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Malfoy certainly did talk about flying a lot. He complained loudly about first years never getting on the house Quidditch teams . . .

"He's just the build for a Seeker, too," said Wood, now walking around Harry and staring at him. "Light - speedy - we'll have to get him a decent broom, Professor - a Nimbus Two Thousand or a Cleansweep Seven, I'd say."
I shall speak to Professor Dumbledore and see if we can't bend the first-year rule. Heaven knows, we need a better team than last year. Flattened in that last match by Slytherin, I couldn't look Severus Snape in the face for weeks...."

"Seeker?" he [Ron] said. "But first years never - you must be the youngest house player in about –“
“- a century, said Harry, shoveling pie into his mouth.
(Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone)

What does bend the rule mean? Does it mean change, adjust, amend?

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NOAD meaning #3, for bend: interpret or modify (a rule) to suit oneself or somebody else. Bend the rules is also listed as an idiom in Collins. I like Macmillan's definition as well, which is listed along with other idioms under rule: to allow something that is not normally allowed. –  J.R. Jun 1 '13 at 8:49

3 Answers 3

up vote 7 down vote accepted

Bend the rule means to make an exception to the rule. It means that the rule will still be the rule, but it won't apply to Harry-he can play on the Quidditch team even though he's a first year, but no other first years will be allowed (the rule will still apply to them). I think this phrase comes from the idea that the rule can be 'flexible' and change in certain situations when necessary (and if it is flexible, it can bend).

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Bend the rule means to slightly violate a rule in order to adapt to some special circumstance. The rule continues to prevail.

Not any change, adjustment, or exception to a rule is bending a rule. The word bend is chosen to contrast with break. Breaking a rule means simply violating it. Calling it bending means that you're violating it only a little bit, usually to serve a purpose more important than the purpose served by the rule. For example, if it's illegal to allow someone under 18 to see an R-rated movie, but a 17-year-old whose birthday is next week wants to see it, he's going on a six-month trip to Japan tomorrow, the movie closes in two days, and the movie is about the town he's visiting in Japan, you might bend the rule and let him in. Making an exception for an 8-year-old for no reason other than that he wants to see it would merely be breaking the rule.

Bend the rule has either a connotation of reasonableness or a connotation of deviousness. Both these connotations occur in the example.

First, it's pointed out that "we need a better team than last year". Whatever the purpose of the first-year rule, surely it's overridden by that consideration. That sounds like a reasonable bending of the rule.

Later, it's pointed out that the person in question is not just a first-year, but extraordinarily young. The purpose of the first-year rule must have something to do with protecting young students. So, calling this "bending the rule" was actually devious. The reasonable-sounding explanation turns out to be a very bad reason: the rule is actually being very severely violated, to serve a purpose (winning) that's less important than the purpose of the rule.

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It is a play on words and also an analogy. Typically one would say she broke the rule to mean she transgressed a regulation. A rule can mean a regulation but it can also mean a strip of wood or other rigid material used for measuring length ... a ruler. So by analogy we can say she only bent the rule she did not break it as a play on words whether we mean regulation or measuring stick. It is always clear from the context that the meaning is regulation not measuring stick.

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