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Could you please tell me the meaning of "running together" in the following excerpt...

coutelle's profile pic

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Could you please tell me the meaning of "running together" in the following excerpt from The Great Gatsby, Chapter 1, by F. Scott Fitzgerald?

"Tom and Miss Baker sat at either end of the long couch and she read aloud to him from the “Saturday Evening Post’—the words, murmurous and uninflected, running together in a soothing tune. The lamp-light, bright on his boots and dull on the autumn-leaf yellow of her hair, glinted along the paper as she turned a page with a flutter of slender muscles in her arms."

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kplhardison's profile pic

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The answer to this is simpler than it may appear to be. The foundation to understanding is in the knowledge of the figure of speech called the idiom. Figures of speech--and there are many kinds--are words or phrases that have literal meanings that, in normal context, make sense but that also have non-literal, figurative meanings that make sense in non-normal, idiomatic, contexts. For example, the above phrase, "running together," is nonsensical in context with words and "soothing tunes." Literally, "running together" refers to the physical act of running in which two or more animate entities (people, dogs, moose, elephants, etc) are participating. Since words are not animate beings nor do they run, together or apart, the literal meaning of the phrase in this context makes no sense.

Idioms are figures of speech that are cultural words or phrases that have cultural meanings that are distinct from literal meanings. Idioms are bound by culture because, for an idiom to work, a whole culture or section of a culture has to agree to its figurative meaning. For example, to move with or like lightning is an English language idiom that means to move really fast. It does not mean to move while carrying lightning nor to move in zigzags downward from above: it means to move really fast. Maybe people in Malaysia would not understand this idiom because it is an English language idiom that, over time, English speakers have agreed to a figurative meaning for (it started out as a poetic metaphor comparing rapid movement with lightning's rapid flashes).

"Running together" is an English language figure of speech of the idiom class. While it literally means that two or more people (or deer or cats ...) are participating in running, the non-literal meaning, the figurative meaning, that makes sense in this idiomatic context, is that the words are read aloud, or spoken, so smoothly and with such uninterrupted flow of breath that each seemed to blend in with the one following as a stream blends rivulets of water together into one ongoing flow. Thus a paraphrase of this section would be:

  • she read aloud to him from the “Saturday Evening Post’—the words, murmurous and uninflected, blending into one uninterrupted sound supported by one seemingly unrenewed breath in a soothing tune.


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Fitzgerald used the phrase "running together" to help the reader hear the smooth, almost slurred sensation of one word following closely upon another, without giving each word a distinct and separate enunciation. Miss Baker is known for her "careless" ways and this type of reading would fit a careless person.

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