howling away <at>

VicNicSor

Banned
Russian
- One thing I could never stand is to see a filthy, dirty old drunkie, howling away at the filthy songs of his fathers and going "blerp blerp" in between as it might be a filthy old orchestra in his stinking rotten guts.
A Clockwork Orange, movie

Why is 'at' used, what does it mean? Why not just say 'howling away the filthy songs'?
Thank you.
 
  • MateuszMoś

    Senior Member
    Hello, the preposition "at" is present beacuse, I think, it avoids ambiguity. If the drunkard reminds himself about his fathers' songs, he will howl at them (at hearing them in his mind). I get the impression that without "at" the meaning is significantly changed, but you have to wait for native speakers' responses.

    For instance we can swoon, but also, we can swoon at the sight of a spider and so on and so forth.
     

    Florentia52

    Modwoman in the attic
    English - United States
    "Howling away at (the songs)" is a way of indicating that he didn't sing the songs well but was energetic in his efforts. It's reminiscent of "plugging away at something" (i.e., persisting in one's efforts, even though the results may be a long time in coming).

    "Howling away (the songs)" would sound as though he had been howling to make the songs go away, rather than howling in his singing of them.
     

    VicNicSor

    Banned
    Russian
    Thank you all.
    "Howling away (the songs)" would sound as though he had been howling to make the songs go away, rather than howling in his singing of them.
    Do you mean the meaning of "away" would change?
    "Howling away at (the songs)" -- ("away" means "someone spends the whole of a period of time doing something")
    "Howling away (the songs)" -- ("away means "someone/something leaves a place or person, or stays some distance from a place or person")
    Right?
     

    Parla

    Member Emeritus
    English - US
    No, "away" is just an emphatic word used with "howling" to mean it was continuous and was done with some energy. It has nothing to do with time or with leaving.

    Another example: She was working away at the stove all day, preparing for the guests coming to dinner.
     

    VicNicSor

    Banned
    Russian
    No, "away" is just an emphatic word used with "howling" to mean it was continuous and was done with some energy. It has nothing to do with time or with leaving.
    Yes, but I wanted to say I didn't understand what Florentia mean by
    "Howling away (the songs)" would sound as though he had been howling to make the songs go away, rather than howling in his singing of them.
     

    Florentia52

    Modwoman in the attic
    English - United States
    "Howling away the songs" sounds like "rubbing away the pain" or "laughing away my embarrassment." If I were to encounter that odd phrase, I would expect it to mean that someone was howling in order to make the songs go away.
     

    VicNicSor

    Banned
    Russian
    "Howling away the songs" sounds like "rubbing away the pain" or "laughing away my embarrassment." If I were to encounter that odd phrase, I would expect it to mean that someone was howling in order to make the songs go away.
    Now I see. One question -- would a simple "Howling the songs" work in the same meaning as in the original but without the emphasis "away" adds?
     
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