beard of a moth-eaten tow-color

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Senior Member
Dear all
What's meant by "beard of a moth-eaten tow-color" in the following context, chosen from "The Three Soldiers" by Dos Passos:
Location: a "buvette" in a railway station in France
He was a cadaverous little man, incredibly dirty, with mustaches and beard of a moth-eaten tow-color, and a purple flush on his cheeks.
I can imagine a tow-color beard, but, does it mean that the beard had color of a moth-eaten tow?
  • owlman5

    Senior Member
    A "tow-color" is a light blond, similar to flax. So a "beard of moth-eaten tow-color" is a pale, very scruffy beard. The beard is so thin and straggly that it looks as though moths have been eating it.


    Senior Member
    English, UK
    It is a little odd since, logically, a colour can't really be eaten by moths, who, as far as I know, do not eat tow. But I think the idea is of a tow-coloured, thin, straggling beard and moustaches that look as if moths had been eating them. Some other languages might have used the word for worm-eaten for this idea, which cannot be taken literally either.
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