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From "Red Wind" by Raymond Chandler:

He lowered them slowly and looked at the man on the floor. The man's neck was twitching a little. His eyes moved in short stabs-sick eyes.

"Sure it's the guy?" Copernik's voice was hoarse.

What exactly are 'stabs-sick' eyes?

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  • stabs – sick not stabs-sick, dash, not hyphen. Changes meaning. Aug 25, 2015 at 10:12

2 Answers 2

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In this excerpt from Raymond Chandler's Red Wind, I suspect you may have been misled by what looks like a hyphen, but I think is actually an ineptly formatted dash.

I have used curly brackets below to group together what I consider to be the components of the sense units of the sentence in question:

{His eyes moved} {in short stabs} — {sick eyes}.

Chandler's dash introduces a parenthetical description of the man's eyes. It could be rephrased thus:

He moved his sick eyes in short stabs

or

His sick eyes moved in short stabs.

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  • 2
    I happen to have just picked up from the library a published collection containing this story (Raymond Chandler, Collected Stories, Everyman's Library edition, Knopf) and indeed it is a dash. Jan 19, 2015 at 5:39
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You have mistranscribed this, or drawn from a mistranscribed source. The original has a dash, not a hyphen.

His eyes moved in short stabs—sick eyes.

The basic clause is His eyes moved in short stabs. That is, the direction of his glance moved abruptly from one object to another, as if 'stabbing' the objects viewed. Sick eyes is added to this clause as a further characterization of his eyes: they were 'sick' eyes.

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