What does straggling entry mean in the following passage from Moby-Dick?

Entering that gable-ended Spouter-Inn, you found yourself in a wide, low, straggling entry with old-fashioned wainscots, reminding one of the bulwarks of some condemned old craft. On one side hung a very large oilpainting so thoroughly besmoked, and every way defaced, that in the unequal crosslights by which you viewed it, it was only by diligent study and a series of systematic visits to it, and careful inquiry of the neighbors, that you could any way arrive at an understanding of its purpose.

From the research I did, I would think that straggling in this sentence is an adjective that derives its meaning from the verb straggle: to escape or stretch beyond proper limits, as the branches of a plant; to spread widely apart; to shoot too far or widely in growth. Is it so?

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    M-W's definition of the related 'straggly' gives the right idea (though 'straggling' evokes a less 'tousle-haired ragamuffin', more 'labyrinthine, forbidding old edifice' feel). Commented Jul 21, 2020 at 11:32

1 Answer 1


To straggle and its various forms are often used in an extended sense of being like something that straggles, i.e. is disorganised, not direct in its direction and design. It usually indicates that the thing is longer than it should be or would be expected:


(verb) 1.a. intransitive. To wander or stray from the proper road, one's companions, etc.; to [roam] without [a] fixed direction; to go up and down [in a scattered or random manner].

1.f. Of stationary objects: Scattered or arranged irregularly. Of a road, tract of country: Winding irregularly, having an irregular outline. Of a house, town, etc.: Built irregularly and uncompactly.

1860 A. Trollope Castle Richmond I. vi. 99 The straggling mahogany table in the centre of the room, whose rickety legs gave way and came off whenever an attempt was made to move it.

1870 E. Peacock Ralf Skirlaugh II. 187 An inn with a straggling collection of houses near it.

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