The Lang Men o’ Larut

Notes on the text

These notes, by John McGivering, with additional material on technical matters by Alastair Wilson, are partly new, and partly based on the ORG. The page and line numbers below refer to the Macmillan (London) Standard Edition of Life’s Handicap, as published and frequently reprinted between 1891 and 1950.


[Title] Larut is a District in the State of Perak in the Malay peninsula, some 60 miles from Perang. There are tin and other mines there.
Lang is Scots dialect for ‘long’.

[Page 294, line 2] the speech of Aberdeen city, county, university and seat of a Bishop in Scotland.

[Page 294, line 4] capstan a drum on a vertical axis then usually driven by steam but capable of manual operation by men pushing on bars slotted into pigeon-holes in the head, used for hoisting anchor and other such heavy work.

[Page 294, line 12] Orizava There is a town and a mountain named Orizaba in Mexico.

[Page 295, line 18] brandipanee brandy and water or soda-water.

[Page 295, line 19] cocktails potent and very palatable mixtures of assorted spirits, fruit juices etc., shaken up with ice.

[Page 295, line 20] sangaree red wine with water or lemonade, spices, etc.

[Page 295, lines 22-24] sweat like the packing of a piston-head etc Alastair Wilson comments, confirming that the ORG entry is very fair:

‘The simile isn’t important to the tale, nor to us. Indeed, it is possibly one of those Kipling technicalities which do not bear too close an examination. A piston-head did not have packing when the tale was written. In the very early days of steam, it is said that hemp was used to make a piston steam-tight – but that was in the 1830s and `40s. By the time of the tale, cast iron would have been used to make piston rings. Nor would the piston, being enclosed in a cylinder closed at both ends, have been visible for the Chief Engineer to determine whether or no it was ‘sweating’.

However, it may be fair to suggest that in engines with very low steam pressure, at the end of the working stroke, the temperature of the cylinder walls would have been low enough to cause a very fine mist of minuscule water droplets, more a miasma, to have formed on those walls, and hence been transferred to the piston rings on the piston.

The Chief Engineer would have been aware of this phenomenon. But a monumental sweat it certainly was
not. Had it been such, the resulting water would have blown off the cylinder head, since water is incompressible. The best that can be said is that Kipling’s Chief Engineer knew how to spin a tale.’

See also the notes by Al;astair Wilson on two tales in The Day’s Work; “The Ship that Found Herself” (page 84, line 11), and “The Devil and the Deep Sea” (page 152, line 17)

[Page 295, line 26] Scotch in this context now usually applied only to whisky – the nationality is expressed as ‘Scots’ or ‘Scottish’.

[Page 296, line 1] three o’ the sons o’ Anak Numbers 8, 22; Ahiman, Sheshai and Talmai, the children of Anak.

[Page 296, line 18] ruddy and of a fair countenance 1 Samuel, 16, 12: ‘…he was ruddy and withal of a beautiful countenance, and goodly to look to. Kipling was known as ‘Ruddy’ (short for Rudyard) to his family.

[Page 296, line 22] scunner to ‘take a scunner’ at something, is a scots phrase for conceiving a strong dislike or aversion to it. It comes from the Middle English skunner – to shrink back in disgust from. The local people shrank back in disgust from the monstrous Scots.

[Page 296, line 24] giant trees in the Yosemite Valley State and National Parks in California containing Redwoods of genus Sequoia which attain a height of over 300 feet (90 metres).

[Page 296, line 26] a lusus naturæ a freak of nature (Latin).

[Page 297, line 7] Sacramento the capital city of the State of California, U.S.A.

[Page 297, line 23] bed-plates A substantial part of the ship’s framework to which the engines are secured – hence a firm foundation. [A.J.W.W.]

[Page 298, line 3] euchre a game of cards for two, three or four players.

[Page 298, line 4] Bowers When playing euchre, the ‘Right Bower’ is the Jack of trumps, the ‘Left Bower’ is the other Jack of the same colour.

[Page 298, line 5] the Joker also known as the ‘Best Bower’ or the ‘Benny’ – some versions of euchre do not use one, and there are so many variations in different countries it is impossible to be more precise.

[Page 298, line 10] anaconda Eunectes murinus; an enormous constricting snake of the boa family.
furlong 220 yards (200 metres), one eighth of am English mile.

[Page 298, line 11] Batavia now known as Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia on the north-west coast of Java.

[Page 298, line 12] North Borneo now Sabah, part of Malaysia.

[Page 298, line 19] ‘Frisco San Francisco, important city and port in California, U.S.A.

[Page 298, line 23] paste-board in this context, thin white cardboard of which visiting-cards are made, engraved with one’s name and address – an essential social accessory of the period.

[Page 298, line 27] travellers-joy palm Clematis (Ranunculaceae) of which there are over two hundred varieties.

[Page 298, line 28] orang-outang Simia satyrus, an anthropoid ape found in Borneo and Sumatra; orang outang means ‘man of the woods’ in Malay.

[Page 298, line 29] dyak a native of Borneo.

[Page 298, line 33] tearin’ down the pillars thereof an echo of Judges 16, 29 & 30:

‘And Sampson took hold of the two middle pillars upon which the house stood , and on which it was borne up … And he bowed himself with all his might; and the house fell upon the lords and upon all the people that were therein…’

[J H McG]

©John McGivering 2006 All rights reserved