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I'm reading Mark Twain's The Prince and The Pauper and have come across this sentence in Chapter 23, after the woman has told the court that her pig is worth eight pence and is about to leave when an officer stops her asking to buy the pig for that amount.

The Dialogue:

The woman: "Eightpence, indeed! Thou'lt do no such thing. It cost me three shillings and eightpence, good honest coin of the last reign, that old Harry that's just dead ne'er touched or tampered with. A fig for thy eightpence!"

The officer: "Stands the wind in that quarter? Thou wast under oath, and so swore falsely when thou saidst the value was but eightpence. Come straightway back with me before his worship, and answer for the crime!--and then the lad will hang."

What does "Stands the wind in that quarter" mean?

  • Probably similar to sail against the wind, but I'm guessing. – Damkerng T. Jul 17 '16 at 10:06
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    See also "Stands the Church clock at ten to three?" – pjc50 Jul 18 '16 at 8:51
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Literally, it is a nautical term meaning "Is the wind coming from that direction?"

The actual meaning is "Is that how things are?" with an implication of either surprise or (here) cynicism.

It uses the archaic form of question without "do" support: in modern syntax it would read "Does the wind stand in that direction?" But it also uses an archaic sense of the word "stand".

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    This usage of "stand" is not archaic as a nautical term. The basic meaning is "to continue in a particular direction", e.g. "the ship was standing out to sea" (i.e moving out to sea, not stationary!) or "standing north", etc. A similar nautical phrase "stand off" = "keep away from", e.g. "stand off the rocks," has become the noun "stand-off", with a slightly different meaning of "a situation where there is no progress towards a solution or compromise." oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/stand – alephzero Jul 17 '16 at 15:10
  • Fun fact: in many modern Germanic languages such as German and Dutch, this is still correct syntax for questions (e.g. "Goes he to school?" vs English "does he go to school"?). Reading a sentence like "Stands the wind in that quarter" always sounds funny to me not because it is archaic English, but because it seems to be a bad (literal) translation. – CompuChip Jul 18 '16 at 7:54
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    We still have this expression with about the same meaning, but today it would be phrased "is that the way the wind is blowing?" Often it's a statement rather than a question—"so that's the way the wind's blowing"—in which case it means something like "I see how things are." – 1006a Jul 18 '16 at 12:31
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It's a reference to the points of the compass which name the direction from which the wind comes.

The four cardinal directions (N,S,E,W) and the four ordinal directions which bisect them (NE,SE,SW,NW) are the eight principal winds; the half-winds are the eight directions which bisect the principal winds; and the quarter-winds are the sixteen directions which bisect the principal and half-winds, the whole making up the 'compass rose'—here's a picture with the English names of the directions, from The Seaman's Secrets, 1607, via Wikipedia:

enter image description here

"Stands the wind in that quarter?" is a rhetorical question: "Is that where the wind is coming from now?" That is, you've changed your story: formerly you were 'blowing' from that quarter, but now you're blowing from this one.

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