He wiped [his glasses] against his grubby wind-breaker... He smeared the sweat from his cheeks and quickly adjusted the spectacles on his nose.

Source: Lord of the Flies, William Golding

I have difficulty understanding how the person "smears" the sweat from his sweat. The dictionary meaning of smear is to blur the outline of, to spread a substance over something, or to coat something carelessly with a greasy substance.

Applying these meanings, does the line mean the character is coating his cheeks with sweat? But is the sweat not coming off of his cheeks? How is he spreading/coating/blurring his cheek with sweat? And the sample sentences I found are usually smear on something, or smear with something. What does "smear from" in the quoted line mean? Here, the quoted line seems to read something like "he wipes the sweat from his face".

  • Your guess is as good as mine. And very similar. I'd say Golding was using poetic language. The character definitely wipes the sweat from his cheeks, possibly smearing some of it on his cheeks at the same time.
    – AndyT
    Commented Jul 25, 2017 at 8:24
  • He took his bare hand and wiped his cheeks with it, not taking care to get all the sweat off.
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Jul 25, 2017 at 12:03

1 Answer 1


I think we can just take it to mean "He wiped the sweat from his cheeks, smearing some of it in the process".

Think about any surface covered with liquid, which you then try to wipe off with a non-absorbent object (like your hand). You will remove some of it (the part that sticks to your hand), and you will also smear some of it (the part that doesn't stick to your hand) over the surface in the process. That is all that's happening here.

So, he's smearing and partially removing at the same time.

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