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I found the sentence as a ldoce sample sentence for "odor".

The odor of strong rum made a greasy pass through the room.

"... made a greasy pass through the room".

What does the writer mean? The odor made the greasy pass?

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Nice evocation. What's it from? –  KitFox Jun 9 '11 at 19:39
    
@Kit: Found the sentence in "Example Bank" of Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English. –  Manoochehr Jun 9 '11 at 19:42
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2 Answers

up vote 3 down vote accepted

That's a strange phrase to use for an example. It comes from Swimming in the Volcano By Bob Shacochis. It's not a commonly used phrase at all.

I'd hazard that it means that the smell of alcohol wafted through the room. I'd picture that room as hot, sweaty, dirty, dim, and greasy. Given the scene in which it occurs, this seems to be accurate.

So yes, I think the odor made the pass, and it was the environment that made it a greasy pass. This is a very literary phrasing though. I doubt you'd see it often.

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This is an example of the rhetorical figure known as catachresis, which is "an extravagant, implied metaphor using words in an alien or unusual way."

Example:

  • I will speak daggers to her. — Hamlet

NOAD calls it "the use of a word in a way that is not correct," but that's far from the whole of it. A catachresis can be a mistake or an intentional figure of speech. That is, if it's good, you call it intentional; if not, a mistake. ;=) Be careful, though. Using this device is akin to playing a violin: if you're not an absolute master, it just sounds awful.

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