In "The Dagger with Wings" by G. K. Chesterton, Dr. Boyne was talking to Father Brown after the priest said he suspected the murderer was Impersonating the murdered man.

Boyne said: "There is something very queer and close to the nerves, I think, about notions affecting identity. I don’t know whether it would be more weird to get a guess like that swiftly or slowly. I wonder when you suspected and when you were sure."

What's meant here by close to the nerves? Does it mean causing tension?


A Google search didn't show me any uses of the phrase "close to the nerves" except medical and surgical ones, where the meaning is literal.

Here, the author is using the phrase figuratively, to mean that "notions of identity" are areas of great sensitivity to most people, who don't think in terms of exceptions to or violations of identity. He is surprised that Father Brown has managed to leap to his conclusion about impersonation, almost suggesting that it is weird that he did.

  • So it may mean sensitive?! – Ahmed Samir May 13 '20 at 20:51
  • I think that is exactly what it means. Nerves are pathways of sensation, among other things, and it can be very painful if they are stimulated directly, for example by a dentist's drill. – Jack O'Flaherty May 13 '20 at 20:59
  • Thank you Jack. – Ahmed Samir May 13 '20 at 21:01

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