7

Chuckling about Malfoy, they waited, Norbert thrashing about in his crate. About ten minutes later, four broomsticks came swooping down out of the darkness. Charlie's friends were a cheery lot. They showed Harry and Hermione the harness they'd rigged up, so they could suspend Norbert between them.

-Harry potter and the sorcerer's stone (J.K Rowling)

'Cheery' means happy and cheerful, but what does it mean by 'they were a cheery lot'? Is it saying

(A) Charlie's friends were very (= a lot) cheery?

(B) Charlie's friends were a lot of people, and they were all cheery?

For me neither of these seems right because I think 'a' and 'lot' cannot be written separately since 'a lot' as a whole means 'very or very much'. And also it looks weird to put an adjective 'cheery' between 'a' and 'lot'.

18

Actually, yes, they can be written "separately". A is the usual indefinite article, whereas lot is a noun that is synonymous with group or bunch. Here's an entry I found from the Oxford Dictionaries Online:

lot
1 informal treated as singular or plural A particular group or set of people or things. ‘it's just one lot of rich people stealing from another’
‘he will need a second lot of tills to handle the second currency’
1.1 British with adjective A group of a specified kind (used in a derogatory or dismissive way)
‘an inefficient lot, our Council’

I doubt it's being used in a "derogatory" way in the story, as the dictionary suggests. It simply means that Charlie's friends were a cheery group. I don't think it suggests that there were many (= a lot) of friends, just enough to constitute a "group".

On a side note, I feel like you're more likely to see a different noun, like bunch (cheery bunch), in AmE. It's understandable in any case.

  • 14
    As a Brit I actually read "a cheery lot" to mean "a miserable bunch". We can be awfully sarcastic over here. – Alan Third Jul 24 '17 at 9:38
  • 1
    Also as a brit, I think any phrase "they are a ___ lot" is almost always meant sarcastically. – Octopus Jul 24 '17 at 21:40
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    @Pharap funnily enough I am a Scot. I get the impression that the further north you travel, the more likely sarcasm will be used in every day conversation. I don't know if that's true, though. – Alan Third Jul 25 '17 at 8:54
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    @stephenS "a cheery lot" can mean they were cheerful, but unless the context shows otherwise, my assumption is that it means they weren't. I don't know that JKR would be thinking "I'll use sarcasm here", it's just how we speak. It's idiomatic. We can't be sure, though, without asking her, unless there's more context in the surrounding text. – Alan Third Jul 25 '17 at 9:06
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    @Alan Third it may be a personal thing, I would take the opposite view and presume that " a cheery lot" meant they were happy, unless the context suggested otherwise. If Tony Hancock said it well it certainly would be sarcastic, though. – Sarriesfan Jul 25 '17 at 10:56
5

In the sentence you cited the word "lot" is a noun. A lot is a group of people (please see here, meaning 2).

I'd say that Charlie and his friends were good company, it was very enjoyable for Harry and Hermione to be with them.

3

"Lot" in this sentence has the meaning of "bunch", group", "collection of people". It doesn't have the meaning that they are all in one group in any formal manner (although here the people are all friends of Charlie).

It means they can be discussed as a group for the moment - I might see a lot of people waiting for a bus in the rain, who don't know each other, and say they look like a miserable lot, meaning, a miserable bunch of people. Or some dogs outside a butcher shop and comment that they look like a hungry or optimistic lot. It also carries a sense of "offhand" informality, there's no formal "group", it's not a usage you would use in formal writing.

The book is using it this way. The author (who is speaking and describing them) is saying that the bunch of people who are arriving are, overall, cheerful (or a set of cheerful looking individuals) in their appearance.

1

This phrase is usually used ironically, i.e. to convey the opposite of what is said. In this case they were clearly not a cheery lot at all, they were a dubious bunch of pranksters.

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