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Context:

Harry suddenly realized that the tape measure, which was measuring between his nostrils, was doing this on its own. Mr. Ollivander was flitting around the shelves, taking down boxes. "That will do," he said, and the tape measure crumpled into a heap on the floor. "Right then, Mr. Potter. Try this one. Beechwood and dragon heartstrings. Nine inches. Nice and flexible. just take it and give it a wave."

What do "crumple" and "heap" mean in the sentence "the tape measure crumpled into the heap on the floor"?

Crumple is meant like this in Oxford:

1.1 no object Become bent, crooked, or creased.

The question is why should a tape measure become bent, crooked or creased? What is the meaning of "heap" here? Does it mean that the tape measure has turned into a heap? It doesn't make sense. Or is heap just an untidy pile of things that the wrinkled! tape measure has fallen on it? Does "crumple" mean fall here? It can't be since Oxfords definition 1.2 has plainly mentioned "(of a person").

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    Have you looked those up in a dictionary? – user3395 Jun 7 '17 at 20:38
  • If I had not looked them up, I wouldn't certainly have asked their meanings here. It is so much easier to check the meanings in the dictionary than to ask them here. The time used is not comparable. – Diamond Jun 7 '17 at 20:46
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    The Oxford example does not state that crumple can only apply to a person. The phrase "crumple into a heap" is a commonplace (some would say cliché) in English—see this search. Reading some of the links returned there may help you. – P. E. Dant Reinstate Monica Jun 7 '17 at 21:10
  • RE: If I had not looked them up, I wouldn't certainly have asked their meanings here. If you have indeed looked them up, you should tell us where you checked, and what you found (as you did in your edit). Check out Point #3 in this meta question to see why. @P.E.Dant - +1 for pointing out that "(of a person)" is not the same as "exclusively of a person, and never applied to anything else". – J.R. Jun 7 '17 at 21:36
  • Where are the other comments?! – Diamond Jun 8 '17 at 9:02
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Yes, you're on the right track. The tape measure bent (= crumpled) itself into a pile (= heap). The tape itself was the heap. It did not land on a heap.

If the author wanted to say that the tape landed on a heap, she would have written something like

the tape measure crumpled (itself) onto a heap on the floor

Here, into X tells us that X is the result of the transformation. Onto X tells that the thing landed on X or arrived at X.

The dictionary entry 1.2 does in fact say "of a person":

crumple

  1. Crush (something, typically paper or cloth) so that it becomes creased and wrinkled.
    ‘he crumpled up the paper bag’
    ‘a crumpled sheet’
    1.1 [no object] Become creased, bent, or crooked. ‘the bumper crumpled as it glanced off the wall’
    1.2 no object (of a person) suddenly flop down to the ground.
    ‘she crumpled to the floor in a dead faint’
    figurative ‘her composure crumpled’

(Oxford Dictionaries)

However, you can still apply definition 1.1. Also, the tape measure is a magical being. It has the capacity to stretch and bend as it pleases, just like a person. So in that sense, 1.2 applies. In general, you can apply definitions that are "of a person" to non-humans too ("the exhausted puppy crumpled to the ground").


As @StoneyB points out, wound implies a deliberate, regular form enter image description here

whereas crumpled implies a twisted, untidy form

enter image description here

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  • Why has "crumple" been used here?! That's my problem! I would say "wind" instead of "crumple". And what is "heap"? In my mind, heap is some objects put on each other not wound onto each other. – Diamond Jun 7 '17 at 21:30
  • Imagine you have a tape measure in your hand. Wrap it around your hand. That is wind. Now take the tape and crush it. That is crumple. Yes, a heap can be many things piled on top of each other. However, if there is enough of one thing (like a very long strip of tape) to make a mound/pile, that can also be a heap. – Em. Jun 7 '17 at 21:34
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    @user3257464 "Wind" usually implies a deliberate, regular form, like this. A "crumpled" tape looks like this. – StoneyB on hiatus Jun 7 '17 at 21:36
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    @user3257464 It's not magical in and of itself—it is enchanted by Ollivander. When Ollivander releases the tape measure from his thrall, it returns to its normal state. Not all tape measures, by the way, are wound. This one, I think, is just a ribbon of fabric imprinted with numbers. – P. E. Dant Reinstate Monica Jun 7 '17 at 21:45
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    @user3257464 It's not "strange"; it's the author's decision. It is up to you to determine what that implies. Maybe the store is in fact untidy. To me, it suggests that the tape measure abruptly stopped at the master's orders. I'm assuming it can move by its own free will, and that it isn't under the magical control of its owner. – Em. Jun 7 '17 at 21:53
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into means different things according to the verb it follows:

The car crashed into a fire hydrant.

The grub morphed into a butterfly.

She sank into despair.

He changed into a fresh shirt.

They moved into a new apartment.

They drank themselves into a delirium.

He was talked into doing it.

They divided the pie into pieces.

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