The American has dwindled into an Odd Fellow (17) — one who may be known by the development of his organ of gregariousness, and a manifest lack of intellect and cheerful self-reliance; whose first and chief concern, on coming into the world, is to see that the almshouses are in good repair; and, before yet he has lawfully donned the virile garb, to collect a fund for the support of the widows and orphans that may be; who, in short ventures to live only by the aid of the Mutual Insurance company, which has promised to bury him decently. -Thoreau

  1. What does "before yet" and its sentence mean?
  2. How to paraphrase "in short ventures"?

The first point is mostly an unexpected word order:

before yet he has lawfully donned the virile garb, ...

We would normally write) as far as word order is concerned as:

before he has lawfully donned the virile garb yet, ...

But this use of yet still feels archaic. I guess a more natural way today would be to write:

even before he has lawfully donned the virile garb, ...

or, as Tᴚoɯɐuo correctly points out:

before he has even lawfully donned the virile garb, ...

Or simply leave it at before on its own.

In your second part, I feel a comma might be missing. If I change

who, in short ventures to live...


who, in short , ventures to live...

I feel the sentence becomes much clearer. After a long, long sentence, the author recaptures, in short, the main idea. It is simply an interjection that could be left out without changing the meaning much.

  • How to paraphrase "lawfully don the virile garb"? – Leon Zero Jun 4 '17 at 5:25
  • 1
    @LeonZero Be a man in the eyes of the law. Garb = clothes, virile = masculine, of a grown man. – oerkelens Jun 4 '17 at 6:15
  • +1. The comma is helpful but unnecessary. We know from the syntax that short is not an adjective modifying a noun ventures but that the phrase is in short (that is, in brief) and that ventures is a verb. The who-clause needs a verb, and it is ventures, complemented by "to live..." – Tᴚoɯɐuo Jun 4 '17 at 12:19
  • +1 also for even before. A contemporary colloquial paraphrase of "before yet he has {done something}** would be "before he has even {done something}. Compare this passage from Emerson: Linnaeus projects his system, and lays out his twenty-four classes of plants, before yet he has found in nature a single plant to justify certain of his classes. books.google.com/… – Tᴚoɯɐuo Jun 4 '17 at 12:27

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