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I'm reading The Inflatable Volunteer by Steve Aylett, and I'm stuck with this sentence:

Last week I was flooding the banks with saliva, slivers of gill and drifting snot, paddling hell-for-leather away from a harmless seal.

It's a pretty bizarre novel, so I don't know if I don't understand because of my bad English or if this was the author intention.

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closed as general reference by FumbleFingers, jwpat7, Kris, JSBձոգչ, Mahnax Aug 19 '12 at 5:29

This question is too basic; it can be definitively and permanently answered by a single link to a standard internet reference source designed specifically to find that type of information.If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

I don't like to seem harsh, but the meaning of this expression really is "general reference". Even without any "cue" words like "definition" or "meaning", if I Google "hell-for-leather", there's a clear definition in the second result. If you'd asked about the origin, it might be a different story (but actually, it looks like there's no certainty on that front). – FumbleFingers Mar 2 '12 at 14:35
I looked for hell-for-leather before ask here. Sorry anyway. – Tae Mar 2 '12 at 14:40
Even knowing what all the terms mean doesn't help me understand this sentence. How do saliva, snot, and a harmless seal combine into a single coherent idea? – Marthaª Mar 2 '12 at 15:56
@Martha: Steve Aylett has a reputation for bizarre writing style. To quote one reviewer here - "like a stream of made-up idioms being hurled fervently from character to character- much like the 3-stooges on crack, standing on a street corner, pestering you with their nonsense while you wait for the bus to hell.". OP has made a singularly bad choice if he's reading this in order to improve his grasp of English! – FumbleFingers Mar 2 '12 at 16:29
@FumbleFingers Isn’t the normal phrase “hell-bent for leather”? – tchrist Mar 2 '12 at 17:26
up vote 0 down vote accepted

It means that he's paddling at great speed away from a harmless seal. (not sure if in your passage this is literally a "harmless seal" or he just means something else which is equally non-threatening)

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paddling = propelling oneself (usually using a paddle, but not necessarily)

hell-for-leather = as fast as possible

harmless = lacking the capacity or intent to injure

seal = aquatic mammal

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