This was the call used by the Mississippi navigators indicating a sounding of two (twain) fathoms, or 12 feet - safe water for a riverboat's passage. An American writer and humorist, Samuel Langhorne Clemens adopted Mark Twain as his nom de plume, having heard this cry as he frequently walked by the river in his boyhood. I mention this because I discovered recently that today marks the 150th anniversary of the publication of his first short story, which led to fame [ and subsequently fortune, once the Tom Sawyer books got into print]
Here is a picture of a rare edition of that first story. It is sometimes entitled The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County. You can read it here. Personally I am not sure what all the fuss was about! But he was undoubtedly a very clever man. He once said It is better to keep your mouth closed and let people think you are a fool than to open it and remove all doubt.
Twain also occasionally used the pen-name Thomas Jefferson Snodgrass. But I think the play on words of Mark Twain is brilliant.
As a small child, this verse in the book of Isaiah about the prophet’s vision really bothered me…
Above stood the seraphim: each one had six wings; with twain he covered his face, and with twain he covered his feet, and with twain he did fly.
I am afraid I had got the words tallow and twain confused, and thought that somehow these seraphim had somehow flown too close to the candles on the altar, and got candlewax on their feet! I am glad that we use more modern versions of the Bible these days with our children – another younger member of my family misheard “The Lord smote him and he died” as “The Lord smoked him and he died”