When she was five, Harumi lost her parents in a car crash. It was an uncanny collision; a truck crossed over the median into their lane. Harumi was in preschool, rehearsing for a school play. She had no recollection of when she heard the news. She was sure she’d been overwhelmed with sadness, but the memory had slipped free in one clean piece. (Source - Higashino: The Miracles of the Namiya General Store)

I figure that "had slipped free in one clean piece" can be paraphrased as "had completely disappeared", but I want to know the exact meaning of the words "free" and "clean" in this context, or this whole phrase is a collocation. Moreover, I know "in one piece" means "without being hurt or damaged", but that doesn't make much sense here, so I would appreciate some explanation.

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    If something 'slips free', it exits, leaves, or escapes; if it does so in 'one clean piece', it escapes completely or totally, and does not leave any part of itself behind. Commented Oct 17, 2023 at 14:54
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    This is a translation from Japanese, right? Anyway, this is just literary. A memory is a piece of overall memories that can be dislodged from the brain as a single thing.
    – Lambie
    Commented Oct 17, 2023 at 14:54
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    I'm not convinced there's any point in asking questions about the idiomacy of translated text here on ELL. But if we must accept them, it would certainly help if we had access to the original text, and the benefit of a native speaker of the relevant text to explain exactly what it means. Commented Oct 17, 2023 at 17:22

1 Answer 1


No, the whole phrase is not a collocation.

Slipped free implies that the memory of this traumatic incident had easily 'broken away' from the rest of her memories and disappeared.

A clean break is when something breaks leaving straight edges, not jagged or frayed. The author says that it was as though the memory had broken away in a single neat piece.

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    We can say that we leave a job, a marriage etc, in a 'clean break' to mean that we take care of all practical matters, so that there are no lingering issues, and there is no implication of blame on either side. Commented Oct 17, 2023 at 15:41
  • In this text, a memory is viewed as a piece. Pieces of a memory is certainly understandable in English. I think the piece of memory is viewed as clean, as opposed to murky or suchlike.
    – Lambie
    Commented Oct 17, 2023 at 18:05

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