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Reading Raymond Chandler's "Farewell My Lovely", I saw the following dialog:

“You didn't pay for the drinks," I said.

He stopped and looked at me carefully.

"Maybe you got something there," he said, "but I wouldn't squeeze it too hard.”

Could anyone explain the literal and actual meaning of the response?

The character who says that is a brute who just killed a man, threatens people with a pistol. The first person (I said) acts as if he is not intimidated, hence the phrase about the payment. The meaning of the response is unclear to me.

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    It's a roundabout way of saying That's true, but I advise you not to press the point. – FumbleFingers Nov 19 '16 at 13:46
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    As previous commenter says. Seem a bit like "Don't push it" dictionary.com/browse/push-it. Be overly insistent or forward, as in I promise to think over your proposal, but don't push it. This idiom uses push in the sense of “force some activity or issue.” [First half of 1800s ] – k1eran Nov 19 '16 at 14:00
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    It may be obvious, but I would also observe that whereas "don't press the point" (FumbleFingers's analogous phrase) and "don't push it" (k1eran's) are widely used idioms in English, "don't squeeze it" is not. It's tough-guy talk in the Chandler/Hammett tradition, but it's not a borrowing from established idiomatic English. – Sven Yargs Nov 19 '16 at 18:51
  • Thanks to everyone who responded with your comments. I would mark them as correct answers, had they been posted as such! – mathreader Nov 20 '16 at 1:02
  • just to add, the implication is that whatever that something you’ve got is, if you squeeze it too hard, the stuff inside is liable to come outside and get messy for you. Imagine a tube of toothpaste for example. – Jim Nov 20 '16 at 1:11
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The first person speaker is Philip Marlowe, Raymond Chandler's private detective. He's speaking to the recently-released ex-con Moose Malloy in a bar where Malloy has gone to find out about his former girlfriend. Malloy has killed the bar owner, who had pulled a gun.

Marlowe tells Malloy that he, Malloy, hasn't paid for the drinks he ordered when he first came into the bar. Considering that Malloy has killed the bar owner, this seems a rather trivial transgression in comparison. Nevertheless, Marlowe is right, and Malloy acknowledges that by saying that Marlowe has a point ("Maybe you got something") but then warning

but I wouldn't squeeze it too hard.

In other words, you're right, but don't push it, the point, and consequently try my patience because you know what I'm capable of.

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The bit that all the other correct answers have omitted is that here "I wouldn't" means "you shouldn't" or "I advise you not to".

It represents the common idiom "I wouldn't ... if I were you", but the second half (formally, the condition) is often left out, leaving the superficially irrelevant "I wouldn't".

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Without reading the story I can only guess, for the writer might be using these physical gestures as a poetic device, or as a way to flesh out the character, or for any number of other reasons that he himself may not even be aware of. In fact, having read the story the answer would still be incomplete. We can only allow the meanings of such phrases to exist in context wherever in our minds the story plays out. The plain meaning is pretty clear, though: The character in question has violated the rule "Pay for your drinks." The bartender? points this out. By pointing it out, the bartender has "squeezed." The killer admits to breaking the rule, but admonishes the bartender not to squeeze any harder on that subject. Having recently committed murder, the phrase comes with an implied threat. How I see it, anyway.

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QUOTE "Maybe you got something there," he said, "but I wouldn't squeeze it too hard.” Could anyone explain the literal and actual meaning of the response?

The character [...] who just killed a man, threatens people with a pistol. UNQUOTE

To fire a pistols (i.e. handguns), //you squeeze the trigger// So, here, the character is saying sarcastically, //don't squeeze too hard// = you might fire a shot.

There is the full paragraph. "Mister Montgomery didn't know where Velma was neither," he said. "he tried to tell me - with this." His hard hand patted the gun. I turned slowly and looked at him. "Yeah," he said. "You'll know me. You ain't forgetting me, pal. Just tell them johns not to get careless is all." He waggled the gun. "Well, so long, punks. I gotta catch a street car." He started towards the head of the stairs. "You didn't pay for the drinks," I said. He stopped and looked at me carefully. "Maybe you got something there," he said, "but I wouldn't squeeze it too hard".

The flunkie (the first speaker, Moose Malloy) is being ironic. He is the one holding a gun and when Marlow says he, Moose Malloy didn't pay for the drinks, it's as IF Moose Malloy is saying: you have a verbal "weapon" there but I have the REAL gun.

  • No. There may be just a hint of this as a double meaning, but I doubt even this, becuse "squeeze" is not a word particularly associated with shooting. See the other answer for what this is about. – Colin Fine Nov 20 '16 at 15:16
  • "threatens people with a pistol" (as per OP). YES. Squeeze is not a word associated with shooting???? What English detective fiction planet have you visited? "to squeeze the trigger" www.classiccrimefiction.com/american-detectivestory.htm The term squeeze the trigger 100% associated with shooting and crime fiction is everywhere..... – Lambie Nov 20 '16 at 16:11

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