spile a man

Discussion in 'English Only' started by twinklestar, Apr 21, 2017.

  1. twinklestar

    twinklestar Senior Member

    China
    Chinese
    “Treason!”

    “That’s quartering,” said Jerry. “Barbarous!”

    “It is the law,” remarked the ancient clerk, turning his surprised spectacles upon him. “It is the law.”

    “It’s hard in the law to spile a man, I think. It’s hard enough to kill him, but it’s werry hard to spile him, sir.”
    ---------------------
    Hi
    The above is from A Tale of Two Cities.

    spile a man = attach a pile to the limbs of the person quartering by horses or whatever?

    Thanks
     
  2. Andygc

    Andygc Senior Member

    Devon
    British English
    I suspect it is this meaning of "to spile"
    When Jerry says "That's quartering" he means "hanging, drawing and quartering". The "drawing" part is disemboweling while the hanged man is still living. In crude terms, he is "broached" or "spiled".

    (You might find plenty of nonsense online that "drawn" means pulled to the place of execution - it doesn't.)
     
  3. velisarius Senior Member

    Greece
    British English (Sussex)
    I thought that it was one of Dickens' funny accents (note "werry" for "very"), and that this character is mangling the word "spoil".
     
  4. ewie

    ewie Senior Member

    Another Country
    English English
    My first thought was that it was stereotypical Cockney for spoil.
    Including about ten lines further on in this chapter of A Tale of Two Cities:
    cross-posted with Veli
     
  5. Andygc

    Andygc Senior Member

    Devon
    British English
    But Ewie, being drawn on a hurdle isn't being drawn. The punishment is hanging, drawing and quartering, in that order.

    My initial thought was that "spile" might be "spoil", but then I doubted it. Incidentally, the word "spile" occurs only twice in that book - in the text quoted.
     
  6. Andygc

    Andygc Senior Member

    Devon
    British English
    By the way, there are several questions about this text on the Internet, including one on Wordreference. I'm not alone in my interpretation. My search of Dickens's texts so far has failed to find any other of his characters saying "spile", let alone saying it to mean "spoil".
     
  7. entangledbank

    entangledbank Senior Member

    London
    English - South-East England
    Until about 1800 the spelling <oi> represented the sound /ai/ in many people's speech, when /oi/ came back in. By Dickens's time, /oi/ was the standard pronunciation and 'spile' was regional or substandard. He indicates this for a number of words in his work: 'jine' for 'join', for example.
     
  8. velisarius Senior Member

    Greece
    British English (Sussex)
    Jerry Cruncher steals dead bodies and sells them to medical schools for dissection, so from his point of view drawing and quartering indeed "spoiled" a body, which might otherwise have been put to better use.
     
  9. twinklestar

    twinklestar Senior Member

    China
    Chinese
    Thank you very much, everyone.
     
  10. Andygc

    Andygc Senior Member

    Devon
    British English
    Thank you, veli, for that added background. I am happy to accept that from Jerry's perspective a hanged, drawn and quartered man is a spoiled man.
     
  11. ewie

    ewie Senior Member

    Another Country
    English English
    Rather than saying that "Dickens said it so it must be right" I was saying "Even Dickens fell for that old misconception":)
     
    Last edited: Apr 21, 2017
  12. Trochfa

    Trochfa Senior Member

    UK
    English - England
    But I don't think Dickens did get it wrong Ewie. (Or am I just being my usual dense self, which is highly probable! :))

    ' “Ah!” returned the man, with a relish; “he’ll be drawn on a hurdle (i.e. tied to a hurdle "pulled" by a horse) to be half hanged, and then he’ll be taken down and sliced before his own face, and then his inside will be taken out (i.e. "drawn", in this form of execution) and burnt while he looks on, and then his head will be chopped off, and he’ll be cut into quarters. That’s the sentence.'
     
    Last edited: Apr 21, 2017
  13. ewie

    ewie Senior Member

    Another Country
    English English
    You ~ and Dickens ~ could be right, Trochfa:)
    Then again, it could just be that the speaker had it wrong:)
     

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