Oryx-and-Crake (oryx_and_crake) wrote in linguaphiles,

An incomprehensible passage from Alice Munro

Dear linguaphiles,

I am working on translation of a book by Alice Munro and I have come across a sentence that I don't understand.
"The visitor who rose to be introduced was tall and thin and sallow, with a face that seemed to hang in pleats, precise and melancholy."
I don't understand how his face can be hanging in pleats (this, in itself, happens if there is a lot of extra skin) and be precise at the same time. Extra skin suggests a certain sloppiness or flabbiness, which, in my opinion, is incompatible with being precise. Either the word precise has some very specific meaning here, or I am missing something. Please help.
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The phrase makes me think of a pleated skirt with sharp pleats that are sewn to stay in place and ironed to have a crisp edge. Those pleats fit together "precisely". Visualising a face like that, maybe deep, straight, vertical wrinkles? (Having recently rewatched Ratatouille, I can't help thinking of Anton Ego.)

I hope you find a pleasing translation!
Oh, I see. Yes, this makes sense. Thanks!
Yeah, a pleat isn't simply a wrinkle, it is a regular crease.


August 19 2014, 08:32:18 UTC 2 years ago Edited:  August 19 2014, 08:34:07 UTC

I would imagine him as being very old, with the wrinkles coming because the skin has become very thin. It isn't held in place by its own thickness any more. The wrinkles will be deep, almost looking like cuts when they are in shadow.

I had in mind this kind of thing
This surely looks pleated but I do not see how it is precise. I think alvdans gave a good explanation.
Like the other adjective 'melancholy', doesn't the 'precise' refer to the general impression that his face gives, rather than being directly connected with the pleats? The sentence doesn't strike me as being a good one, this is an effort at fine writing that doesn't quite succeed!


August 19 2014, 16:44:49 UTC 2 years ago Edited:  August 19 2014, 16:46:10 UTC

I agree, sort of, but I'm thinking "precise and melancholy" could refer to the whole person; the sentence could possibly be rewritten "The visitor who rose to be introduced was tall and thin and sallow, precise and melancholy, with a face that seemed to hang in pleats."


August 20 2014, 03:03:34 UTC 2 years ago Edited:  August 20 2014, 03:49:06 UTC

As is, I saw a face whose wrinkles had been formed by his habitual expressions of precision and melancholy. With a suggestion of melancholy precision, or precise melancholy. Or melancholy about the subject/s he was precise about.

Like Inspector Japp.

He's the left-most man.

Here he is younger but more melancholy.

Here the wrinkles in his forehead are what I'd call precise. Deep and clear.

Not all pleats have sharp edges. Here's what I'd call precise pleated wrinkles.
I wonder about the context of the story. Ironing pleats is painstaking, dull, time-consuming work, so I can see how somebody doing that would be precise and melancholy at the same time. I can also see how someone who'd seen their mother or maid, for instance, taking the time to iron pleats would have that sort of impression about pleats in general. And then applying it to a person...that's really interesting.
My first thought was someone with a face like a bloodhound. I can't find any pictures of the type of face I mean, though.
Yes. See my images of Inspector Japp.
Minerva McGonagall (Harry Potter)