read between the lines

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Probably from glosses and commentaries which were written between the lines and provided the reader with additional information not explicitly stated in the text.


  • (file)


read between the lines (third-person singular simple present reads between the lines, present participle reading between the lines, simple past and past participle read between the lines)

  1. (idiomatic) To infer a meaning that is not stated explicitly.
    If you read between the lines a little, you will realize that he has deeper motives.
    • 1901, Jack London, “A Hyperborean Brew: []”, in The Faith of Men and Other Stories, New York, N.Y.: The Macmillan Company; London: Macmillan & Co., Ltd., published September 1904, →OCLC, pages 54–55:
      The next day he made incantation, and distorted the miracle of the loaves and fishes till it became prophecy, and I, reading between the lines, saw that it was aimed at the wealth of meat stored in my caches.
    • 1911, Edith Wharton, Xingu[1]:
      “I’m quite of your opinion,” Miss Van Vluyck came briskly to her support; “on condition, that is, that all grossness of language is avoided.”
      “Oh, I’m sure we shall understand without that,” Mrs. Leveret tittered; and Laura Glyde added significantly: “I fancy we can read between the lines,” while Mrs. Ballinger rose to assure herself that the doors were really closed.
    • 1919, Joseph Conrad, chapter IV, in The Arrow of Gold: A Story between Two Notes, London: T[homas] Fisher Unwin, [], →OCLC, part IV, page 186:
      “Yes. And if you had as much sense as the talking parrot I owned once you would have read between the lines that all I wanted you here for was to tell you what I think of you.”
    • 2022 June 16, Kari Paul, quoting Elon Musk, “In rare move, Elon Musk meets Twitter employees to give ‘freedom of speech’ address”, in The Guardian[2]:
      “Trust is as trust does. I tend to be extremely literal in what I say … One does not [need][sic] to read between the lines. One can simply read the lines,” Musk said in the meeting, according to a tweet from Nola Weinstein, Twitter’s global head of brand experiences and engagement.