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The others looked at me, I know for sure, with more envy than fear, and I even suspected one of them was going to tell on me to my dad. Was I doing the right thing? But there was no time for hesitation, because Anabela’s suntanned arm was already tugging at mine, her yellow down was guiding me to the sea, and her feet and mine made the pebbles crunch at the water’s edge, that was happening now and it was almost impossible to believe.

The quoted text is from the short story 'How to swim with her' by Andres Neuman. What does it mean by the sentence in bold, especially 'yellow down' in this context?

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    ? one meaning of "down" is "fine, soft hair". Probably we would need more of that story to tell whether this is the meaning here. Commented Aug 21, 2022 at 15:30
  • @GEdgar That seems right to me, and the author apparently used "yellow" instead of the more usual "blonde".
    – MarcInManhattan
    Commented Aug 21, 2022 at 15:51

2 Answers 2

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It appears to be a metaphorical reference to her having blonde hair that looks like or feels like down, "down" being the finest, softest feathers found on young birds, like geese, and "yellow" being a synonym of "blonde." The metaphor may extend further as alluding to her youth since "down" is found on young birds and as alluding to her nubile femininity since "bird," as slang, is a well-known synonym for "girl" or "young woman," a synonym that often conveys sexual overtones or often appears in a context in which the referent girl or young woman is being sexualized or sexually objectified.

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  • There is no need to mention a metaphor: (SOED) 3 (A mass of) short soft hair on the skin spec. that which appears on a boy's face at puberty.
    – LPH
    Commented Aug 21, 2022 at 16:32
  • Except it is a metaphor. Even if that meaning you refer to were what is meant, which it's clearly not, but even if it were, it'd still be a metaphor since "her yellow down" cannot literally "guide him to the sea," not unless you're suggesting all her peach fuzz has been shorn off of her and then has been formed into a trail on the ground for him to follow in order to get him to find the sea, which, by the way, would also require her easily being the peach-fuzziest girl in the world, having more peach fuzz than anyone anywhere ever.
    – Benjamin Harman
    Commented Aug 23, 2022 at 19:32
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    In the original Spanish (Andres Neuman is Argentinian) the phrase is "sus vellos amarillos". "Vellos" is a word meaning short soft hair, like the skin of a peach, so the translation to "down" is quite accurate. Commented Sep 14, 2022 at 7:17
  • @ClaraDiazSanchez That's a great extra piece of info, could be worth expanding into its own answer, maybe along with some more contextual story-based commentary. (This answer was migrated from ELU, so it's more based on the English words aspect.)
    – Rand al'Thor
    Commented Sep 14, 2022 at 9:19
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How to swim with her is a translation from Spanish to English of the short story Anabela y el peñón by the Argentine writer Andrés Neuman. The text in question:

her yellow down was guiding me to the sea

appears in the original text as:

sus vellos amarillos me llevaban hasta el mar

The phrase "her yellow down" is thus a translation of the Spanish "sus vellos amarillos". "Vellos" signifies short soft hair, like peach-fuzz, or the type of soft hair you have on your arms. The translator's choice of "down", in its meaning of soft, thin hair seems a perfect choice.

It is slightly unusual that the hair is referred to as "amarillo" (yellow), rather than "rubio" (blonde). In an interview, Neuman remarks that he finds it interesting that most people visualize Anabel as being beautiful, "even though almost no physical description is actually provided in the text". This one word is the only clue the reader has as to whether Anabel is blonde or brunette, for example.

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