English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

In George Orwell's novel 1984, Part one, Chapter IV, there is a sentence:

In the corresponding cubicle on the other side a small, precise-looking, dark-chinned man named Tillotson was working steadily away.

I've looked up 'precise' in dictionaries, but still cannot understand what a precise-looking man is like. Can you guys help?

share|improve this question
This reminds me of T S Eliot’s self-mockery in his parody of Edward Lear: 'How unpleasant to meet Mr. Eliot! / With his features of clerical cut, / And his brow so grim / And his mouth so prim / And his conversation, so nicely / Restricted to What Precisely / And If and Perhaps and But.' – Barrie England Sep 20 '11 at 8:39
Reminds me of a bizarre exchange from Dune: "The, hm-m-m-m, precise young man, ah, my... hm-m-m-m... dear?" The Count glanced at the Baron. "My dear Baron, you say you've spoken of us to this precise young man? What did you say?"..."you come upon such, mm-m-m, preciseness so rarely" – JeffSahol Sep 21 '11 at 2:47
up vote 6 down vote accepted

He is "precise-looking" in the sense that he has been precise in every step of how he presents himself -- his hair, his skin, his clothes. You won't find lazily-brushed hair on him.

Just imagine a person like that sitting with short, thoroughly brushed hair, in a nice dress shirt tucked in with a belt and loafers, sitting with a half-frown on their face as they faithfully do their work. That's the kind of image that Orwell is conjuring up.

share|improve this answer
I like the image you conjured in my mind! +1 – Thursagen Sep 20 '11 at 9:35

I don't know that there is a formal definition for precise-looking, but in a character development it may mean precise-acting or fastidious as much as the way he looks. I would consider him a bit fastidious, well groomed, with conservative features and dress. In this case, I think each reader might have a unique picture of the man.

share|improve this answer

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.