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  1. #1
    JarekSteliga is offline Member
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    Default counterfeit farthing

    Joseph Conrad wrote in his Lord Jim: ..."I would not have given as much as a counterfeit farthing for ...". Is this an English idiom? I could not come across any reference in Google and am beginning to form a suspicion that this idiom is a loan from ... Conrad's native tongue in which the expressioin is very much alive to this day!

  2. #2
    waflob is offline Member
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    Default Re: counterfeit farthing

    It's not one that I've ev er heard. I can guess at the meaning though.

    A farthing was, if not the lowest, then certainly a very low denomination coin. A counterfeit farthing would be worth even less.

    I think he doesn't value whatever the '...' after counterfeit farthing refers to.

  3. #3
    JarekSteliga is offline Member
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    Default Re: counterfeit farthing

    Thank you. You never having heard this expression rather confirms us having caught Conrad commiting a lapsus linguae. It demonstrates vividly the sort of shoals which his literary waters must have abounded with and the sort of navigation skills which he must have developed to steer clear of them. In all fairness mistakes like this are only to be expected in a learner of English who wasn't even fluent in it untill he was in his twienties and make you wonder how someone learning English only as his second language can attain this level of mastery.

    I confirm your guess at the meaning of the clearly borrowed idiom being spot on

  4. #4
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    5jj is offline VIP Member
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    Default Re: counterfeit farthing

    Quote Originally Posted by JarekSteliga View Post
    You never having heard this expression rather confirms us having caught Conrad commiting a lapsus linguae.
    It was not a mistake on Conrad's part. He created a colourful and effective picture in words. He demonstrated his skill in using the language by using words that worked, rather than relying on tired cliches.

  5. #5
    JarekSteliga is offline Member
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    Default Re: counterfeit farthing

    All right, whether it was a mistake or not is a futile speculation since the ultimate authority is no longer. Still I would like to express my belief that the strength of an utterance much depends on its precision and linguistic propriety. To futher illustrate this statement I believe that language has the power to unlock the hearer's/reader's heart and mind as much as a regular key has the power to unlock the regular ... lock. The key is the more effective the more it matches the lock for which it was meant which is to say figuratively that idioms used should match exactly idioms coined, learned and in common circulation. In my opinion the artistry consists in being able to use them and still avoid the CLICHE like impression. The simplicity of means does not preclude an artist from creating wonderful things. On the contrary, elaborate form blurrs and weakens the content. Sorry for being longwinded and overbearing but I am rather sensitive about this. Not because I am an artist of any kind or even a connoisseur but for a wholly different reason. In my lifetime I am witness to my language being under siege from... you guessed it, English. My language goes under big time and to my horror the English idiom is for some unfathomable reason often nearer at hand than, and preferred to, the local one. Clarity of communication suffers. The national treasure trove falls apart. (The idiocy of this process reaches its pinnacle in the song industry, where English lyrics practically replaced the vernicular, inevitably turning both the performers and their audience, who but seldom understand what the song is about, into a bunch of monkeys) That's why I am all in favour of the imposition of a worldwide embargo on... idiom trade

  6. #6
    5jj's Avatar
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    Default Re: counterfeit farthing

    Quote Originally Posted by JarekSteliga View Post
    All right, whether it was a mistake or not is a futile speculation since the ultimate authority is no longer.
    It is not a matter of futile speculation. It is not a mistake. There is nothing wrong with "I would not have given as much as a counterfeit farthing for ...". In choosing those words, Conrad may have been influenced by a Polish idiom. The fact remains that it worked in English. It would not have worked if someone had written it for the first time today, because many native speakers do not know what a farthing is. When Conrad was writing, people had farthings in their purses, and would have immediately known the message Conrad was conveying..

  7. #7
    birdeen's call is offline VIP Member
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    Default Re: counterfeit farthing

    By the way, what is the Polish idiom you're thinking of? "Nie dałbym za to złamanego grosza"? It may have been an influence but you surely see that they don't mean exactly the same thing literally. "Zły szeląg" could be translated as "counterfeit farthing", but is there an idiom with "zły szeląg" that means what Conrad meant? The one I know means something completely different.

  8. #8
    5jj's Avatar
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    Default Re: counterfeit farthing

    Quote Originally Posted by birdeen's call View Post
    "Nie dałbym za to złamanego grosza"?
    I'd be interested to know what that means, both literally and word for word. Could you translate, please?

  9. #9
    birdeen's call is offline VIP Member
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    Default Re: counterfeit farthing

    Quote Originally Posted by 5jj View Post
    I'd be interested to know what that means, both literally and word for word. Could you translate, please?
    I wouldn't give a broken grosz for it.

    It means exactly the same as Conrad's phrase of course.

    Word for word is difficult.

    Nie = not

    dałbym = I [masculine] would give ("-by-" serves the function of "would", "-m" is the first-person ending)

    złamanego = broken [genitive]

    grosza = grosz [genitive]
    Last edited by birdeen's call; 01-Dec-2011 at 18:23.

  10. #10
    5jj's Avatar
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    Default Re: counterfeit farthing

    Thank you, BC.

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