sandy quality of the soap

< Previous | Next >

kahroba

Senior Member
Persian
Hi, friends
Could someone please tell me what's meant by "sandy" in the following context, taken from "The Three Soldiers" by Dos Passos:
Time: 1917
Location: An army camp in east USA
John Andrews was washing the windows. He stood in dirty blue denims at the top of a ladder, smearing with a soapy cloth the small panes of the barrack windows. His nostrils were full of a smell of dust and the sandy quality of the soap.
Does it mean "sharp" or "caustic" or "acetic" here?
 
  • Aidanriley

    Senior Member
    English
    No, I don't think soap can be sharp. I think it's referring to the soap having sand on it, because he is in some kind of place where there is dust (a desert maybe). If not, perhaps he means some sort of low quality?
     

    Bigote Blanco

    Senior Member
    I think "sandy" may not have been the best adjective the author could have chosen.
    There are no deserts in the eastern U.S.. It doesn't make much sense.

    I think we can assume the guy's nostrils were full of the smell of dust and the smell of soap.
     

    kahroba

    Senior Member
    Persian
    Don't you think that the word "grittiness" in the following passage, a few paragraphs later in the same context, explains "sandy" there? :
    Andrews legs were tired from climbing up and down the ladder, his hands were sore from the grittiness of the soap.
     
    Last edited:

    Silver_Biscuit

    Senior Member
    English - UK
    It's literature, so you must expect some unusual word choices that you would not usually see in factual or journalistic English. Dos Passos merely intends to convey that to John Andrews the soap smells 'sandy'. The soap is probably literally sandy, and it is the smell of this sort of soap that fill's John Andrews' nostrils. However, it's also a common literary technique to mix up adjectives and senses like this. Sandy is not usually used of a smell, and this usage surprises the reader and makes him think more deeply about what John Andrews is experiencing. You can interpret it however you want, because it's art. Just go with your personal reaction to the adjective. I think, personally, it's an effective sentence, and the 'awkwardness' (I wouldn't describe it that way) is definitely intentional. Dos Passos is not the sort of writer to choose words willy-nilly without thinking about the effect he's trying to achieve.
     

    GreenWhiteBlue

    Senior Member
    USA - English
    A little searching on line shows me many old-fashioned soap recipes that include either silicate of soda, or borax, or both; I think the word "sandy" might be intended to bring to mind minerals such as these.
     

    kahroba

    Senior Member
    Persian
    Thanks dear SB for your beautiful comment and I agree with you that the awkwardness is intentional and that Dos Passos is not the sort of writer to choose his words without thinking. Thanks dear GWB for your explanation. I've had my own experience of sandy soaps when I was serving my military service. The gritty articles could even scratch your hands!
     

    timpeac

    Senior Member
    English (England)
    Don't you think that the word "grittiness" in the following passage, a few paragraphs later in the same context, explains "sandy" there? :
    Yes - for me that that's exactly the image I had on reading the "sandy" quote. Now you say that "gritty" follows I'd say that they are synonymous here. Abrasive basically.
     
    < Previous | Next >
    Top