tug on his forelock

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Alex Coseff

Senior Member

I'm a bit in the dark..I'm trying to work out whether the expression in bold is used in the idiomatic way, i.e. being a bit slimy towards people in a higher position.. or if its used in its literal sense ... To be honest, the latter somehow does not make much sense to me considering the immediate environment.. and I'm more inclined to the former. Could I ask you for a suitable paraphrase?
Thanks a lot.

G.M.Malliet: Wicked autumn
"Max picture Maurice: a gentle, somewhat backward man who nearly had to be dissuaded from tugging on his forelock, and whose thick, expressive eyebrows gave him an unfortunate resemblance to the crazed author in The Shining."
  • Keith Bradford

    Senior Member
    English (Midlands UK)
    There is no way to be absolutely certain (Max may have a nervous tic), but the precise words "tug... forelock" are now almost always used as a metaphor. A modern author will express the literal action of pulling at a lock of hair by using different words... as I have just done!


    Moderato con anima (English Only)
    English (Singapore/UK), basic Chinese
    I've looked up the google books preview. The first bit of the quotation says 'Max pictured Maurice'.

    This means that the rest of the quotation is in the realm of Max's imagination. He thinks of Maurice as a backward man. Touching or tugging the forelock is the action of someone showing deference to one's 'social betters'. If he is a 'backward' man, it would seem strange to think of it being 'ironic'. A 'backward' man is more likely to be over- rather than under-deferential. It's possible to see it as literal.

    My reading: 'Max imagined Maurice as a backward man accustomed to showing a lot of deference, so that he almost had to be persuaded not to tug his forelock.'
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