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In a video game I play, there's a diary I found, and at the end of a person who wrote it describes that her husband stands outside the door and wants to kill her. The diary ends with a sentence and a text in parentese I don't understand:

"someone please hel...(The writing trails off the end of the page.)

TFD def for "trail off" To dwindle, diminish, or fade away; to become fainter or weaker. Used especially, though not exclusively, in reference to speech or music.

Or perhaps it's not a phrasal verb at all. I dunno.

What excactly is happening with the writing?

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  • Possibly the meaning is that there would have been more letters and words after 'someone please hel' but the end of the page was there so we can't see them. It is not a standard use of 'trail off' and I think it is possible that the creators of the video game are not native speakers, or not very fluent in English, or both. Do not expect good English from video games. Nov 4, 2021 at 22:48
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    One possible interpretation is that the writing "trails" (wanders erratically) literally off the end of the page; that is, the letters are interrupted by edge of the page as if the writer was losing consciousness, or growing uncontrolled in their fear. I doubt it, though; more likely the game designers simply conflated the phrasal "trail off" (suggesting that the writing ends feebly) with a prepositional phrase without really thinking about it. Nov 5, 2021 at 0:07
  • I think you mean in parentheses! I don't find anything odd in the description of writing 'trailing off' as the person becomes unable to write more. Nov 5, 2021 at 9:29

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Trails off example

This is what "the writing trails off the page" indicates. It's an equivalent to speech trailing off because the person is falling unconscious or dying, except that here they are writing instead of speaking, and so as they loose consciousness the hand holding the pen drags across the page instead of just getting fainter.

This phrase, and the idea it expresses, is actually fairly common in horror literature. Google nGrams shows a nice spike around when H.P. Lovecraft was an author, and the popularity picking up in modern times as Lovecraft's work also became more popular.

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  • Richard, I tough about exactly something like is shown in this picture. This confirms to me that this is not a set phrase "trail off" but the verb "trail" and the word "off" indicatest that the writing leaves the page at the end of it. Is it common to use "trail" when speaking about pen marking made by writing(I'm not sure if pen marking is the right word. I mean the line that pen leaves when writing:)? What would be a good synonym for it? Drag perhaps? Nov 5, 2021 at 20:36

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