a big startled looking woman [big?]

amy20082008

Member
mandarin, P.R.China
....When i (a doctor)arrived i was met by the mother(of a sick girl), a big startled looking woman, very clean and apologetic who merely said, "Is this the doctor?" And let me in....(The Use of Force, by William Carlos Williams)

does "big" mean "the woman has a big figure" or "she is startled very much"?
there is no comma between big and startled, so i am confused.

Ps: The Use of Force is a text from the textbook for Chinese college students, so I don’t know from which collection of Williams it is. Besides, sometimes, the editor adds a title for an excerption without a note, and I’m not sure whether it’s the original title.
The story goes like this: the doctor went to see a sick girl, who was possibly suffering from diphtheria. But the girl was spoiled by her parents, a big woman and a big man, and refused to open her mouth for examination. Finally, the doctor forced a spoon into her mouth and examined her.


 
  • Joelline

    Senior Member
    American English
    There should be a comma after "big" (and I would put a hyphen between "startled" and "looking"): a big, startled-looking woman...

    She may be very tall, or very heavy, or both.
     

    foxfirebrand

    Senior Member
    Southern AE greatly modified by a 1st-generation Scottish-American mother, and growing up abroad.
    "Big" here has nothing to do with how startled she is-- it's an adjective. Any word modifying "startled" would have to be an adverb, as in "a big, very startled-looking woman." Word order is important, as "verybig startledlooking woman" means she was very big, not necessarily very startled.

    I'm playing around clustering the words-- and spoofing Joelline a little for presuming to correct William Carlos Williams, a doctor but also a major poet. But on the other hand I myself followed her suggestion and put a comma after "big."

    Williams wrote in the 30s and 40s and thereabouts-- before "big" became a PC word for "fat." The woman here was probably tall and big-boned-- and yes, possibly a little "filled-out" in addition to that.

    I'm glad to see people are still reading Williams, and I hope you enjoy him enough to read more and more of his works in the future. He put a great emphasis on plain, clear language-- and with that self-imposed limitation he achieved much that is agelessly poetic.

    Is "The Use of Force" from a short-story collection, or a modern anthology? I don't recognize the title.
    .
     

    Joelline

    Senior Member
    American English
    Ah, foxfirebrand, you'd be amazed at what I would presume to do! :D

    I am not a big fan of Williams' short stories. The poems are gems: every word carefully placed, nuanced: "everywhere the electric"! But what works in the poetry doesn't necessarily work in the stories! And this story in particular (which I had to teach in an Intro to Lit course), with its shifts of tone and register (not to mention idiosyncratic punctuation) drove me nuts! I remember saying to the class that it was no wonder Williams eschewed punctuation in so much of his poetry! :)

    By the way, the story was in the anthology I used for class, but I honestly can't recall (and don't care) where it was originally published!
     

    foxfirebrand

    Senior Member
    Southern AE greatly modified by a 1st-generation Scottish-American mother, and growing up abroad.
    Ah well-- I wasn't going to reread Williams anyway-- what, am I nuts? I'm in output mode now, don't even ask me what's in the headlines. This is where the unmet need for glasses works to my advantage.

    Or would, if I were office-bound. On the road, you don't want to be asking the officer-- stop sign? You expect me to see that measly little thing? Why'n the @*# don't you make the blasted things bigger?
    .
     
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