What does "worry" mean in "The old farmer would stroke his whiskers and worry"?



The old farmer would stroke his whiskers and worry ...

What does "worry" mean here? Does it simply mean worry beads?

The fuller text:

Friends from the country would send an invitation: Come see us! We want to feed you. We have plenty of everything! The survivor would arrive at the village, unable to believe his eyes. The farmhouse would be twice its prewar size. A refrigerator would be standing in the kitchen, a washing machine in the hall. There would be Oriental carpets on the floor and original paintings on the walls. The sausage would be served on silver platters and the beer in cut glass. The old farmer would stroke his whiskers and worry, “No sense denying it – we did very well during the war. People had to eat, you know, and with a little thinking... But now things are different... Just as long as the Communists don’t take over...”

Under a Cruel Star, A Life in Prague 1941-1968 by Heda Margolius Kovály

Translated by Helen Epstein.


Posted 2020-06-07T07:50:36.030

Reputation: 4 816

2"and" can often apply to one of a few different (immediately preceding) parts of the sentence. "The old farmer would stroke his whiskers and X" means "The old farmer would stroke his whiskers" and "The old farmer would stroke his X" (e.g. X = "dog"), "The old farmer would stroke X" (e.g. X = "his dog"), "The old farmer would X" (e.g. X = "worry"), "The old farmer X" (e.g. X = "would worry") or just "X" (e.g. X = "The young farmhand would worry"). You might need to consider a few of them to find the one that makes the most sense. – NotThatGuy – 2020-06-07T18:02:43.437

@NotThatGuy My contention is that there should be a comma after "whiskers", to make it clear that "and worry" starts a new clause in what is a compound sentence too complex to leave clear of punctuation. It's what a comma is for. – Prime Mover – 2020-06-08T12:17:54.293

No, since a comma before "and" would create a new sentence, and "worry" wouldn't work alone as a new sentence. – Hello Goodbye – 2020-06-08T12:37:22.533

3@HelloGoodbye: I'm not sure that a comma creates a new sentence. – Eric Duminil – 2020-06-08T14:48:04.987

4Agree with @HelloGoodbye that a comma is not needed - to use one in the sentence "The farmer would think, and worry." is unneeded, and the given sentence is really no different. The comma doesn't make a new sentence itself, but it is appropriate for joining independent clauses which could each stand alone. To use one in the phrase "The farmer would stroke his beard, and his wife would worry" would be correct since both parts are each complete sentences. "The farmer would stroke his beard, and worry", on the other hand, is incorrect. – Nuclear Wang – 2020-06-08T15:52:16.833



I think you have misparsed this. It seems you treat "worry" as a noun and an object of stroke "to stroke his whiskers" and "to stroke his worry". That's not correct.

"Worry" is a verb, and so there is a list of two actions: "to stroke his whiskers" and "to worry". Worry is being used as a quotative verb like "say" or "ask". It introduces the direct speech. He says "No sense denying..." in a worried voice.

The old farmer is worrying about his new wealth and the possibility of losing it "if the communists take over". As he thinks he strokes his facial hair (a common mannerism)

"Worry beads", κομπολόι, are Greek and this is from "Under a Cruel Star: A life in Prague" in Czechoslovakia.

James K

Posted 2020-06-07T07:50:36.030

Reputation: 80 781

Well done, I missed that nuance. If I had been writing it, I might have placed a comma after "whiskers", and change the comma after "worry" to a colon. – Prime Mover – 2020-06-07T08:41:43.483

1Feel free to steal from here (as I stole the bit about "mannerism") – James K – 2020-06-07T08:45:33.890

4@PrimeMover That seems...weird to me? Like "the boy would run, and shout". – user3067860 – 2020-06-08T11:43:57.117

4'...in a worrying voice', or - '...in a worried voice'? It was the farmer who was worried, not his listener being worried, surely? – Tim – 2020-06-08T11:52:56.273

