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“Who is—or who was—the hooded woman with the owl? Do you know?”

“Well!” said Ikey, holding up his cap with one hand while he scratched his head with the other, “they say, in general, that she was murdered, and the howl he 'ooted the while.”

This very concise summary of the facts was all I could learn, except that a young man, as hearty and likely a young man as ever I see, had been took with fits and held down in 'em, after seeing the hooded woman. Also, that a personage, dimly described as “a hold chap, a sort of one-eyed tramp, answering to the name of Joby, unless you challenged him as Greenwood, and then he said, ‘Why not? and even if so, mind your own business,’” had encountered the hooded woman, a matter of five or six times. But, I was not materially assisted by these witnesses: inasmuch as the first was in California, and the last was, as Ikey said (and he was confirmed by the landlord), Anywheres.

    —  Charles Dickens, The Haunted House: The Mortals in the House

There is nothing written about “being taken with fits and hold down in them” in any dictionary.

This is what I don't understand.

  • Hi Hamed, and welcome to ELL. Could you state what you think it means? – Steve Melnikoff Nov 4 '13 at 16:09
  • ...or at least what specific part of it is giving you trouble. Are there words you don't understand in this context, even after looking them up? – Tyler James Young Nov 4 '13 at 16:12
  • I have no idea, since there is nothing written about 'being taken with fits and hold down in them'. not in any dictionary nor in Google. I don't know what kind of language this is anymore. – user3137 Nov 4 '13 at 16:12
  • had been took with fits and held down in 'em this is what I don't understand. – user3137 Nov 4 '13 at 16:14
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    I have no problem with Dickensian questions here. An O.P. might want to add a caveat at the end – something like, I realize this is not contemporary English but I'm still interested in its meaning. That might help ward off a host of well-meaning comments by others. Still, there's nothing wrong with questions that might not be terribly easy to answer. – J.R. Nov 4 '13 at 21:03
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had been took with fits

had become afflicted by "fits": a sudden, acute attack or manifestation of a disease, especially one marked by convulsions or unconsciousness

and held down in 'em

had these convulsions so badly that he had to be physically restrained.

Also, that a personage, dimly described as "a hold chap, a sort of one-eyed tramp, answering to the name of Joby, unless you challenged him as Greenwood, and then he said, 'Why not? and even if so, mind your own business,'" had encountered the hooded woman, a matter of five or six times.

An older fellow had encountered the hooded woman several times. (This person was a hobo, missing one eye, and was named "Joby"; his last name may have been "Greenwood", but he didn't like to have it used.)

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To the question as clarified in comments above:

"Fits" in this case is basically what we would now call a seizure.

Being “t[aken] with” them means that they have afflicted him and caused him to lose control of his body.

Upon seeing the ghost of the murdered woman, the young man had a violent reaction:
he fell, shaking, unable to rise.


Dickens normally requires a bit of “translation” for even native speakers to understand him perfectly. You may wish to find an updated or heavily annotated version of the book if you truly wish to read it.

  • I wish there was, but there is not. – user3137 Nov 4 '13 at 16:38

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