He was rather windy


Senior Member
Robert Wilson, whose entire occupation had been with the lion and the problem he presented, and who had not been thinking about Macomber except to note that he was rather windy, suddenly felt as though he had opened the wrong door in a hotel and seen something shameful.

——“The short happy life if Francis Macomber”

Question: what does “windy” mean here? Does it that Macomber was out of breath due to fear?

  • sdgraham

    Senior Member
    USA English
    The answer is in our dictionary, Wooster.
    WordReference Random House Learner's Dictionary of American English © 2018
    wind•y /ˈwɪndi/ adj., -i•er, -i•est.
    1. accompanied by or having wind:a windy March day.
    2. exposed to the wind:a windy mountaintop.
    3. characterized by or using pompous empty talk:a long, windy speech.


    Senior Member
    British English
    I'm not familiar with "windy" in meaning 3 cited by sdgraham, and wonder if it is applicable in this specific context. (Genuine question - I just do not know.)

    Hemingway uses "windy" several times in that book when indicating his opinion of someone:

    "...and who had not been thinking about Macomber except to note that he was rather windy,..."

    "Stop worrying, you windy bastard, he said to himself."

    "But he spoke in a very rare and windy way."

    '"What's the matter with you? he asked. "You getting windy?"'

    Merriam Webster offers inter alia:

    3a : verbose, bombastic
    • a windy politician
    b : lacking substance : empty
    • windy promises

    I wonder if any of these other meanings are applicable in this case?

    Hermione Golightly

    Senior Member
    British English
    Hello 'Wooster'
    If you have any further questions about this wonderful, amazing, gripping and powerful short story, here's a link to the text.
    Please quote this so that we can see the background and understand what's going on.
    You ought too, to give us a brief idea of the context in your own words. "This story is about lion/big game hunting in Africa", as an example of the most basic context.
    There must be thousands of very difficult areas of understanding and language in this story, whether they are language, cultural, social, racial relations, or interpersonal.
    'Windy' is not an adjective I use or have ever heard used to mean 'talking too much'. But the term 'a windbag' for someone who talks too much is familiar to me. It might well imply someone who talks rubbish.
    I suspect it's been replaced these days by less gentle terms.


    Senior Member
    British English
    'Windy' is not an adjective I use or have ever heard used to mean 'talking too much'. But the term 'a windbag' for someone who talks too much is familiar to me.

    And someone's explanations might be called "long-winded".

    From reading parts of that text, I don't see any indication that he is a windbag, verbose, given to prolixity, long-windedness, etc.

    There are recurrent mentions of his fears, anxieties and sense of inadequacy, and he is referred to as a coward at least twice.

    He is clearly looked down on by his spouse as well as the professional big-game hunter, Wilson.

    Uncle Jack

    Senior Member
    British English
    The WordReference.com dictionary also has (Collins Concise English Dictionary, at the bottom):
    6. slang afraid; frightened; nervous

    which sounds more like the meaning from Linkway's description. This is a usage I am familiar with, but it's absence from the two American dictionaries made me think it was a British thing, so I thought it unlikely Hemmingway would use 'windy' this way.


    Senior Member
    I think afraid is more fitting in the context of this story, but it is missing from the App version of Webster that I have been using.

    On that note, is there a better dictionary that is on Apple app that I should use?

    Like always, thanks to everoney. This is such a wonderful forum!

    Hermione Golightly

    Senior Member
    British English
    I agree that windy means scared or frightened and I've just remembered the expression 'to have/get the wind up'.
    There's also 'to put the wind up somebody', meaning to scare/worry/ or threaten them.
    Maybe it's British - I expect Wilson the professional hunter and guide was British since much of Africa was British colonial/imperial territory at that time, and also by the way he talks about Americans.
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    New Member
    Cowardly or frightened is certainly the proper context here. Windy was a very common British expression for cowardice in the early 20th century and before. Numerous WWI
    books use the term and it was one the worst
    things a man could be called in those days. This novel is all about how the less than manly
    Macomber is finally redeemed at the moment of his death and hence enjoys a short but happy life at that time.


    Senior Member
    English - U.S.
    Interesting. I've never heard that meaning but it does seem to match the quotes, which the windbag meaning does not do.


    Senior Member
    English - England
    "Windy" is one of those words that is heavily reliant upon context for its meaning, see Linkway at #4. In BE, it tends to mean either "boastful; exaggerated; airy; vague; blustering; verbose". As Hemingway wrote in AE (afraid, cowardly, timid), it is likely to have meanings related to AE. I think you have no choice but to find out what sort of a character Macomber is and then apply that meaning.

    The story contains Wilson's opinion of Macomber:
    “You mean will I tell it at the Mathaiga Club?” Wilson looked at him [Macomber] now coldly. He had not expected this. So he’s a bloody four-letter man as well as a bloody coward, he thought. I rather liked him too until today….”
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    Senior Member
    British English
    Hemingway's being American didn't stop him using BE slang in a character who is a colonial Brit. The American, Macomber, has a moment of blind panic when confronted by a lion. Wilson, the hunter, considers him windy. Later Macomber asks Wilson to keep his cowardice quiet. Wilson is outraged by Macomber even suggesting that he would betray a client's confidence and considers him a "four-letter man" (a shit). Macomber's wife's behaviour later earns her the sobriquet "five-letter woman" (a bitch).
    Isn't this use of "rather" a tad British too? :)
    Yes, Hemingway demonstrating his skill at putting the right words in his characters' mouths.


    Senior Member
    English - U.S.
    Hemingway was well traveled. It would not be surprising if his American English would be a bit diluted here and there. It only takes a short amount of time around others to start picking up new phrases. It's also possible the word windy in that sense was used by the people he spent time with. A lot of his experiences were in the close vicinity of international wars where that topic might likely come up.
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