What is the meaning of the verb "whisper" in the sentence below?

Her gaze whispered down the white cotton spread tight over a sinewy chest and wide shoulder.

Source C. C. Hunter, Reborn (2014)

  • 1
    Where did this sentence come from? That's often helpful information, and worth including, even if you think your question can be answered without it.
    – J.R.
    Sep 16 '14 at 19:22
  • 3
    This question appears to be off-topic because it is effectively Literary Criticism. Sep 16 '14 at 21:07
  • 1
    Another question put on hold. Again, FF's initiation lead to gather masses. We are non-native speakers and LEARNERS who do not understand literary criticism and that is why the question is here. Polite and better way to address this is what Teircelet did. If you have knowledge, spread it and if you are incapable to answer, let others answer and you learn!.
    – Maulik V
    Sep 17 '14 at 8:29
  • When I hear the word gaze, what comes to mind is how a woman looks with her eyes when she is trying to entice someone. To me it connotes dreaming about having something as well - you gaze at something, you want it, one could say you are trying to summon it to you with your eyes. So it would seem a gaze could in a poetic sense speak to you.
    – LawrenceC
    Mar 19 '15 at 17:27

This is strictly poetic/literary usage. The word does not literally fit at all, because people cannot actually make a sound (even a quiet one!) just by looking at something with their eyes.

In this context, "whisper" is used because it suggests quietness, softness, and intimacy. You have to be very close to whisper successfully. The word choice is probably also influenced by the use of "whisper" to describe the sound made by rustling fabric. It would be not uncommon to say that the white cotton "whispered" in the breeze, or something like that.

  • 1
    I'm not sure if the sound of a whisper needs to be involved with a "literal" use of the word "whisper". It's a judgment call, I suppose. Phrases like whisper of smoke or whisper of color aren't alluding to a soft sound. The word "whisper" can also be used to mean a hint or trace of something.
    – J.R.
    Sep 16 '14 at 19:31
  • That's a good point, but I think it applies to the noun more than the verb.
    – Tiercelet
    Sep 16 '14 at 20:35
  • I won't argue with you there. That's two good points now between us. :^)
    – J.R.
    Sep 16 '14 at 21:11
  • I think the question's OT anyway, but noting the context (apparently, two vampires "sizing each other up") it seems likely the "secret, furtive" associations of whispering are more relevant here than "quietness, softness, intimacy". Sep 16 '14 at 21:11
  • @FF fair; I'd answered before the OP provided the source. It's likely to be OT in the sense that it's lit-crit, but it is also a word meaning question that's decidedly unanswerable with a dictionary, so I figured it could stay... especially as it stresses the fluidity of linguistic categories, which is something ELLs should be aware of & aren't reminded of often enough.
    – Tiercelet
    Sep 16 '14 at 22:26

Personally, I don't like the use of whisper in this context. Whisper should allow the reader to infer a form of subtle communication, not a rate of movement.

"Her gaze whispered her intentions as it lingered down the white cotton spread tight over a sinewy chest and wide shoulder."

  • Lingered on, not lingered down. Sep 17 '14 at 13:40

This kind of writing is known derogatorily as "purple prose". Are you sure the original has singular "shoulder", BTW?

"Whisper" is meant to imply "moving gently", but it's a mixed metaphor, hardly the mot juste.

  • As to the singular shoulder: She is staring at two pieces of meat - a chest and a shoulder (I'm thinking of lamb now) - wrapped in white cotton for some reason. I guess her obvious intentions are to unwrap it, cook it and eat it. She obviously is hungry!
    – oerkelens
    Sep 17 '14 at 13:44
  • LOL. The original page wasn't displaying. Now it is. It should be plural, "wide shoulders". The singular does suggest a carnivorous gaze. "You are trespassing on Shadow Falls property," she barked. :-) Sep 17 '14 at 14:01

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