They were in civilian clothes, and I thought, Cops––until I saw the baseball bat and started to turn, hearing, "Hey, you!"
I hesitated.
"What's in that brief case?" they said, and if they'd asked me anything else I might have stood still. But at the question a wave of shame and outrage shook me and I ran, still heading for Jack. But I was in strange territory now and someone, for some reason, had removed the manhole cover and I felt myself plunge down, down; a long drop that ended upon a load of coal that sent up a cloud of dust, and I lay in the black dark upon the black coal no longer running, hiding or concerned, hearing the shifting of the coal, as from somewhere above their voices came floating down.
"You see the way he went down, zoom! I was just fixing to slug the bastard."
(Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man)

Wiktionary says ‘how’ has a meaning of ‘the way that.’ And I guess this could be applied on the example and ‘the way’ could be replaced by ‘how.’ I want to know if this is possible. And if yes, isn’t there any semantic difference?

  • 1
    How he went down is fine here, and the only difference is prosodic: you SEE the WAY he went DOWN vs you SEE how he went DOWN, and is perhaps more appropriate to lead up to ZOOM!. Jul 5, 2013 at 12:21

1 Answer 1


Correct, you can substitute them here. However, in this case, I believe Ellison used the way as a play on words:

"a way" can mean a path or route:

"the store is that way"

the way refers to the road that the store is on

"the way" refers to the manner in which something is done:

"it wasn't what he said, it was the way he said it"

(in this case it refers to the tone of voice, e.g. sarcastic or rude)

So here, Ellison uses the dual meanings of way to describe both the path he took, and the manner in which he took it. See pun

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .