otherwise than

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Senior Member
In Booth Tarkington's The magnificent Ambersons, the writer is describing his hero who is in mourning, he says:

George had retained his mourning, a tribute completed down to the final details of black gloves and a polished ebony cane (which he would have been pained to name otherwise than as a "walking-stick") and in the aura of this sombre elegance his straight figure and drawn face were not without a tristful and appealing dignity.

I do not get his point about ebony cane which the hero is pained to name otherwise than as a walking stick. What does it mean?
  • suzi br

    Senior Member
    English / England
    The author is calling it a "cane" which maybe sounds a bit fancy, or purely decorative. George himself prefers to be more down-to-earth and call it a walking-stick, which emphasises the practical purpose of the item. It is there as a little reflection on his character, I suppose.

    This sort of phrasing is quite dated/ literary, you are unlikey to meet this in everyday conversation.


    Senior Member
    English - England
    which he would have been pained {[to name otherwise] [than as] a "walking-stick"}
    which it would have been painful for him {[to refer to in any other way] than as a "walking-stick"}
    Last edited:


    Senior Member
    German/English bilingual
    It means he would make sure to call it a walking-stick, and not by any other name. Calling it something else would have pained him, i.e. would have caused him mental anguish.
    In "name otherwise", "otherwise" is an adverb modifying the verb "name". This is a somewhat old-fashioned construction.
    See definition 2 at otherwise - WordReference.com Dictionary of English


    Senior Member
    English - Southern England
    I take it to mean that the author, or other characters, would call it an ebony cane but George would only ever refer to it as a "walking stick".
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