Once upon a time I read a novel by R.A.Heinlein: "The Moon is a harsh mistress" and I was puzzled by the meaning of a remark. Today a bit of conversation popped it back.

Here follows the complete paragraph to give contxt:

I liked Prof. He would teach anything.

Wouldn’t matter that he knew nothing about it; if pupil wanted it, he would smile and set a price, locate materials, stay a few lessons ahead. Or barely even if he found it tough—never pretended to know more than he did.

Took algebra from him and by time we reached cubics I corrected his probs as often as he did mine—but he charged into each lesson gaily.

The puzzling (for me, of course) word is "charged" in last sentence.

I can translate it in two very different ways:

  1. "He happily asked for money (in spite of not knowing more than the learner)"
  2. "He would boldly march on (in spite of difficulties and age)"

By phrase structure I always favored (2), but the next paragraph is:

I started electronics under him, soon was teaching him. So he stopped charging and we went along together until he dug up an engineer willing to daylight for extra money—whereupon we both paid new teacher and Prof tried to stick with me, thumb-fingered and slow, but happy to be stretching his mind.

... so I wonder.

What is the right interpretation? Why?

How would You minimally rephrase it to get the "other" meaning?

1 Answer 1


In your first quote, the "charge" in the last sentence is indeed "boldly march on". It's comparing each lesson to a battle - the professor "charges into" the lesson the way a heroic knight would "charge into" battle.

In the second quote, with "he stopped charging", "charge" is being used to mean "ask for money".

I'm not sure if Heinlein is attempting word-play with the two meanings of "charge" here or not.

  • 1
    To get the other meaning I should change the sentence as: "but he charged FOR each lesson gaily", right?
    – MCon
    Feb 6, 2015 at 14:58
  • Yes, but it changes the tone of the narrative considerably. It would cause the narrator to come across as a good deal more cynical than previously. Feb 6, 2015 at 16:34
  • Yes, exactly! You charge into battle. But a service-provider charges for a service. Feb 6, 2015 at 19:06
  • @WhatRoughBeast: Yeah, I know. RAH wrote that way for a purpose. I just wanted to be sure about how to discriminate between the two, quite different, meanings. Thanks.
    – MCon
    Feb 11, 2015 at 10:58
  • @StephenDunscombe: on second thought I think RAH, in the second paragraph, is using "charging" in both meanings to convey the idea they move from a teacher/pupil relationship to equal/companions strolling together. Does this interpretation hold?
    – MCon
    Feb 11, 2015 at 11:05

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