There was an american patient in a Japanese doctor's house. He was cured and treated well. Now, he was recovering. But, the Japanese doctor had been disliking the man, for he was american. On the third day after his operation, the doctor came and saw his patient sitting on bed on his own. He scolded him and told him to lie down. He did it, closed his eyes, turned his face to the wall and said


Then the author says:

His mouth a bitter line.

What's the meaning of bitter line? line? Web's empty.


I got something: This shows that "line" can be thought of as "an approach", so the patient approaches the doctor in a bitter way. That is, he was hurt, in anger, he was showing hate to the doctor. Could it be ever well?

  • 1
    It has utterly no connection whatsoever to "line" as in "approach. It is totally commonplace to describe the human smile or mouth as a "line". Her mouth was a gently curved line, her mouth was a taut line, her mouth was a delicate line, a happy line, a sad line, a chubby line, a firm line etc etc.
    – Fattie
    Feb 11, 2018 at 12:56

2 Answers 2


I'd argue the meaning is more literal and he's trying to create a visual for the reader. The author is describing the patient's mouth. As opposed to a smile or a smirk, an arc or a curve, it's a line. To refer back to the link you provided, by definition, 'a long, thin mark on the surface of something'. So, the author is asking you to picture his mouth in this way, so you can see his bitterness for the doctor, as opposed to just telling you he felt bitter. It's actually a nice example of show don't tell.

  • 2
    Agreed; but the use of "bitter" to describe the line of the mouth is an examply of metonymy: a line cannot itself be bitter, but the bitterness of his mood is ascribed to it.
    – Colin Fine
    Feb 11, 2018 at 10:53
  • Hmm... isn't is more anthropomorphism? To ascribe a human emotion to an inanimate object (a line). Metonymy is to refer to a thing or concept by the name of something closely associated with it. E.g. "...the ridiculous manner in which the Oval Office is behaving."
    – GGx
    Feb 11, 2018 at 11:05
  • 2
    Actually, @GGx, I think it's hypallage, a word I couldn't think of at the time. I think that is closer to metyonymy than anthropomorphism, because it is not actually ascribing the emotion to the object, but transferring it for discriptive purposes.
    – Colin Fine
    Feb 11, 2018 at 11:33
  • 1
    @ColinFine Ooooh, yes!!! Bang on. That's what I love about answering questions on here, it gets the cogs turning! "Winter kept us warm, covering Earth in forgetful snow, feeding A little life with dried tubers." (T.S. Eliot, The Waste Land)
    – GGx
    Feb 11, 2018 at 12:21
  • Whilst this answer is not incorrect, it's confusing: it is totally commonplace to describe the human smile or mouth as a "line", with any old adjective in front. (Short line, curved line, quivering line etc etc.).
    – Fattie
    Feb 11, 2018 at 12:59

Think of emojis, specifically the basic round head and a line for the lips. 😑 😐😳😔. It is meant to invoke just such an image, and then call it a bitter line, instead of saying that the patient (or doctor, not sure from context which) was bitter.

Bitter is a hard emotion to describe in writing. Dancing with joy, quivering with terror -- easy. Bitter doesn't have any particular facial expressions or actions associated with it, instead bitter is attached to other expressions: bitter smile, bitter frown, or in this case bitter non-nonexpression.

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