1

He was grinning at her, one hand wheeling as the other pushed him up to a sitting position and then steadying his legs as he got to his feet.

He is on the floor, fallen, and he is trying to reach her. He was chasing her when he fell, and she fell too. What does it mean when it says one of his hands was wheeling?

2

It means, in this context, flailing around in a vaguely circular motion. (It's also a term that I would mark as awkward, if it were in a book I was editing, because that gesture after falling needs more context. It's not very useful for getting up unless he thinks there's something he can grab, above him, to help pull himself up -- and would, in fact, tend to unbalance him further.)

Another example would be "Gulls wheeling in the sky" -- gulls flying in roughly circular patterns in the sky, or making rounded turns.

  • With no additional context, (just from the quoted sentence with wheeling) it sounds like he is intoxicated. – Adam Feb 2 '15 at 17:28
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    Could be, though having one hand flailing around in a circle -- or even making a controlled circle -- seems like it would hamper him getting up. A real person would use two hands to get up, if they didn't catch hold of something. (Maybe he's a zombie?) I'd make the author actually perform the action being described to see if it's realistic! – A.Beth Feb 2 '15 at 17:31
  • Totally agree @A.Beth I am not picturing a motion that would actually help with the standing up process - but can't you picture this guy flailing around in the air with one hand as he tries to rise: gifsplosion.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/… - Similar to his furtive attempts to grab hold of the door on the way down. – Adam Feb 2 '15 at 18:04
  • Oh, yeah, flailing around briefly, sure! But the coordination needed to wave one hand in a circle while using the other to push yourself up? Seriously, try it. I think you'd have to be sober and good at patting your head while rubbing your stomach! (Though then the other hand maybe helps steady his legs? ...it's just a bad, unclear sentence and I would tell the author to change it.) – A.Beth Feb 2 '15 at 18:09
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    The writing in the original is pretty bad. So expecting great prose here is a lost cause. – user6951 Feb 2 '15 at 18:28

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