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Perhaps it was because he was now so busy, what with Quidditch practice three evenings a week on top of all his homework, but Harry could hardly believe it when he realized that he'd already been at Hogwarts two months.

I have 2 questions about the sentence:

  1. I don't quite understand the usage of 'what', because I feel it's fine to write: Perhaps it was because he was now so busy with Quidditch practice three evenings a week on top of all his homework, ...

  2. I doubt the usage of 'but', I think 'so' seems make more sense to me. E.g.

Perhaps it was because he was now so busy, what with Quidditch practice three evenings a week on top of all his homework, so Harry could hardly believe it when he realized that he'd already been at Hogwarts two months.

P.S. The sentence is from Harry Potter.

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  • so doesn't work. Perhaps there was a reasonable explanation for his distorted sense of the passage of time but Harry could hardly believe ...
    – TimR
    Oct 11, 2018 at 14:00
  • @Tᴚoɯɐuo is it like saying: although there seems to be a good reason (for Harry to believe it), he still could hardly believe ...?
    – dan
    Oct 11, 2018 at 14:36
  • Yes, even though he was able to explain how two months had elapsed in what seemed only the blink of an eye (the reason: he was so busy that he had lost track of the passage of time), nonetheless he could hardly believe that two months had elapsed.
    – TimR
    Oct 11, 2018 at 14:53

1 Answer 1

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What is mildly exclamatory there.

He couldn't get to sleep, what with all the honking horns on the street ten storeys below. He was never going to stay in this hotel again.

Compare the following where "Why" and "what" are both used as mild exclamations:

"Church has been nice and you could get home at a decent hour. Why lately everything is in utter chaos and heaven only knows what time service will be over, what with all the blubbering going on." -- Heartbeat of Intercession by Velma Goostree, 2009.

but is simply reversing the spin of the initial clause:

Perhaps it was only to be expected that there would be traffic noise in the city, but he was never going to stay in that hotel again.

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  • can all those words like what, why, when, how, etc be used this way?
    – dan
    Oct 11, 2018 at 14:18
  • Not all. Why, what, and how.
    – TimR
    Oct 11, 2018 at 14:27
  • Can we take "what with" as a whole in this case? I looked up "what with" and it can mean "Taking into consideration; because of". It also seems to make sense to interpret it as: he was now so busy, because of Quidditch practice three evenings a week on top of all his homework.
    – dan
    Oct 12, 2018 at 6:42
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    @dan: "With" alone means "taking into consideration, because of". With all the noise, he couldn't sleep. "what"has been an interjection with exclamatory force in English for over 1500 years. In What with all the noise, he couldn't sleep what adds some force to the statement.
    – TimR
    Oct 12, 2018 at 9:24
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    @dan see the big OED under what, #21. "Exclamatory and allied uses".
    – TimR
    Oct 12, 2018 at 11:03

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