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I'm reading an article about French writer Jean Lorrain. It says:

"Lorrain (1855– 1906) was another perfumed and decadent type, with his jewels, his hennaed mustache, and his addiction to both ether and rough sailor boys."

The definitions of "ether" in the dictionary don't seem to fit into this context. Besides, "ether" seems to be a noun referring to some chemical element while it seems to be an adjective in the above quote.

Does this word have other meanings? What does it mean when it's used as an adjective?

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"Ether" in this sentence is being used as a noun, not an adjective. The writer is saying that Lorrain had an addiction to ether, and he had an addiction to "rough sailor boys". I guess you're reading this as "an addiction to sailor boys who are rough and who are ether"? But that reading doesn't make sense for the reason you state: "ether" isn't an adjective.

One definition of "ether" is that it is a certain chemical made up of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen. Some people drink or inhale this chemical to get high, much like one can drink alcohol or smoke marijuana. Some people become addicted to ether.

So one can be literally "addicted to ether". I don't think one can literally be "addicted to rough sailor boys", but you probably get what the writer is trying to say.

  • Further reading on ether addiction: John Irving, The Cider House Rules. – Stephie Jun 11 '15 at 5:04
  • Thanks a lot for the explanation. (There are other articles saying that Lorrain has "a taste for sailors and dockworkers, never had his fill of creating scandals" and that he wrote poems about sailors. So I guess I can grasp what the writer is trying to say.) – memoir reader Jun 12 '15 at 2:52
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Ether is sometimes used as a term for space and/or upper atmosphere. It could also mean the air around and above. Maybe the author was trying to use the addiction to ether as a way to explain his want of something greater. It's difficult to say not knowing the whole story but maybe the way he cares about superficial things like jewels and his addiction to ether are just saying he has his head in the clouds.

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