Jul 5, 2009

Bolt upright

Dictionary lesson time! Yay!

There exists an expression: "bolt upright." This is nearly always part of the longer phrase "to sit bolt upright," and it means to sit very, absolutely straight. As in, "The young Lady Grey was rather prone to uncouth slouching, so her tutor, the eminently proper Miss Agatha, would slap her back with a walking-stick if she failed to sit bolt upright in her chair."

Despite the presence of the word bolt, this expression has nothing to do with sitting up quickly. Bolt in this case is actually an adverb, modifying upright. So one does not, upon waking up from a bad dream, "bolt upright." This would be akin to saying "I woke up from my nightmare and absolutely straighted."

I mention it mostly because this is a bit pesky to correct in editing - it's not just a matter of replacing the offending word, it requires at least minor rephrasing and sometimes derails the whole sentence. So better that we all just use it correctly.

I hope everyone had an excellent July 4th - I of course missed it up here in Canada, but I can assure you that I was accidentally setting fire to my lawn in spirit.


Emilie said...

Haha didn't know that, I'm sure I've used misused it at some point...

Michelle said...

I love your useful hints here. Thank you for sharing!

Erin said...

Thanks, MV! Glad my arcane grammar tidbits are of some use.