scullery uninhabited

redgiant

Senior Member
Cantonese, Hong Kong
The room was empty. The cold remnants of the tea sat abandoned in half-empty cups on the little table, but no one was there to drink them. Elizabeth poked her head around into the scullery and found it too uninhabited

Source: Timepiece, Heather Albano
Background: Elizabeth was brought to a house, her dress muddy and torn. The housekeeper took her to a room upstairs to give her some clean clothes to change into and left her alone in the room. After putting on the new dress, she headed back downstairs, finding her way along the gloomy corridor with a candle. She turned for the living room, but nobody was there, so she poked around looking for them.

Hi,
Cambridge Dictionary gives the following definition of "uninhabited".

describes a place with no people living in it (cambridge dictionary)
I have a problem with the use of "uninhabited" in the example above. I'd expect something like "unoccupied" because "uninhibited" sounds like somebody was actually living in the scullery. Is "uninhabited" a bit odd-sounding to you?
 
  • Dimcl

    Senior Member
    Canadian English
    I don't find it odd because, during that period in history, cooks and maids did often inhabit the scullery. They often slept on a mattress on the floor so as to be at the beck and call of the master of the house 24 hours a day.
     

    redgiant

    Senior Member
    Cantonese, Hong Kong
    Thanks for your help~~ I agree that it was an odd choice of word, but I can't deny the possibility of Dimcl's interpretation. The time traveler Elizabeth came from a fairly wealthy family with workers in 1810s. Maybe she took it for granted that workers still inhabited in scullery rooms in 1880s. And that was what she would expect when she looked around into it.
     

    Andygc

    Senior Member
    British English
    I don't find it odd because, during that period in history, cooks and maids did often inhabit the scullery. They often slept on a mattress on the floor so as to be at the beck and call of the master of the house 24 hours a day.
    Can you provide an authority for that? At the beck and call, yes, but sleeping in the scullery?

    I don't find it an odd word to use. Sadly, the OED on-line does not yet have a full entry for uninhabited, but it has a quotation from George Elliott
    1866 ‘G. Eliot’ Felix Holt I. i. 32 We have been too poor to keep servants for uninhabited rooms.
    in which she seems to be using it in a similar way - to indicate a room that is unused - not being lived in. The imagery is, surely, that the house seems abandoned - the half-empty cups etc - so uninhabited (not being lived in, without inhabitants) is more appropriate than being merely unoccupied (ie they've just popped out to look at the garden).
     

    Andygc

    Senior Member
    British English
    If you are going to propagate supposed facts in this forum, you should check your reputed authorities. I have, and none supports your contention that the use of the word "uninhabited" has anything to do with servants habitually sleeping in sculleries.
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/ww2peopleswar/stories/51/a2916551.shtml Describes protective measures against air raids by a child, not a servant, in WW 2

    http://wiki.answers.com/Q/What_was_England's_everyday_life_in_1900's When was wikianswers a reliable source. The article is unreferenced.

    http://grandmothersinclair.blogspot.ca/2010/08/sunday-june-23-1895.html Not a normal arrangement - the text refers to a special occasion requiring extra servants. Exceptionally this maid slept in the scullery of the house instead of at home - but not to be at the beck and call of the employer.

    http://www.myhome.ie/residential/brochure/4-parkowen-quaker-road-cork/1857429 This is an estate agents' blurb and is not a reliable authority

    http://thelinenqueenbook.com/excerpt_linen.html Actually is fiction, but refers to "the granny room at the back of the scullery"

    http://www.dspace.cam.ac.uk/bitstream/1810/218367/4/bingham.txt Refers to sleeping in the scullery during WW2 as protection against air raids

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/blog/2011/mar/24/budget-2011-not-much-lib-dems-cheer Do you believe a comment in a blog - hardly an authority

    This does not include innumerable works of fiction, for obvious reasons.
     

    AutumnOwl

    Senior Member
    -
    Swedish
    I checked Bill Bryson's book "At Home: A Short History of Private Life" and in the chapter about the scullery there is a mention that it wasn't uncommon that servants in smaller households lived and slept in the kitchen, he writes that the maid in the Carlyle household had to spend evenings in the "back kitchen", an unheated storeroom, as the master of the house liked to spend time reading in the kitchen, where the maid's bed was, so she couldn't go to bed until he decided to leave the kitchen! So it's possible that there were servants that lived and slept in a scullery room; it the Carlyle family had had a scullery room the maid would have been able to go to bed when she had finished her duties.
     

    frenchifried

    Senior Member
    English - UK/US
    I think you need to look at the full sense not the literal or the historical. The meaning here is one of emptiness. 'Empty room', 'cold tea', 'empty cups' etc. I agree with justkate.
     

    Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    I think "uninhabited" here just means "there was nobody there" as opposed to "there was nobody living there".

    EDIT: In other words, I agree with frenchified:).
     

    Andygc

    Senior Member
    British English
    or the historical.
    Yes, especially as the book was first published in 2011 and the author is unlikely to have had a cultural stereotype about relatively poor people with servants living in over-crowded houses.

    PS - does that also mean that you agree with me (post #6)? :rolleyes:
     

    velisarius

    Senior Member
    British English (Sussex)
    I think the writer was just looking for a different way of saying "empty", and "uninhabited" was the first word that came to mind. Just call me a nasty old cynic.
     
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