This context comes from the book "The Shining" by Stephen King.

The narrator speaks of Jack(the main character) in this passage:

"The flower in his lapel was balanced off by a small lapel pin on the other side. It read simply STAF in small gold letters"

What I'm assuming from the context is that it means that the elegance of the flower in his lapel and the sense of higher status it might impart to a person, was reduced by the pin, which probably wasn't as elegant and it probably was very common looking, which lowered his status. I've difficulty finding the appropriate definition for the phrase or words "balance off". I know that balance means...

  1. To bring into or maintain in a state of equilibrium.(American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language)

...and I assume that "off" in this case is an adverb but I'm not sure if I chose the right one. Here it is:


b. so as to be removed from, esp as a reduction: he took ten per cent off.(Collins English Dictionary)

Did I parse this phrase correctly or maybe this is just a phrasal verb I wasn't able to find?

  • I'm not sure of the intent, but I read it as a combination of "balanced" and "set off". The latter does indeed mean to contrast with, to offset, to compensate for, and can be either positive or negative. In describing appearances, it's usually positive (one sets off a monochromatic garment with a contrasting accessory). The combination "balance off" may be King's invention/mistake, or it might occur in some dialect I'm not aware of. Commented Oct 9, 2022 at 13:43
  • I think you are reading far too much into this. It's basically the same as saying "balanced by" or "balanced with". It's simply a little colloquial quirk to insert "off". It's not required here and has no specific meaning. It's not a phrasal verb. The context I think is quite clear since he mentions "on the other side". Therefore I think the balance mentioned is merely talking about visual balance/symmetry, i.e. a flower on one lapel, balanced by a pin on the other lapel, and nothing deeper than that.
    – Billy Kerr
    Commented Apr 12, 2023 at 0:44

1 Answer 1


To "balance something off" means to create a balance by adding something.

I guess Newt tried to balance it off with the robo-call claiming Mitt Romney took away kosher meals for Holocaust survivors. -- New York Times
Even falstaffian epicures would be wise to balance this rich dish off with a refreshing green salad as an appetizer or follow-up course. -- Huffington Post
The sweetness of the Russian Medovick perfectly balanced off with the bitterness of coffee -- Conçu

Exactly what King intended the balance was is unclear. It could be what you suggest about Jack's status, or it could simply mean that having one item on each side of his lapel created a balance in numbers. The context should tell you though, like if King was describing Jack in terms of his status in the surrounding paragraphs, or if it was just about his appearance.

  • 2
    I'm certain the balance in this case was simply by having one item on each side - note that the text specifically states "the other side". Having an item in one lapel was balanced by also having an item in the other lapel.
    – Showsni
    Commented Oct 9, 2022 at 15:56
  • @gotube Can you provide a link to a definition for "balance off" in your answer? The only one I can find is for "balance out" 1: to make (a different or opposite thing) less powerful, noticeable, etc. : to compensate for Serve black coffee to help balance out the sweetness of the dessert. Commented Oct 10, 2022 at 17:06
  • @StaticBounce Couldn't find one.
    – gotube
    Commented Oct 10, 2022 at 23:13

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