English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

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

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.

share|improve this question

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
2  
@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)

share|improve this answer

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

share|improve this answer

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