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The astrologer was frightened out of his wits. He started to climb down-slowly, shakily. But he was trembling so much that he half-slipped and half-fell from the bael tree..

I know the meaning of "slipped" and "fell". But I can't guess the usage of "half-slipped and half-fell".
Please explain this to me.

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I think it means, "something happened that was halfway between a slip and a fall." It was partly like a slip, and partly like a fall.

In this context, "slip" and "fall" are almost synonymous, so I personally find this particular example a little odd - even as a native speaker, I'm not exactly sure what contrast the author intends between the two words.

However, you can use similar constructions in other contexts:

He half-ran and half-walked down the street.

This one is easier to understand: He moved in a way that was halfway between walking and running, or possibly even alternated between walking and running. In my opinion, this example is easier to understand, but it is the same principle as the one in your sentence.

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To me a "slip" is like skidding on a sheet of ice. You remain on your feet, with perhaps a windmilling of your arms.

You'll often see "He slipped on the ice and fell", or simply "He slipped and fell". The implication is that the two actions are distinct - slipping means losing traction with the ground, while falling means contacting the ground with your body.

So: "half-slipping and half-falling" means more of the first, and not all of the second. Yes, he definitely slipped, but more, he almost fell without actually doing so.

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  • I understand that they are different phases of the "process," but what I mean is that that doesn't exactly create a contrast between them. In other words, what is the difference between "He half-slipped and half-fell" and "He slipped and fell"? I'm not really sure. To me, this is kind of like writing "He half-pressed on the gas, and half-accelerated the vehicle" - it sounds odd because this phraseology works best to express a blend of two distinct things, rather than two related components of one process. – SegNerd Sep 5 '16 at 16:22
  • I think it counterpoints the state between the two. He more-than slipped, but less-than fell. – John Burger Sep 6 '16 at 9:49

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