Tom Sawyer - citify, I'm a-laying up etc.

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Senior Member
In this book which is written in American English I lighted on - and I am sure that is not the end - some little unclear constructions and abbreviations.
I ask you to put me on the right track in understanding it. I give you some examples which I find as puzzling ones:

He 'pears to know just how long he can torment me...
I'm a-laying up sin and suffering for us both.
He's full of the scratch, but laws-a-me!
Yes 'm'.
Powerful warm, warn't it.
Didn't you want to go in a-swimming, Tom?
I reckon you are a kind of a singed cat, as the saying is - better'n you look - this time.
Stick to one or t'other.
Well, I 'low I'll make it my business.
to citify- Is it used in speech?

I think that this apostrophe and hyphens are connected with pronunciation or some fallen in oblivion grammatical rules.
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  • cyberpedant

    Senior Member
    English USA, Northeast, NYC
    The apostrophe means that a letter or letters has been dropped out.
    We're not supposed to ask (or answer) more than one question per thread.

    suzi br

    Senior Member
    English / England
    This will prove a very taxing read unless you are very confident with reading English already. Even native readers might find the constant representation of accent and dialect a challenge.

    I'm afraid cyber is right to point out you will need a thread for each question, though you could cut and paste your contextual information each time.

    Or choose another read!


    Senior Member
    English - U.S.
    The author of Tom Sawyer attempted to reproduce the speech sounds of an uneducated rural boy in the mid-1800s. Unfortunately, one result was that it's difficult to read! (I suspect the same would be true of an uneducated rural mid-19th-century child's speech in many other languages, but that's not our problem here.)

    It can sometimes be helpful to read the words aloud. For example, in "he 'pears, "" 'pears" takes on a bit of the vowel sound at the end of "he" so the meaning of "he appears" may be a bit more apparent. You might want to try that, though it won't help all the time.

    Some of what you have here is simply colloquial Americanisms, many of which are no longer in use. For example, "yes 'm" was a common way of saying "yes, ma'am," and "laws-a-me," or "laws-a-mercy," was a common way of emphasizing something without taking the Lord's name in vain. As already posted, you may have to start a lot of new threads if you want help with all of these, since Tom Sawyer is a long book - but we'll try to answer!

    Matching Mole

    Senior Member
    England, English
    It will be difficult to keep to a single topic in this post, so I am closing it. As cyberpedant says, the apostrophes indicate missing letters or parts of words. I'm afraid you will have to post separate threads on any words that you are not able to identify, but try looking them up in the search box first. Citified, for example, is in dictionaries.

    Usages like "a-swimming" are explained here: a-running ... prefix a- before verb
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