Treasure Island:

He continued. “I'm a plain man; rum and bacon and eggs is what I want, and that head up there for to watch ships off. What you mought call me? You mought call me captain. Oh, I see what you're at - there”

The bold part confuses me. What does "head up" mean in this context? What does "that" stand for?

1 Answer 1


This is colloquial and dialectal—literally "Talk like a pirate"—and somewhat antiquated—the story is set in the 18th century. The 'captain' wants

that — a demonstrative, pointing to a specific
headheadland, a protruding stretch of the cliffs
up there — located at a specific point farther along the road and above the sea
for — in order
to watch ships — to survey traffic on the sea below
off — from it

  • Is 'for' redundant here? I think it relates to 'want', but 'and that head up there' splits them.
    – Kinzle B
    Commented Mar 27, 2017 at 13:27
  • @KinzleB For to VERB is an obsolete construction indicating the purpose for which he wants the head. In ModE we'd use a gerund (for watching). Moreover, the marked infinitive by itself indicates purpose, so it doesn't strictly "need" this indicator; but then it doesn't "need" the perfectly acceptable in order ('in order to watch'), either. Commented Mar 27, 2017 at 13:35
  • I run into all sorts of weird expressions in old-fashioned novels. Sometimes I feel I'm reading a different language. BTW, I would interpret 'watch ships off' to mean 'watch ships leave'. Why is that ruled out?
    – Kinzle B
    Commented Mar 27, 2017 at 14:23
  • @KinzleB It's not 'ruled out', but the natural parse is that off is a stranded preposition in a covert relative modifying head: "off which to watch ships" Commented Mar 27, 2017 at 15:53

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