I would like to know what "You look a little … something." means in the following sentences:

You and Maksio reached her just as the song came to an end, a storm of cheers and congratulations raging through the air, boys whistling with fingers in their mouths. Hania bent over the cake. In the darkness of the room the candles were the only source of light. They lit her face from below. She took a large breath and blew out the little flames, her eyes half-closed, her painted face strained with effort. I told myself that she looked like a witch but I hardly believed it. I couldn’t bring myself to hate her. The applause was deafening. Hania kissed Maksio on the cheek and then threw her arms around your neck. Someone called out a toast, to which the whole room lifted their glasses. And then the low lights came back on and the music started up again. I sat down, finished my drink and resolved to leave. That is when I saw you making your way towards me through the crowd with a piece of cake in each hand. You were smiling at me, but I couldn’t bring myself to smile back. Sitting down next to me, you passed me a piece of cake.

‘Are you alright? You look a little … something.

‘I’m OK,’ I lied. The cake was a layered chocolate and cream affair, surprisingly heavy and wet. I could feel it through the flimsy, Bible-paper-thin napkin.

‘Have some,’ you said, biting into your piece. ‘It’s good.’

‘I don’t feel like it.’

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 went to the birthday party of his rich friend Hania with his lover Janusz. In the party room, they met Ludwik's best friend Karolina. So the three danced together till they were out of breath. Afterwards, when they were resting, Hania, who was the daughter of some high Party officer and was in love with Janusz, came towards them and suggested Janusz to dance with her. So Hania and Janusz left, leaving Ludwik with Karolina. During the party, Hania's brother Maksio and her friend Janusz took a birthday cake for her, and Hania threw her arms around Janusz's neck like he was her boyfriend. Seeing this, Ludwik came to feel complicated emotions including jealousy, and began to "look a little something."

In this part, I wonder what this boldfaced sentence means. What would it mean that he looked "a little something"?

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


Something refers to an unspecified negative feeling. Janusz does not know how to interpret the expression he sees on Ludwik's face. Janusz either really does not understand how Ludwik is feeling, or is pretending not to. So he says simply that Ludwik looks "a little ... something". This "something" could be unhappy, ill, jealous, tired, angry, or a mixture of some or all of those things.

If Janusz really doesn't understand how Ludwik is feeling, then to say "you look a little jealous" or "a little angry", etc., would be ascribing feelings to Ludwik. So a vague word like "something", simply implying that Ludwik doesn't appear to be his usual self, is probably all that comes to mind for him.

On the other hand, if Janusz does understand how Ludwik is feeling and is simply pretending not to, then to ask outright "you look a little unhappy" would mean admitting that he knows how Ludwik is feeling. So to protect himself (to give himself plausible deniability), Janusz uses a vague word that allows him to keep up the fiction that he doesn't understand how Ludwik feels.

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