Stupid reading-comprehension query: "abuse"

Margaret Lee mlee303 at YAHOO.COM
Tue Dec 21 11:10:42 UTC 2010

Could it be that they 'abuse' the horses by (inadvertently) sneezing on them?

--margaret Lee--- On Mon, 12/20/10, David A. Daniel <dad at POKERWIZ.COM> wrote:

From: David A. Daniel <dad at POKERWIZ.COM>
Subject: Re: Stupid reading-comprehension query: "abuse"
Date: Monday, December 20, 2010, 12:54 PM

They are trying to sing, the horses make them sneeze, they curse the horses.

-----Original Message-----
From: American Dialect Society [mailto:ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU] On Behalf Of
Jesse Sheidlower
Sent: Monday, December 20, 2010 10:06 AM
:      Stupid reading-comprehension query: "abuse"

Forgive me for asking what would seem to be a simple question
on what a word means, but someone asked me about this and I'm
rather confused.

Consider the following passage from D.H. Lawrence's _Sons and

On Saturday afternoons the horses were brushed down and groomed. Paul
and Edgar worked together, sneezing with the dust that came from the
pelts of Jimmy and Flower.

"Do you know a new song to teach me?" said Edgar.

He continued to work all the time. The back of his neck was sun-red
when he bent down, and his fingers that held the brush were thick. Paul
watched him sometimes.

"'Mary Morrison'?" suggested the younger.

Edgar agreed. He had a good tenor voice, and he loved to learn all the
songs his friend could teach him, so that he could sing whilst he was
carting. Paul had a very indifferent baritone voice, but a good ear.
However, he sang softly, for fear of Clara. Edgar repeated the line in a
clear tenor. At times they both broke off to sneeze, and first one, then
the other, abused his horse.

Miriam was impatient of men. It took so little to amuse them--even Paul.
She thought it anomalous in him that he could be so thoroughly absorbed
in a triviality....

What does "abused" mean in this passage? There's no further
context that would seem helpful. There's no reason to think
that either man is actually ill-treating a horse, either
physically or verbally, and if it's being used in some
amiliorative way, with a strong word being applied to an
action that's not actually that strong, it feels weird and
pointless to me.


Jesse Sheidlower

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