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Dangling Engineer, first taste of Making Light - In the Shadow of Leaves
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Dangling Engineer, first taste of Making Light

Making Light

Language, fraud, folly, truth, history, and knitting. Et cetera

Dangling engineer

I had this morning a note from John M. Ford:

From a British documentary on the Great Train Robbery:
"The brakeman returned to the cab to find his engineer on the floor, his head bleeding. It was filled with men in balaklava masks that hid their faces."

Obviously an inside job.

Posted by Teresa Nielsen Hayden at June 01, 2003 09:57 AM

Ruthless thogs, those guys.

Posted by: Davey on June 1, 2003 10:09 AM

Are you sure it was a British documentary? It uses the American words "Brakeman" and "Engineer" rather than the British "Guard" and "Driver".

Posted by: Tim Hall on June 1, 2003 11:44 AM

But it uses the word 'balaklava' (shouldn't that be 'balaclava'?) instead of 'bandana'.

That said, I sometimes wear a baklava mask that hides my face...or my mouth at any rate!

Posted by: Xopher on June 1, 2003 02:44 PM

It was a British doc, with British narrator -- part of a long-running "Great Crimes" series that History International shows -- but I may well have accidentally revised the words in the half-hour or so between seeing it and sending Teresa the note. (I -do- have a fairly complete vocabulary of UK railspeak, at least at less early hours of the morning.)

And a balaklava (which can be spelled either way) isn't a bandana -- it's a pullover hood, what Americans call a "ski mask."

Posted by: John M. Ford on June 1, 2003 03:11 PM

His problem is all in his head.

Posted by: Kathryn Cramer on June 1, 2003 03:34 PM

Chris, a balaclava is one of those knitted head-condoms that terrorists and bank robbers are so fond of.

Posted by: Teresa Nielsen Hayden on June 2, 2003 12:23 AM

I still can't get it out of my head that they are talking about baklava, a pastry.

Posted by: marty on June 2, 2003 12:17 PM

If it were a sticky enough pastry, they could be viscous criminals?

Sorry, couldn't resist...

Posted by: Tim Hall on June 2, 2003 05:38 PM

He's filled with tinier men!

Posted by: Alter S. Reiss on June 3, 2003 01:54 AM

Got to love those unclear antecedants....
Thanks for sharing!

(Back to watching out for sheep gambling in the meadow....)

Posted by: Elric on June 3, 2003 08:13 AM


1. The brakeman, his head bleeding, returned to find the engineer on the floor in his cabin, filled with men eating greek pastry that hid their faces.

2. The bleeding brakeman, returned to find his head engineer floored in the men-filled cabin, a hidden balaclava masking his face.

3. The brakeman returned to the head to find his engineer bleeding from the cabin, filled by men in balaclava masks that hid their faces.

4. broken man and bleeding,
from the engineered head,
from the masked face,
returned to the hidden cabin
with his head on its floor.

5. The masked brakeman, returned the cab to his hidden engineer, filled with men wearing balaclavas that hid their bleeding faces.

Posted by: bryan on June 3, 2003 08:51 AM

Bryan, I am slain.

Posted by: Teresa Nielsen Hayden on June 3, 2003 08:57 AM

You left out "Blood was pouring from the head of the engineer, who lay on the floor of the cab as the brakeman entered to find it filled with men in face-hiding balaclava masks."

Also "On the floor of the cab as the brakeman entered lay the engineer, bleeding from the head, and surrounded by balaclava-masked men."

And the extremely GERMAN "The brakeman returned to the men-in-face-hiding-balaclava-masks-filled, having-on-the-floor-the-from-the-head-bleeding-engineer cab."

While seldom tempted by the likes of the third of these, I go through and discard many, many variations like the first two every time I try to write...this may be why I've finished only one story (and that stream-of-consciousness) in the past 20 years.

Anyone else doubt that the GTR felons wore balaclavas? Were they in fashion at the time? If so, have I just been hornswoggled by too many movies, including the famous very first one?

Posted by: Xopher on June 3, 2003 12:24 PM


I too first thought it was some odd misspelling of "baklava," then realized it was something else and began to confuse it with "balalaika," which made for an even more surreal image.

After all, this being the old west, they would have covered their heads with banjos while they cleverly hid in the engineer's wound.

Posted by: Kevin Andrew Murphy on June 3, 2003 01:54 PM

Xopher, I think in German it would be "The brakeman to the men-in-face-hiding-balaclava-masks-filled, having-on-the-floor-the-from-the-head-bleeding-engineer cab returned." Verb at the end.

Just one of many reasons I'm glad my ancestors came to America.

Posted by: Lois Fundis on June 3, 2003 03:56 PM

Naw. There's always a chunk of verb in the second position in a German declarative. It would be "The brakeman turned to the men-in-face-hiding-balaclava-masks-filled, having-on-the-floor-the-from-the-head-bleeding-engineer cab re."
Posted by: Xopher on June 3, 2003 04:00 PM

Now someone translate all that into Klingon...

Posted by: Tim Hall on June 3, 2003 04:55 PM

Idiomatic Klingon translation:

Robbed train. Left no witnesses.

Posted by: John M. Ford on June 3, 2003 07:55 PM

Xopher, my German classes were long ago, but isn't the prefix in the second position? Thus, "the brakeman re to the men-in-face-hiding-balaclava-masks-filled, having-on-the-floor-the-from-the-head-bleeding-engineer cab turned."

Owie. Now I remember why I do medieval French instead.

Posted by: Anne on June 3, 2003 08:30 PM

I've spent too much time in offices. Anne, that leads me irresistibly to

FROM: The Head bleeding Engineer
TO: The Brakeman
RE: Men in face-hiding balaclava masks

Please ensure that subject men fill the cab and are turned toward the floor.

Posted by: Jordin Kare on June 3, 2003 08:59 PM

No, Xopher has got it right. The verb stays put in the middle, the prefix separates and goes drifting off in the breeze, eventually to turn up at the end of the sentence.
Posted by: David Goldfarb on June 4, 2003 01:08 AM

It's the auxiliary verb that stays in second place in German sentences and lets the main verb wander off to the end.

E.g., Der Lokomotivfuehrer sollte das Baklava essen.

Or something like that.

Posted by: Simon on June 4, 2003 12:02 PM

Vielen Dank, messieurs dames...I made it out of German alive only because my 4th-semester prof saw how bad we were and used the grammar-translation method exclusively. (If there's one thing I can do, it's look stuff up.) So I'm always pleased to dig random little bits of grammar out of my subconscious and dust them off.

Posted by: Anne on June 4, 2003 12:29 PM

-- Where is the potato?
She is on the sideboard.
-- Where is the lovely young maiden?
It is in the parlor.

No points for sourcing -that- one.

Posted by: John M. Ford on June 4, 2003 09:59 PM

Yes, John, because the -chen suffix is (or was formerly) always gramatically neuter. BUT in that particular case the feminine gender is commonly used, for exactly the cog-dis reason you point out.

Posted by: Xopher on June 5, 2003 02:44 PM

But, more importantly, is a balaclava named after the battle of Balaclava? or is that Crimean site named after the fashion item which we in the upper 13 are so fond of, especially in 40 below temperatures?

Posted by: Vancouverite on June 10, 2003 01:40 AM

As for whether the Great Train Robbery perps wore balaclavae, I expect this is the 1963 GTR, as opposed to all the other GTRs.

Posted by: James D. Macdonald on June 10, 2003 01:47 PM

[Note see The Windhover "I caught this morning morning's minion" in post for St Andrew's Day (Nov 30) 2002 - think I've worked out how to link to another entry :) ]
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