I read in "The White Silent" of Jack London and see this sentence

'Only one day. We can shave it through on the grub, and I might knock over a moose.'

I do not understand meaning of 'we can shave it through on the grub'. Do you explain clearly for me?

And Jack London use 'sleep' in this story, example:

I'm a gone man, Kid. Three or four sleeps at the best. You've got to go on. You must go on! Remember, it's my wife, it's my boy—O God! I hope it's a boy! You can't stay by me—and I charge you, a dying man, to pull on.

So what mean of 'sleep' in this context?

  • I'd say shave [it] through could be a deliberately non-standard mangling of to scrape by / through intended to imply that the speaker is at least somewhat dialectally isolated from mainstream speech patterns. Although there are quite a few instances of shave it through in Google Books, every single one of them is the exact quote cited here. It has no currency to speak of. I suspect the same might apply to I charge you ... to pull on - normal speakers don't use charge like that in conversational contexts, and pull on would normally be push on. – FumbleFingers Aug 28 '19 at 11:50
  • This is really two different questions. It would be better if you posted them separately. – marcellothearcane Aug 28 '19 at 12:19
  • Charge in the sense of entrust someone with a task is old-fashioned and formal, but Jack London was writing in the 19th century and the speaker is obviously making a highly emotional appeal. – Kate Bunting Aug 28 '19 at 16:21

The meaning of shave it (same structure as 'do it' and '[We've] made it!', with crypto-referential 'it') is 'just about manage to ...' (survive / win the match / pass the exam ...).

I've not yet found the expression in a dictionary, but the related 'It was a close shave' is a well-known metaphor. 'X just about shaved it' is used informally in the UK at least to mean '[Side] X were just about the better side [and thus deserved to / their win]':

"The score was irrelevant. Both sides wanted to win the match and Oldham probably just about shaved it...." [The Bolton News_2001]

Another example showing a close victory / achievement / outperformance / overcoming:

He was brilliant; so was she. I've watched the favourite & although Olivia Coleman was very good, I think Close just about shaved it for me, great acting. [tidied] [twitter.com/hashtag/thewife]

'We can shave it through on the grub' is thus 'We can just about manage [until the situation improves] on the food we've got at the moment.'


Sleeps here is a metonym/synecdoche for days, days travelling. It obviously connotes more of the lifestyle being enjoyed/endured than the unmarked term 'days'.

Merriam-Webster gives the broadened senses:

sleep ...

3a : a period spent sleeping

b : night

c : a day's journey

There is a famous canyon in the Southwest (arguably just about) of the United States called 'Ten Sleep Canyon' [TravelWyoming] (though it took the coach my wife and I were on less than a morning to negotiate).

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  • 2
    Note that "grubbing for food" has the meaning of "scrounging", and may trace back to the practice of eating grubs. I suspect that the author's intended meaning was that they could eek by for several days just eating foods they could find. Of course, "knock over a moose" referred to somehow killing a moose for food. – Hot Licks Aug 28 '19 at 11:42
  • @HotLicks - c. 1300, "dig in the ground," from hypothetical Old English *grybban, *grubbian, from West Germanic *grubbjan (source also of Middle Dutch grobben, Old High German grubilon "to dig, search," German grübeln "to meditate, ponder"), from PIE *ghrebh- (2) "to dig, bury, scratch" (see grave (n.)). Transitive sense "dig up by the roots" is from 1550s. Related: Grubbed; grubbing. (Etymonline) – marcellothearcane Aug 28 '19 at 12:18

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