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I'm reading Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (Lewis Carroll). The book begins with the following sentence:

Alice was beginning to get very tired of sitting by her sister on the bank.

My question is related to the word "bank". In my language, this word means "park bench", and I have seen some English writers use it in that sense, but I learned that the word "bank" in English refers to the bank of a river or something like that (and cartoons show a river bank instead of a park bench). So my question is this: what is the true meaning of the word "bank" in that sentence? Does it refer to the bank of the river or a park bench?

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    I don't think I've ever seen the word "bank" used in English to refer to a bench. Are you sure the usage didn't refer to someone who happened to be sitting at a financial institution? Apr 19, 2023 at 20:08
  • @NuclearHoagie It's likely, it's been a few weeks since I saw this word in random articles on the internet, and I ended up with this doubt. In my mind that word still seems to have been used in the sense of "bench", even if it sounds weird. Anyway, you all answered my questions in an extremely rich and accurate way, so thank you, it was a great help!
    – neko777
    Apr 20, 2023 at 17:55
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    @NuclearHoagie: Coming from a language where "bank" means bench, but it also means the financial institution (like it does in English, which provides some confirmation that the word is shared between the languages), phrases like "sitting on the bank" can wrongly suggest to a naive ESL speaker that "bank" is something you sit on, hence a bench. It's not correct, but it's a very common usage and the logical jump is not that far-fetched.
    – Flater
    Apr 20, 2023 at 23:46
  • "it's been a few weeks since I saw this word in random articles on the internet" – don't forget that these random(!) articles may have been written by non-native speakers.
    – Schmuddi
    Apr 21, 2023 at 7:08
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    Re: "bank" and "bench", Banks and Benchs - A Complicated Linguistic Transaction.
    – Andrew T.
    Apr 21, 2023 at 12:33

2 Answers 2

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It is "river bank".

Before chapter 1, there is a poem that somewhat sets the scene:

All in the golden afternoon
⁠Full leisurely we glide;
For both our oars, with little skill,
⁠By little arms are plied,
While little hands make vain pretence
⁠Our wanderings to guide.

Charles Dodgson (i.e. Lewis Carroll, aka "Dodo"), has gone for a summer outing on a rowboat with the three daughters of a friend: Alice, Lorina and Edith Liddell (Alice being the youngest). They have stopped for a rest on the side of the river. One of the older sisters is reading a book, but the youngest is tired...

"Bank" means "sloping land, especially by the side of a river" (it also means "an institution that holds and loans money" or a row of similar things- but those are not the meanings here). It is unlikely you have seen it used to mean any kind of seat - it only has that sense when applied to the the benches for slaves in a trireme (a type of ancient boat).

Look out for Lorina, Edith, and Dodgson, they all appear in disguise later in the book

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  • The poem certainly refers to the original version of the story having been told to the girls on the river trip, but I don't think it's implied that it happened that day. When Alice wakes up, her sister tells her to 'run in to your tea', implying that they are close to home. Apr 20, 2023 at 14:43
  • @KateBunting And after 'run in to your tea' her sister stays behind to dream herself, and by the comparison of the dream to reality it's clear that there is a 'neighbouring pool' (which in the dream a "frightened Mouse" is splashing through, but in reality is "rippling to the waving of the reeds").
    – Muskworker
    Apr 20, 2023 at 16:09
  • "Little skill" and "little hands" are references to the children, whose last name is Liddle. They were the ones rowing the boat.
    – Engineer
    Apr 22, 2023 at 18:50
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    @Engineer Liddell, not Liddle, though probably pronounced similarly. I hadn't realized it could be a circumspect reference to their last name - I thought it was literal! As for the date, the usual date for the setting is May 4th, 1859, Alice's 7th birthday, but I do not recall how are the month and year determined (I remember she does say it's the 4th at one point). The river trip occurred on July 4th, 1862. Apr 22, 2023 at 20:44
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I am surprised that you have seen bank used to mean bench in English. Bench is the English word corresponding to Bank in German and banc in French.

Alice and her sister may have been sitting on a river bank or, more likely, on the grass-covered sloping side of a mound of earth.

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    (French banc also means park bench, which is likely the source of OP's confusion.)
    – hunter
    Apr 20, 2023 at 0:28
  • @hunter - So does Bank, according to Google Translate. Apr 20, 2023 at 7:50
  • @KateBunting Not only to google translate. However, "Bank" cannot refer to a river bank in German.
    – arne
    Apr 20, 2023 at 12:06
  • @hunter It's probably the Portuguese word "banco", not the French word "banc", that is the source of OP's confusion. Apr 21, 2023 at 2:05
  • @Acccumulation - OP doesn't specify what 'my native language' is, so I was reduced to guessing. Apr 21, 2023 at 8:05

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