I was so stunned by her sudden change of mood that I couldn’t process her words. I just stood there staring at her. She swung her schoolbag as if she were about to hit me on the head with it, but changed her mind and ran off toward her entrance. I went home, crying. I cried on and off for the rest of the day . My grandmother and then my mother kept asking me what was wrong, but I wouldn’t say. I didn’t really understand it myself. Perhaps what I was feeling was shame—not just the mortification of having made the wrong assumption about Tania’s father but the deeper, sickening humiliation of ** being excluded from the **élite group of children who had fathers.

(from Katania, published in The New Yorker).

  1. What does it mean I couldn't process her words ?

  2. What does it mean cry on and off ?

  3. What does it mean sickening humiliation of , I mean what does sickening here mean?

  4. What is an élite group ?

  • 1
    Do NOT post text like this, asking for us to interpret it, without post a link or a reference telling us where you got it from. That's discourteous. Some phrases are hard to interpret without additional context, and others might change in meaning, depending on whether this is a work of fiction or a psychiatric report. Don't make us hunt for the original.
    – J.R.
    Commented Nov 15, 2014 at 23:21
  • I think it's obviously not a psychiatric report by the exerpt given. However, I do think it could be answered with a dictionary.
    – David
    Commented Nov 15, 2014 at 23:35
  • @David - True, it's not a psychiatric report. However, my larger point stands: words and expressions can mean different things in different contexts, so the original context should be provided. For example: "I was depressed for about a week," could mean different things, depending on if you were talking with a psychiatrist about your mental health history, or your friends about a recent romantic breakup. OPs need to tell us where they are finding this stuff when they want some help interpreting the language.
    – J.R.
    Commented Nov 15, 2014 at 23:38

2 Answers 2


1.) I couldn't process her words.

  • I couldn't understand her words (meaning) or I couldn't make out her words. (hearing)

2.) Cry on and off

  • To cry and stop crying then cry again and stop etc.

3.) Sickening humiliation

  • So humiliated that they felt sick (as in the humiliation was unbearable even to the point it was nauseous.)

4.) élite group

  • wealthy or a socially high status group

This can be answered with a dictionary for the most part.

  • I'd agree that your interpretations can be verified with a dictionary for the most part, but I can also see why it would be hard for a learner to find all these answers in a dictionary. (1) That meaning of process is omitted in some dictionaries; (2) one may need to know it's an idiom to find "on and off" in a dictionary; (3) some dictionaries don't list a definition of sickening corresponding to this meaning; (4) the accent mark could throw someone on élite.
    – J.R.
    Commented Nov 15, 2014 at 23:33

As for #2, on and off is an idiom meaning intermittently, or every now and then. Sometimes it's expressed as off and on. So, cried on and off for the rest of the day means that the narrator would cry for awhile, then regain her composure for awhile, and then start crying again, and that this happened for quite some time (either until sometime around sundown, or until she went to bed last night).

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