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I've looked up the meanings of the verb intimate on a few dictionaries, but none of the meanings of the verb intimate were adequate to the passage from The Shards by Bret Easton Ellis:

Debbie took the garment bag from me and hinted slyly that there was no one in the girls’ locker room if I wanted to join her— the cheerleaders were already up on the field. I smiled and went along with the innuendo, to a point, and instead suggested the game might be starting soon. Her smile couldn’t mask the faint disappointment she felt, or so I intimated. Maybe Debbie Schaffer actually expected me to f- her in the girls’ locker room before the Homecoming game or maybe this was only what I imagined. I’m not sure I could tell anymore.

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    There are five senses of the verb listed in OED (which I can't access at the moment). Doubtless one will correspond to 'gather', 'pick up'. M-W has for this sense of 'gather' ' reach a conclusion often intuitively from hints or through inferences'. // The fact that not even M-W and Wiktionary pick up on this sense shows it's rare. Feb 26 at 15:25
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    I wonder if it's confusing intuited with intimated - it's not entirely clear this is a simple case of malapropism, but if it is, that's the most likely word I can think of.
    – Stuart F
    Feb 26 at 16:16

2 Answers 2

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I agree this is an incorrect use of "intimate", which means to hint at or imply something. Here, it doesn't make sense for the narrator to hint at the way another person feels. It doesn't even make sense for Debbie to be the one intimating, as that is usually a deliberate action, but Debbie is failing at her attempt to cover up her disappointment. This error is similar to an imply/infer mix-up - the narrator is inferring Debbie's disappointment (he's observing it), not intimating it (he's not expressing it).

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    Intimated is so backward here, it's no more than a typo, but you're right to note an imply/infer confusion. Feb 26 at 15:28
  • If OED licenses a sense of 'intimate' meaning 'gather', this answer will be wrong. Feb 26 at 23:37
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    @EdwinAshworth, even if it turned out that some such sense could be fund in a remote corner of a large dictionary, that would not refute this answer. It is far more believable that this author (the current version of the question does not even tell us who that is) used the word erroneously, than that the author intended to use it in some obscure sense in which the word is used so rarely that none of the contributors to this site knows about it.
    – jsw29
    Feb 27 at 21:21
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    @jsw29 ELU (as with all Stack Exchange sites) regards answers backed by valid research as far better than opinion. When unsupported answers are submitted before reasonable avenues have been exhausted (and OED is almost always the go-to arbiter when it comes to meanings of words), it diminishes the credibility of the site. Feb 27 at 23:48
  • @EdwinAshworth, the question is not about what the word can mean, but what it was intended to mean by this particular author in this particular case. The answer to that question cannot be found in dictionaries. (The question could have been dismissed as 'too localised', though.)
    – jsw29
    Feb 28 at 16:38
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The Etymonline etymological dictionary gives a useful account of this strange word's derivation.

1530s, "make known formally;" 1580s, "suggest indirectly," back-formation from intimation (which could explain the pronunciation) or else from Late Latin intimatus, past participle of intimare "to make known" (see intimate (adj.)).

It is derived originally from the Latin superlative of intus, meaning 'within': comparative interior (literally 'inner'); superlative intimus ('innermost').

There is something odd about the relationship between the verb and the cognate adjective. Etymonline provides the following account of the adjectival use:-

1650s, "familiar friend, person with whom one is intimate," from intimate (adj.). Sometimes 17c.-19c. in false Spanish form intimado. Latin intimus had a similar noun sense. Intimates as a commercial euphemism for "women's underwear" is from 1988.

But I can find no basis for the apparently intransitive use of the verb in the question. The verb is usually used transitively: someonene intimates that something is the case, meaning that someone lets it be known that something is or is going to be the case. You could say/write "... or so I gathered, or something like that.

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    But this instance of usage doesn't mean make known, it means deduced. Feb 28 at 2:06
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    @ Peter Shor: Just so, except I used the less logic-related term 'gathered'. Please forgive my pedantically suggesting that strictly the word would be 'inferred' rather than 'deduced'. Admittedly, though, the distinction between these two words has faded over the years outside university departments of philosophy and logic.
    – Tuffy
    Feb 28 at 16:44

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