@user3067860 Just "the boy would run and shout" would be fine, but "he would run, and shout obscenities at passersby" would require the comma. Otherwise the qualifying phrase could be taken as to be applied to both verbs, where it clearly needs to apply to just the one. That is the same as in OP's case, where the lack of comma makes it look as though "his whiskers and worry" are the combined object of "stroke" -- which is entirely where OP's confusion lies. – Prime Mover – 2020-06-08T12:16:00.967

1@PrimeMover Do you have a citation? I'm having a hard time finding anyone using a comma in that circumstance. Doing a Google search (not scientific, I know) for "run and shout at" is giving results such as "They make me want to run and shout at the top of my voice." (from an article in Nature about the Great Plains) or "I run and shout at him — “You [expletive] [...]" (from an article in The Baltimore Sun). – user3067860 – 2020-06-08T12:32:10.260

@user3067860 English grammar-school education, where we were carefully taught the use of punctuation. YMMV as American is a different language. – Prime Mover – 2020-06-08T12:34:21.880

@user3067860 Okay, what about "He used to run and jump over the flowerbeds" as opposed to "He used to run, and jump over the flowerbeds." Two sentences which mean completely different things, differentiated by use of the comma to separate the verbs. – Prime Mover – 2020-06-08T12:43:35.770

@PrimeMover I guess in AmE we just differentiate via context. I'm assuming that in your examples, he would jump over flower beds after getting a running start in the first sentence and, in the second, he was a member of his high school track team who also gardened and would jump from one side of the flower bed to the other instead of walking around – Kevin – 2020-06-08T13:47:08.883

@Kevin In the first case he runs all over and jumps all over the flowerbeds. In the second one, he would run in the garden but not on the flowerbeds, over which he jumps so as not to run on them and ruin the flowers. Or sonething. – Prime Mover – 2020-06-08T14:28:00.870

1@PrimeMover I would never have interpreted the first sentence to mean he destroyed the flower beds. TIL a new AmE vs BE difference – Kevin – 2020-06-08T14:35:57.153

I don't see much Am/BE difference here. I wouldn't use a comma after whiskers, and a colon is too much. A simple comma before a direct quote is sufficient. I would also not intone this (in speaking) as a single intonation structure, with no pause after "whiskers".. – James K – 2020-06-08T16:11:09.297

1@PrimeMover So I think you're seeing this as independent clauses, but I'm reading it as a list with only two items, which never takes a comma. Your two flowerbed examples mean exactly the same to me, except I would only use the no-comma version. If I thought there would be confusion, I would reorder or reword it instead of using a comma. – user3067860 – 2020-06-08T16:35:50.373

@user3067860 "list with only two items, which never takes a comma" maybe in your milieu, but not mine. It all depends on the sense and what is meant. – Prime Mover – 2020-06-08T19:25:04.090


Stroking his whiskers appears to be a mannerism of the farmer when he is worried. So, he worries that things are different -- and at the same time, through habit, he strokes his whiskers.

Prime Mover

Posted 2020-06-07T07:50:36.030

Reputation: 1 358


"Would" is a modal verb. Modal verbs are all auxiliary verbs, also known, as helping verbs.

In this construction:

subject (farmer) + helping verb (would) + verb (stroke) + object (his beard) + conjunction (and) + verb (worry)

Since there is no comma before the conjunction (and), the subject stays the same, but the helping verb works for both verbs.

It is the same as:

The old man would stroke his beard, and the old man would worry.

If one wanted to say worry beads, to avoid ambiguity, one would say: The old man would stroke his beard and some worry beads.

Benjamin Godfrey

Posted 2020-06-07T07:50:36.030

Reputation: 396


Since you mentioned worry beads,... Think of what your fingers do to those beads when you are worrying them. Now, imagine your mind, doing the same thing to a thought that causes you distress. That's the most common usage of "worry" in my country (U.S.A.) It's a kind of torment that you inflict on yourself by thinking the same disturbing thought, over and over again.

Solomon Slow

Posted 2020-06-07T07:50:36.030

Reputation: 101