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What does "the handle broken off short" mean when referring to an axe?

Does it mean the handle is broken off and it is a little far from the rest, or that it is broken close to the axe and there is only a small part of the handle still attached, or something else?

(The Wonderful Wizard of Oz - Chapter 13 - Rescuing the Tin Woodman)

  • 2
    Please, provide more context. We have no way of knowing what this means without more information. – aedia λ Feb 16 '13 at 20:03
  • I edited the question and here is the full phrase: His axe was near him, but the blade was rusted and the handle broken off short. – Kiron Feb 16 '13 at 23:17
  • +1 Just for asking about this wonderful book. Please put the full phrase in the question itself, not just in comment. – MetaEd Feb 17 '13 at 2:10
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This is a very common idiom, which really means little or nothing more than broken off by itself. Short is the result of the breaking: the handle is now short, or at least substantially shorter than it was.

In my experience the expression is used more often intransitively, of utterances, than transitively of physical objects:

“What in the world is—?” He broke off short. “Oh. Now I see.”

  • The idiomatic broke off short is indeed common in relation to discourse, but it would be vanishingly rare for that sense to be intended with the form broken off short. – FumbleFingers Feb 16 '13 at 22:10
  • Not as rare as the verbing of aposiopesis. – Edwin Ashworth Feb 16 '13 at 22:15
  • @FumbleFingers Rare, but not unknown. Google Books gives 4 instances among 107 actual hits on “broken off short”, from Edith Nesbit (2), James Jones and Georgette Heyer, and three more instances in which texts are so broken. – StoneyB on hiatus Feb 16 '13 at 23:03

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