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"I grabbed him by the arm, hard, and herded him into the car, slammed the door" p.401 Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. Now, isn't the whole meaning of the verb to herd to move animals or people somewhere as a group? I don't understand the choice of verb in this context. What am I missing?

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  • If it's only a single person, arguably it makes more sense to shepherd him somewhere, rather than herd him. But that doesn't mean the cited usage is "incorrect". Note that "herding" suggests an unwilling subject, where shepherding alludes more to someone being willingly guided. – FumbleFingers Apr 8 '20 at 14:08
  • @FumbleFingersReinstateMonica Good point! Do you happen to have any idea why the author chose to use this verb rather than eg. to force? Is there a change in meaning? – Manolis Gustavsson Apr 8 '20 at 19:32
  • Yes - like I said, when you herd animals, there's a stronger implication that you're "forcing" them to move (or stay). That's why we have the quirky idiomatic usage It's like herding cats (effectively an impossible task). But when shepherd is used as a verb it has stronger allusions to looking after / tending / caring for the flock (which is why we metaphorically label preachers as "shepherds" to their flock / congregation). And your cited context is obviously "forceful", because I grabbed him by the arm. – FumbleFingers Apr 9 '20 at 13:47
  • Thank you, @FumbleFingersReinstateMonica, for the clarification! – Manolis Gustavsson Apr 9 '20 at 14:41
  • "Gillian Flynn is the real deal, a sharp, acerbic, and compelling storyteller with a knack for the macabre" —Stephen King. I'd have probably just used shepherded in this context, without stopping to think. (But that's why Flynn's recognized as a real talent, whereas I'm not! :) – FumbleFingers Apr 9 '20 at 15:26
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You're understanding it correctly, except the word is almost exclusively used with animals: for example, herding sheep or cows.

The fact that it's used about a person is what is relevant here: It gives you the mental picture of him being pushed along as if he is an unwilling animal.

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  • Thank you for your explanation. I now understand why the author chose to use this specific verb. – Manolis Gustavsson Apr 8 '20 at 19:35
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Maybe the author intended to create an image of pushing, while moving from side to side to keep the object moving straight into the car. The word does seem a reach.

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  • That would make sense, yes. Thank you for your input. – Manolis Gustavsson Apr 8 '20 at 19:29

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