If you’re reading Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince and a reader of this blog, you may have noticed something curious in the opening pages of the book. The first chapter, “The Other Minister”, more-or-less brings the reader back up to speed on the major events during and since the previous installment, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, by way of the Minister of Magic updating the Prime Minister of Muggles on the goings-on in the magic world. The Prime Minister at times slightly mishears or misunderstands some words spoken by the Minister of Magic, but the way these are represented orthographically is odd.
On p. 7, there’s a brief flashback to an earlier visit by the Minister of Magic, Cornelius Fudge.
Before the Prime Minister could ask why he was dripping all over the Axminster, Fudge had started ranting about a prison the Prime Minister had never heard of, a man named “Serious” Black, something that sounded like “Hogwarts,” and a boy called Harry Potter, none of which made the remotest sense to the Prime Minister.
The prison-never-heard-of is, of course, “Azkaban”, and the quotes around “Hogwarts” are odd since that’s exactly how the school name is spelled. The quotes around “Serious” is what I find curious: the real name is
“Serius” “Sirius”, but there’s never been any indication that this should be pronounced in any way differently from “Serious” — like many people and place names in the Harry Potter books, it’s supposed to sound like the word that it is a slight misspelling of.
Update, July 31
Readers Gunnar Hrafn Hrafnbjargarson and Martin Marks both wrote to point out my struck-out mistake above — the misspelling of Sirius as Serius. As Martin explains:
One could say the same about many Harry Potter characters … Lupin, for example, or Slytherin, or Snape, or …
Martin also points out a relevant passage I had neglected to quote myself, which really makes the point I intended to make with this post (pace Geoff Nathan’s comment further below):
Second update, Aug. 3
Two other readers, C. Callosum and Tim May, write to challenge Martin’s claim above (and my explicit acceptance of it) that Sirius and serious are “totally homophonous”. C. Callosum writes:
While I don’t (think I) make this distinction in my own (casual) speech — both have lax /ɪ/ for me — I know that only “serious” sounds right with tense /i/, and I’m pretty sure that Tim May is not mistaken in his claim that these words are consistently distinguished in R.P., which is (presumably) what Rowling speaks.
Even given all this, I still find it unconvincing that Fudge would be confused, even momentarily, by the P.M.’s mispronunciation of “Sirius” as “serious” — the distinction between the two vowels is just not significant enough, it seems to me, especially given that the P.M. was asking about “Serious Black”. Certainly these two words together can only be interpreted by someone like Fudge as referring to Harry Potter’s godfather.
But just to clear one last thing up: I should have checked my copy of the book again before copying Martin’s apparent quotation from it, because the relevant passage goes a little bit differently than what I have copied from Martin’s message above. For those of you with a copy of (the American edition of) the book, it starts in the middle of p. 11. The P.M. speaks first (note the “er” for American “uh” here).
OK, maybe that’s not so curious to merit posting on phonoloblog, but two pages later, another example really made me wonder who was proof-reading this book. This time, the word is not an obvious play on a regular English word.
Less than a year later a harassed-looking Fudge had appeared out of thin air in the cabinet room to inform the Prime Minister that there had been a spot of bother at the Kwidditch (or that was what it sounded like) World Cup […]
The actual word is spelled “Quidditch” — but how different is that, sounds-like-wise, from what “Kwidditch” is? Is the unconventional “kw” spelling supposed to indicate an unconventional sound or something?
I won’t go any further than these opening pages; some of you may not have read the book yet. But one other thing I’ve noticed is something that has puzzled me throughout the series: the American editions of the books follow American spelling conventions (color instead of colour, center instead of centre, etc.), but only for actual words. J.K. Rowling uses British spelling conventions for sounds-like spelling, and these remain in the American editions. (Particularly striking is the use of r in the way described here, as in ter for a reduced to in Hagrid’s speech.) Why is that?
And while we’re on the edition-difference topic: in case you were curious, here‘s a pretty lame explanation for why they named the first book Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone in the US as opposed to the original British title Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. I wonder how they handled that for the different editions of the movie … certainly they didn’t overdub one of them … did they?