I have a question about the usage of the phrase "pass through" in this writing:

Herman Melville was born in New York City in 1819. When his father died, he was forced to leave school and find work. After passing through some minor clerical jobs, the eighteen-year-old young man shipped out to sea, first on a short cargo trip, then, at twenty-one, on a three-year South Sea whaling venture.

How does a person "pass through" a series of jobs? I understand "pass through some stages/phases" in some process, or "pass through a period of time". But "pass through some jobs" seems off to me. What do native speakers think?

  • 2
    The jobs are being portrayed as insignificant stops along the way to a more important destination. He passed through them as one would 'pass through' small towns on the way to the big city. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Mar 16 '16 at 21:17
  • Consider the results of this Ngram frequency query: we passed through many *. books.google.com/ngrams/graph?content=we+passed+through+many+*&year_start=1800&year_end=2000&corpus=15&smoothing=3&share=&direct_url=t2%3B%2Cwe%20passed%20through%20many%20%2A%3B%2Cc0%3B%2Cs0%3B%3Bwe%20passed%20through%20many%20villages%3B%2Cc0%3B%3Bwe%20passed%20through%20many%20towns%3B%2Cc0 – Tᴚoɯɐuo Mar 16 '16 at 21:24
  • The URL has an asterisk in it, which is confusing StackExchange. You'll have to run the query yourself. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Mar 16 '16 at 21:26

Typically, it does not take long to "pass through" that which is passed through. The connotation is brevity.

We can pass through a gate, or a turnstile, or a doorway. We can pass through a small town or pass through a series of villages.

We would not use pass through to describe a journey across a large continent or through a vast desert.

If we say "He passed through several jobs", we mean that he did not stay very long at any of these positions.

Is the verb lacking in grace when used with job? A job is not a doorway, after all, and not as abstract as a phase. A job can be thought of as a position held for a period of time, rather than as a set of tasks. The verb pass through "pulls" the noun semantically in that direction, away from tasks or responsibilities and towards a meaning that jibes better with the notion of "a brief passage".

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