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Out at the Elbows

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While reading a translation of Fyodor Dostoevsky’s novel The Idiot (Bookshop|Amazon), a listener is puzzled by the sentence For the most part these omniscient gentlemen are out at elbow, and receive a salary of seventeen rubles a month. What does out at elbow mean? It means “ragged” or “in bad condition,” and refers to the image of a coat worn out at the elbows. Conversely, to be in at elbows means “to be well paid.” This is part of a complete episode.

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