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   "Some say he died. Codswallop, in my opinion. Dunno if he had enough human left in him to die. Some say he's still out there, bidin' his time, like, but I don' believe it. People who was on his side came back ter ours. Some of 'em came outta kinda trances. Don’ reckon they could've done if he was comin' back.
   "Most of us reckon he's still out there somewhere but lost his powers. Too weak to carry on. 'Cause somethin' about you finished him, Harry. There was somethin' goin' on that night he hadn't counted on –– I dunno what it was, no one does –– but somethin' about you stumped him, all right."
(Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone)

I don’t know what outta (=out of) mean. When I look up this dictionary, there could be two possible interpretations. On one hand, the sentence seems to say they came to our side getting out of their trances. On the other hand, they emerged from their trances. Which one is right?

  • Can you post the definition which makes you think each of your possible interpretations is correct? – WendiKidd Oct 2 '13 at 13:38
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    I don't understand the distinction you're making with "the one hand" and "the other hand". Some of the people who came back to "our" side seemed to be emerging from a trance-like state (by implication, the "other" side had secured their "allegiance" by hypnosis, stupefying drugs, or similar). – FumbleFingers Oct 2 '13 at 13:40
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    Trances are like frenzies. You can go into a trance, you can come out of a trance; you can go into a frenzy, you can come out of a frenzy. When you come out of a trance, you come back to your senses. – J.R. Oct 2 '13 at 13:42
  • People go into trances, and they come out of trances. The real question is: what kind of trance is a kinda trance? (Perhaps some is omitted before kinda? Or perhaps it's a meaningless hedge word?) – snailboat Oct 2 '13 at 18:30
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ADVANCE WARNING: This is going to look like LitCrit. Read on; it arrives in the end at linguistic issues.

Affable Geek asserts your two alternatives are “different sides of the same coin”, and FumbleFingers “cannot see the distinction”.

I cannot agree. I think the ambiguity you discern is real, and the conflation of the two senses is possible only by treating the text improperly as a production of the “author” rather than a production of the character. (I put “author” in quotes because I mean by that not JKR herself, who is outside the text and not directly involved in the matter at hand, but the narrating persona within the text, the “authorial voice“.)

In the parsing of dramatic texts this is a constant and occasionally bitter battle between Literary Critics on the one hand and theatre people on the other. Literary Critics blithely assert the presence of “ambiguity” and “polysemy” in the author’s text, which is very impressive. But actors are not permitted the luxury of demonstrating their literary sensibilities. The actor has to decide what his character means: at every instant he is on stage he must commit himself unqualifiedly to a specific action and a specific linereading—and live with the result. We call it “making choices”, and it is often difficult and painful.

I suggest that the same decorum governs the interpretation of dialogue in novels. With dialogue the “author”, who is capable of sophisticated polysemy, yields the stage to the character, who ordinarily is not. As reader you, like the actor, have to decide what Hagrid means.

  • Are the came in came back and the came in came outta the same came, with the outta kinda trances providing additional qualification? —Some of them came back to our side from trances.
  • Or are they two different cames? —one designating a change of affiliation and the other designating a change of consciousness.

Two different readings—for the actor, two different linereadings, with different stresses and prosody.

I have a preference for one of these readings; but I’m not going to share it, because I can‘t read the novel for you, any more than I can play a role you are cast in, and even if I could it would spoil your fun. But I’ll offer you this to build in to your thinking.

This ambiguity is occasioned by the fact that what is in play here is a verb, GO, with very low semantic content. It’s not exactly a light verb, but it’s something analogous: it doesn’t mean much of anything until you a)add prepositions and b)put it in a specific context. (JKR might have used a ‘heavier’ verb like emerge to avoid ambiguity, but she didn’t—given a choice between clarity and decorum, she always comes down on the side of decorum.) So: do we have the same verb, [keɪm], twice, or two different verbs, ['keɪmˌbæk] and ['keɪˌmaʊtə]?


Here not “polite behavior” but a technical term signifying coherence and consistency of a dramatic character.

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You suggest two alternatives:

  1. On one hand, the sentence seems to say they came to our side getting out of their trances.
  2. On the other hand, they emerged from their trances.

These are the same thing. When one goes in to a trance, they lose all ability to interact with the world in a normal fashion. Typically they are either unresponsive to anything except for the person who has "put them in a trance" or they are simply unable to accept input from anything else. It is a sleep-like state, only the person remains capable of action. There is typically little or no cognition.

When they "come back" to the world of the living (and that's a normal enough way to express it), they have emerged from this state that was unlike the world of the living.

The two definitions really are just different sides of the same coin.

In the case you cited above (is that Harry Potter?) it seems as though the person in question was controlled by Voldemort, in such a way as to not be able to control his own actions - as if he were sleepwalking and unable to resist or think. That is a "trance-like" state. While in this trance like state, he probably committed actions that were for the "other" side - things he wouldn't have done had he been fully rational and/or awake. When he finally emerged from his trance, his rational actions put him back to working for "our" side, as opposed to the enemies'

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