"tarrel" in Hammett?

Jesse Sheidlower jester at PANIX.COM
Wed Apr 14 13:39:49 UTC 2010

Ah, yes indeed. Thanks. Matsell defines it in plural, so that
explains why I didn't find it in a Google Books search; silly
of me not to think of this. And to have not checked _DU_.

Jesse Sheidlower

On Wed, Apr 14, 2010 at 02:30:26PM +0100, Robin Hamilton wrote:
> Hammett (or his English protagonist) had been reading George Matsell's
> _Vocabulum_ (1859) where a "tarrel" is defined as 'a skeleton key'.
> Matsell is the only citation given in Partridge, _Dictionary of the
> Underworld_ (1950 ed.), so it probably wasn't a very common term.  Partridge
> has it as obsolete by 1900, but if he found it anywhere other than in
> Matsell, he fails to indicate this.  I suspect the "obsolete by 1900" is
> simply a guess or inference on Patridge's part.
> Robin
>> In Dashiell Hammett's 1924 story "The Golden Horseshoe," first
>> published in _Black Mask_, a character (an Englishman) says:
>>  The hotel-sneak used to be my lay... I was rather good at it.
>>  I had the proper manner--the front. I could do the gentleman
>>  without sweating over it, you know.... I had a rather
>>  successful tour on my first American voyage. I visited most of
>>  the better hotels between New York and Seattle, and profited
>>  nicely. Then, one night in a Seattle hotel, I worked the
>>  tarrel and put myself into a room on the fourth floor. I had
>>  hardly closed the door behind me before another key was
>>  rattling in it....
>> Perhaps I'm missing an obvious dialect spelling or something,
>> but what is _tarrel_ in this passage? I can't find another
>> example of it anywhere, and it's not in the notes of the
>> Library of America edition of Hammett's stories.
>> Thanks.
>> Jesse Sheidlower
>> OED
> ------------------------------------------------------------
> The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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