In the following sentence (from a story called Messenger by A. Blackwood):

Nothing upon the earth— familiar, friendly, well-known, little earth—could have brought this sense that pressed upon the edges of true reverence.

What is the meaning of "little earth"? Also, is the "edges of true reverence" something idiomatic? I understand it simply as "true respect (great)".

  • In addition to the other comments here, you should note that the story is from 1921. So it's not surprising if the language sounds a bit unusual -- it's 100 years old. Dec 27 '20 at 7:04

"Little" is used here as a diminutive and conveys a poetic sense of endearment.

"Pressed upon the edges of true reverence" is also very poetic and not idiomatic at all. But its meaning is that the feeling approached (was close to) true reverence (great respect, as you said).

  • 1
    Reverence might be understood as something a little stronger than great respect, perhaps further in the direction of worship. Dec 27 '20 at 7:24

Slightly earlier in the text, the narrator writes

Something from another world was drawing every minute nearer, with a speed that made me tremble and half-breathless. It would presently arrive. It would stand close beside me and look straight into my face. Into these very eyes that searched the mist and shadow for an outward sign it would gaze intimately with a Message brought for me alone.

The earth is reassuringly familiar, and small ("little") by comparison with the whole universe which contains "another world".


What does “little earth” mean when used as an adjective?

Syntactically, “little earth” isn’t used as an adjective. Only “little” is. In the sentence fragment

familiar, friendly, well-known, little earth

there is an enumeration of adjectives (“familiar, friendly, well-known, little”) all applying to “earth”. So this earth that the author is talking about (presumably capital-E Earth, i.e. our home planet) is “familiar”, it’s “friendly”, “well-known” and, in relation to many observable planets, it’s also “little”. But besides this literal meaning I agree with TypeIA’s answer that in this context the word is likely used as as a term of endearment. Compare also the colloquial American English phrase “little old ‹…›”, with a similar idiomatic meaning.

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