I would like to know what "a sort of thought-through whisper" means in the following sentences:

‘That’s the right attitude.’ He leaned forward and put his chunky arms on the desk, his fingertips touching one another. ‘Because I cannot guarantee anything, you see. Ultimately, the board needs to accept your proposal, and they’re a tough bunch.’ He turned sideways in his chair, bent over, rummaged in a drawer. Finally, he pulled out a thin stack of papers. ‘Here, fill these out. And bring me a proposal by the end of the week. We’ll look it over together.’

Before he handed me the papers, he threw a careful look at the door, then back to me. He spoke with a lowered voice, a sort of thought-through whisper.

‘I need hardly tell you what the conditions are. Something that won’t be too upsetting, you see.’ He made a wave-like gesture with his hand. ‘Nothing controversial. Nothing remotely anti-socialist, no whiff of pro-Westernism, my dear. Recently they’ve been getting increasingly nervous about that sort of thing.’

‘I understand,’ I said, taking the papers from him.

In this novel which is set in the 1980's in Poland under the socialist regime, where homosexuality was socially unacceptable, the protagonist Ludwik (a university graduate) left Poland in 1981 to live in the United States of America. And he remembers what it was like back then in Poland, where he, now finished his studies at college and searching for his career, visited his literature professor's office and told him that he decided to apply for a doctorate after all. (He had declined his professor's proposal about the doctorate, thinking that the professor would force him to write about a topic foolish yet politically useful.) At this, his professor said "That's the right attitude," and told him things he should mind in writing his proposal for the doctorate.

In this part, I wonder what a "thought-through" whisper would mean. I looked "think through" up in the dictionary and it said "ponder upon," but I am not sure whether this meaning is applicable to the "thought-through" in this context.

I am an English learner from South Korea, so thank you for your patience in advance as I may not know obvious things. I would very much appreciate your help. :)

1 Answer 1


What the literature professor tells Ludwik sounds as if he had thought thoroughly about what sort of thesis subjects are still acceptable in 1980s Poland. He has noticed that the board that approves the PhD proposals responds increasingly negatively to proposal that looks vaguely anti-socialist or pro-western.

The implication of "thought-through" is slightly ambiguous here. On the one hand, the professor may think that potential PhD students need such a warning, so he had prepared one. On the other hand, he may worry that even giving such a warning might have negative consequences (if everyone were a convinced socialist, such warnings would not be necessary, so the warning implies that not everyone is in line with the Polish United Workers' Party), which would explain why he lowers his voice.

  • Dear Tsundoku, thank you so much for the explanation. Then, as for "thought-through," may I take it that it has the same meaning as "think through," which means "ponder" or "considerate deeply"? I wonder if I am right in understanding that his literature professor whispered words that the professor himself pondered upon. Whether he prepared those words in advance in order to give him some advice, or he considered those words deeply before saying because the words might have negative consequences as you suggest, the basic meaning of "thought-through" seems to be the same as "think through," so Dec 19, 2020 at 16:28
  • I wonder if I am understanding right. Dec 19, 2020 at 16:30
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    "Thought-through" comes from "think through"; the past participle "thought" and the preposition "through" are connected with a hyphen because the word is used as an adjective before the noun "whisper". I am not claiming that the professor prepared those words in advance, just that he been thinking about subjects that should be avoided in thesis proposals.
    – Tsundoku
    Dec 19, 2020 at 16:52
  • Dear Tsundoku, thank you very much for the additional explanation. So "thought-through" here would mean that the professor has usually been thinking deeply about what subject would be more likely to be accepted by the board, rather than he specifically began thinking about the subject especially for Ludwik. I sincerely appreciate your help. :) Dec 21, 2020 at 8:29

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