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And he had turned the Prime Minister’s teacup into a gerbil. “But,” said the Prime Minister breathlessly, watching his teacup chewing on the corner of his next speech, “but why — why has nobody told me — ?”

—Harry Potter

Apparently speech here is to mean a speech in physical form. But I looked that up in oxford dictionary and found nothing of this use. Is this a wrong use of the word "speech"?

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Absolutely. But without more context - that sounds to me like not physical, he's not literally chewing on paper, he's figuratively chewing on his words. Unless of course the previous paragraph makes it more clear. –  Ollie Ford Aug 23 at 15:18
    
@user49119 That gerbil could have been chewing on many other things, not just a speech; for example, it could have been a symbol, a logo, a drawing, a poem, a song, a letter, a lecture, or even simply just a word, and of course, a lot of other things that a dictionary might not have defined them explicitly as something physical. –  Damkerng T. Aug 23 at 16:29
    
Doesn't the corner sort of imply the speech is a physical one? Though it's possible to argue that corner is another figurative use. In fact, I have consulted the Chinese edition of the book and it says it is the physical speech the gerbil was chewing on. But again translated works are quite sloppy in Chinese nowadays and cannot be taken for granted. –  user49119 Aug 23 at 16:46

1 Answer 1

up vote 7 down vote accepted

I am surprised that oxford online would only list the written use of speech for a play, and the merriam webster seems to list no written versions at all.

It is very common to use the word speech not just to refer to the spoken words, but also to the written words that will be spoken. There is even a job called speechwriter, and this guy wrote speeches for Obama.

It is a very common use, and I am really surprised that two respectable online dictionaries seem to ignore this use completely.

freedictionary has it listed under 4b, but it is still confusing:

4.
a. A talk or public address.
b. A printed copy of such an address.

It is absolutely common to refer to any written form, whether printed or hand-scribbled on a beermat, as one's speech:

Have you seen my speech? It must be around here somewhere!
I am just fixing some last small details in tomorrow's speech.


Ah, it does appear in the dictionary of dictionaries, the OED has an entry for it :

(III.8.d.) An address or discourse of a more or less formal character delivered to an audience or assembly;an oration; also, the manuscript or printed copy or report of this.

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To support oerkelens's answer this what the OED has under speech (III.8.d.) An address or discourse of a more or less formal character delivered to an audience or assembly;an oration; also, the manuscript or printed copy or report of this. (bold mine) –  Laure Aug 23 at 11:37
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Thank you for stressing how absolutely common the usage is. –  Jolenealaska Aug 23 at 11:40
    
@Laure Thank you very much! I took the liberty of adding the reference to the answer, as comments have a shorter lifetime than answers! –  oerkelens Aug 23 at 16:05
    
@oerkelens Edited your answer and removed thanks, nice thought on your part but not needed. We all know that answers are often (or at least they should be) common efforts to get as close as we can towards perfection. –  Laure Aug 23 at 16:20

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