The old farmer would stroke his whiskers and worry ...

What does "worry" mean here? Does it simply mean worry beads?

The fuller text:

Friends from the country would send an invitation: Come see us! We want to feed you. We have plenty of everything! The survivor would arrive at the village, unable to believe his eyes. The farmhouse would be twice its prewar size. A refrigerator would be standing in the kitchen, a washing machine in the hall. There would be Oriental carpets on the floor and original paintings on the walls. The sausage would be served on silver platters and the beer in cut glass. The old farmer would stroke his whiskers and worry, “No sense denying it – we did very well during the war. People had to eat, you know, and with a little thinking... But now things are different... Just as long as the Communists don’t take over...”

Under a Cruel Star, A Life in Prague 1941-1968 by Heda Margolius Kovály

Translated by Helen Epstein.

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    "and" can often apply to one of a few different (immediately preceding) parts of the sentence. "The old farmer would stroke his whiskers and X" means "The old farmer would stroke his whiskers" and "The old farmer would stroke his X" (e.g. X = "dog"), "The old farmer would stroke X" (e.g. X = "his dog"), "The old farmer would X" (e.g. X = "worry"), "The old farmer X" (e.g. X = "would worry") or just "X" (e.g. X = "The young farmhand would worry"). You might need to consider a few of them to find the one that makes the most sense. – NotThatGuy Jun 7 '20 at 18:02
  • @NotThatGuy My contention is that there should be a comma after "whiskers", to make it clear that "and worry" starts a new clause in what is a compound sentence too complex to leave clear of punctuation. It's what a comma is for. – Prime Mover Jun 8 '20 at 12:17
  • No, since a comma before "and" would create a new sentence, and "worry" wouldn't work alone as a new sentence. – Hello Goodbye Jun 8 '20 at 12:37
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    @HelloGoodbye: I'm not sure that a comma creates a new sentence. – Eric Duminil Jun 8 '20 at 14:48
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    Agree with @HelloGoodbye that a comma is not needed - to use one in the sentence "The farmer would think, and worry." is unneeded, and the given sentence is really no different. The comma doesn't make a new sentence itself, but it is appropriate for joining independent clauses which could each stand alone. To use one in the phrase "The farmer would stroke his beard, and his wife would worry" would be correct since both parts are each complete sentences. "The farmer would stroke his beard, and worry", on the other hand, is incorrect. – Nuclear Hoagie Jun 8 '20 at 15:52

I think you have misparsed this. It seems you treat "worry" as a noun and an object of stroke "to stroke his whiskers" and "to stroke his worry". That's not correct.

"Worry" is a verb, and so there is a list of two actions: "to stroke his whiskers" and "to worry". Worry is being used as a quotative verb like "say" or "ask". It introduces the direct speech. He says "No sense denying..." in a worried voice.

The old farmer is worrying about his new wealth and the possibility of losing it "if the communists take over". As he thinks he strokes his facial hair (a common mannerism)

"Worry beads", κομπολόι, are Greek and this is from "Under a Cruel Star: A life in Prague" in Czechoslovakia.

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    Feel free to steal from here (as I stole the bit about "mannerism") – James K Jun 7 '20 at 8:45
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    @PrimeMover That seems...weird to me? Like "the boy would run, and shout". – user3067860 Jun 8 '20 at 11:43
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    '...in a worrying voice', or - '...in a worried voice'? It was the farmer who was worried, not his listener being worried, surely? – Tim Jun 8 '20 at 11:52
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    @PrimeMover Do you have a citation? I'm having a hard time finding anyone using a comma in that circumstance. Doing a Google search (not scientific, I know) for "run and shout at" is giving results such as "They make me want to run and shout at the top of my voice." (from an article in Nature about the Great Plains) or "I run and shout at him — “You [expletive] [...]" (from an article in The Baltimore Sun). – user3067860 Jun 8 '20 at 12:32
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    @PrimeMover I would never have interpreted the first sentence to mean he destroyed the flower beds. TIL a new AmE vs BE difference – Kevin Jun 8 '20 at 14:35

Stroking his whiskers appears to be a mannerism of the farmer when he is worried. So, he worries that things are different -- and at the same time, through habit, he strokes his whiskers.


"Would" is a modal verb. Modal verbs are all auxiliary verbs, also known, as helping verbs.

In this construction:

subject (farmer) + helping verb (would) + verb (stroke) + object (his beard) + conjunction (and) + verb (worry)

Since there is no comma before the conjunction (and), the subject stays the same, but the helping verb works for both verbs.

It is the same as:

The old man would stroke his beard, and the old man would worry.

If one wanted to say worry beads, to avoid ambiguity, one would say: The old man would stroke his beard and some worry beads.


Since you mentioned worry beads,... Think of what your fingers do to those beads when you are worrying them. Now, imagine your mind, doing the same thing to a thought that causes you distress. That's the most common usage of "worry" in my country (U.S.A.) It's a kind of torment that you inflict on yourself by thinking the same disturbing thought, over and over again.

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