Is there a specifically appropriate term to say "reading between the lines" or "to read between the lines"? Or to devise inferred meanings and unspoken things, and not necessarily something that's consciously implied but that the other person may be giving away without realising?

  • 3
    You got it: inferring covers it all. Commented Jun 15, 2023 at 15:29
  • Why can't you use "reading between the lines" itself?
    – alphabet
    Commented Jun 15, 2023 at 16:01
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    In some cases you might say "interpolating", but "inferring" isi probably better.
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Jun 15, 2023 at 17:43
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    First, note that reading between the lines is a metaphor, and refers to writing, not language. Second, there are a number of different kinds of "hidden messages", with names of their own, and tests to distinguish them in the philosophical and linguistic literature: presupposition, entailment, invited inference, conversational and general implicatures, etc. Commented Jun 15, 2023 at 19:00
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    @JohnLawler I don't think it's specific to writing. You can read between the lines of speech, the lines are figurative. Metaphors within metaphors.
    – Barmar
    Commented Jun 15, 2023 at 20:43

1 Answer 1


A definition of this idiom in the Cambridge Dictionary, apparently introduces a shift in signification as far as it is question in it of the writer's feelings.

(Cambridge Dictionary) to try to understand someone's real feelings or intentions from what they say or write

A truer definition is found in the SOED, I believe.

(SOED) discover a meaning or purpose in a piece of writing, etc., not obvious or explicitly expressed

Corresponding to this definition, a number of expressions of collocative nature are available to formulate explicitly this idea and connected ones, as that formulated by the following one.

  • to search for hidden meaning (There is no preliminary assumption as to whethezr there exists a hidden meaning or not; there might be none.)

(Writing: Ten Core Concepts - Robert P. Yagelski · 2014) Explication vs. the Search for Hidden Meaning - Students sometimes complain that literary analysis is really a process of finding the “hidden meaning” in a work of literature.

(Mythology and Nation Building: N.F.S. Grundtvig and His ...- Sophie Bønding, ‎Lone Kølle Martinsen, ‎Pierre-Brice Stahl · 2021) In this manner, mythic speech as a fantastic discourse entailed for Grundtvig a purposeful detectivism, that is, an interpretative search for hidden meaning.

To obtain the needed phrase it is only necessary to replace "between the lines" by "hidden meaning".

  • to read the hidden meaning (The basic assumption is that there is a hidden meaning.)

(Shaken Wisdom: Irony and Meaning in Postcolonial African Fiction Gloria Nne Onyeoziri · 2011) When the intended receiver of an ironic message shows herself already ahead of the game, shows that she has read the hidden meaning and finds it no more significant than the explicit meaning ofthe utterance, she has switched the ironic ...

(The Mystical Origins of Hasidism - Rachel Elior · 2006) Some kabbalists regard each letter as a gateway to the higher worlds; for some, every word symbolizes and points to the world of the sefirot; some go further in their freedom to read the hidden meaning of the text and find the divine ...

"Hidden sense" can be used as well (synonymous); however, it is much less often the authors' preference.

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