I encountered the boldfaced expression while reading, and would like to know what it means:

And there, coming towards him, as if the rather antiquated expression had conjured him up was Alfred. But it was a different Alfred, pale, sweating, trembling, coming at a run toward. He took the wrist as the fist came at his chest and twisted it till Alfred was gritting his teeth and hissing through them. Secure in his knowledge of the cosmic nature of eating he grinned down at him.

  • William Golding, Pincher Martin, Chapter 6

My assumption is that it could mean "to approach closer while running toward the narrator," but this is an unfamiliar constitution for me, so I wanted to ask you what it means.

  • There is a word missing after 'toward' - what is it? Feb 16, 2022 at 14:40
  • 1
    @MichaelHarvey Actually, a Google Books snippet view confirms the text as quoted. Feb 16, 2022 at 15:56
  • I wonder if people are aware that in the Royal Navy, certain surnames attracted particular nicknames, so that anyone called Miller would have been known as 'Dusty' Miller, and you would also find 'Chalky' White, 'Dinger' Bell, and many others, and, according to this, 'Pincher' Martin. Feb 16, 2022 at 18:58
  • Interestingly, the 'other' fictional Pincher Martin (see above) was torpedoed in World War 1, and rescued after spending some time in a boat, and wounded at Jutland in 1916. Feb 16, 2022 at 20:20

1 Answer 1


Your reading gets the general idea. The sentence is a bit unusual and literary, and it wouldn't be advisable to try to copy it.

  • "At a run" is an established phrase that means "at a running pace," or simply "running," as in "he left at a run."
  • "Coming toward" is clear enough. As a phrase, it has been interrupted by "at a run." Golding knows what he's doing, though it might be a more natural choice in your own use to keep the phrases separate, "coming toward him at a run."
  • Most significantly, the object of "coming toward" has been omitted, since the context makes it evident (as you figured out, it's "John"). As far as I'm aware, this isn't a standard usage (though there are similar ones with other phrases in certain regions, like "Would you like to come with?" in British usage). But again, the meaning is clear understood.
  • I'm a BrE speaker, and I've never heard or seen 'coming' (or 'going', for that matter) followed just by 'toward', and I've read Lord of the Flies. 'Come with', yes. Feb 16, 2022 at 17:51
  • @MichaelHarvey Thanks, walked back. Feb 16, 2022 at 18:11
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    The novel is a bit experimental or radical; it is about the psychophysical, spiritual and existential plight of the central character. I can well believe that Golding was deliberately experimenting with odd language forms, maybe to create an 'unreal' atmosphere. Feb 16, 2022 at 18:19
  • Thank you so much for the detailed explanation. And thank you everyone for the comments. Now I get that Golding is deliberately using an unconventional or experimental language form here to create an unreal atmosphere. Probably that has to do with the stream-of-consciousness technique in this novel. Unfortunately I don't have enough reputation to click the upward arrow yet; but I just wanted to say I sincerely appreciate your help. Feb 17, 2022 at 8:59

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