Harry Potter and the Zeugmatic Sentence

While waiting for my English language version of the latest Harry Potter to make its way across the ocean, I’ve been reading the fifth book again. And I’m still amazed at how little happens in so much space. An editor may have helped. But maybe an editor would have insisted on removing sentences like this (page 127 of the English edition.)

Dumbledore was striding serenly across the room wearing long midnight-blue robes and a perfectly calm expression.

That sounds mildly defective doesn’t it? Wearing robes isn’t the same kind of thing as wearing a calm expression.

9 Replies to “Harry Potter and the Zeugmatic Sentence”

  1. That sort of play on words is a pretty common literary device. Perhaps it is odd in a children’s book, though.

  2. This was mentioned before (maybe here). I recall finding ‘syllepsis’ and not esp. noticing the alleged difference between a syllepsis and a zeugma. Both are figures and neither (so it is said) is defective.

  3. Sounds like a non-defective sort of zeugma to me.

    A worse problem with the fifth book is that it’s claimed that the inquisitorial squad have been given this unprecedented power to award house points, whereas I’m sure that prefects were able to in the first two books.

    By the way, the sixth book is shorter than the 5th, and more of the plot seems to be happenning in the middle, instead of coming in a rush at the end. I think it is considerably better than the 3rd, 4th and 5th installments.

    This has spoiled my theory that the number of pages of each book is an exponential function of the book’s number within the series, though.

  4. So does the amount of guilt felt per unit of fiction recently read decrease the longer you continue in Philosophy? I’m finding the opposite to be true so far, but I’m hoping the trend will reverse before long. Though the post-Potter guilt has been quite motivating …

  5. No spoilers please! I’m banned from reading it until I’ve finished my thesis…

    guilt-per-unit would be pretty high at the moment.

  6. According to this site, syllepsis is a species of zeugma, particular when there’s disparity between the ways the one word governs the other two parts of the sentence. So this is in fact zeugma and the more specific syllepsis. The author of that material seems to think it’s ok for humorous purposes, but I think the reason for that is that it’s not ok normally. A good case of when it just sounds wrong is found in a recent Bible translation:

    “Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water.” [John 4:15, English Standard Version, 2001]

  7. Why is it that philosophers feel so much more guility about taking time off to read novels than they do about taking time off to go to the pub?

    (Given the posts on this thread so far, I can probably replace “pub” with “Cellar” and still be understood by most)

  8. “Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water.”

    Where exactly is the zeugma? This sentence is expressed by someone talking about water in the sense of potable stuff. It is pretty clear in context that ‘water’ is not being used this way by everyone, but that’s another matter.

  9. Delicious zeugma:

    “Oh, flowers are as common here, Miss Fairfax, as people are in London.”

    oscar wilde

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