edited:

    Linguisticks

    Senior Member
    English - Australia
    "Break off" is sometimes a phrasal verb and sometimes not. "She broke off the engagement" - phrasal verb. "the end broke off the mast" - not a phrasal verb, just a common verb+preposition combination. "Broken off short" is fine.
     

    Gabriel Aparta

    Senior Member
    Español - Venezuela
    Curious how you give an object:

    the end broke off the mast

    but the original sentence doesn't:

    One mast was broken short off (what)

    Thanks for your further explanation Linguisticks :)
     
    Last edited:

    Andygc

    Senior Member
    British English
    One mast was broken off short
    Yes

    It's a form of words that is no longer used. If Dickens had written it today he would probably have written "One mast was broken off short, six or eight feet from the deck". It just means that the break is only a short distance from the bottom of the mast.
     

    Gabriel Aparta

    Senior Member
    Español - Venezuela
    Right, short meaning that the mast became shorter and off meaning detached I believe (?).

    Thanks Andygc and the rest :).
     

    Andygc

    Senior Member
    British English
    Mmm, I still believe is this verb:

    break off
    1. to sever or detach or be severed or detached
    Thanks :)
    Yes, that is the meaning.

    EDIT. Or, more correctly, that is the modern version. Dickens used "broken short off", and it's debatable that can be seen as an example of "break off".
     
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