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Dumbledore kept that sister of his quiet for a long time.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

I could not find it a phrase in dictionaries. Is it an common idiom? I only found "on the quiet" in dictionaries. I think both phrases mean the same thing.

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    In context, the quoted text meant that Dumbledore tried to prevent people from finding out about his sister. I'm not sure how common an idiom that is; the existing answers describe slightly different ones which may be more common. – Harry Johnston Oct 3 '19 at 18:20
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The text you highlighted contains two very common idioms:

  1. That [x] of his.

  2. Kept quiet.

When people say "that [x] of his/yours", it is usually said disparagingly. For example:

That dog of yours kept me awake all night with its barking.

Instead of saying "your dog", the inference is that the dog isn't even worth naming or referring to properly, hence "that dog"; yet the speaker also wants to apportion blame by saying that the dog is your responsibility.

"Keeping quiet" literally means to maintain silence. Keeping someone else quiet means taking action to ensure that the other person is silent, perhaps by keeping them occupied with something as a distraction, eg:

He kept his dog quiet with a bone.

However, "keeping someone quiet" can also mean to stop them from airing their thoughts or opinions, rather than literally preventing them from speaking.

"Keep quiet about..." can also idiomatically mean that you keep something hidden, that you do not talk about it yourself.

Without context, it is unclear to me whether your example means Dumbledore didn't speak about his sister for a long time, or if he stopped her from speaking (or from having her opinions heard) for a time.

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    "Kept that quiet" here means you kept quiet about them, not that you silenced them - your dog example is not the same one used in the context of OP's quote. – xploshun Oct 3 '19 at 9:58
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    @xploshun I disagree for two reasons - firstly, I've separated two idioms contained in the OPs example because it wasn't clear which part they were asking is idiomatic, so my examples are not meant to follow the format precisely. Secondly, in the OP's example "that" refers to his sister, not the silencing. – Astralbee Oct 3 '19 at 10:05
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    The context is that Dumbledore didn't tell anyone about his sister - you can rewrite OP's quote as "Dumbledore kept quiet about that sister of his". – xploshun Oct 3 '19 at 10:07
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    @xploshun The OP hasn't given the context, unfortunately. I've tried to cover all possible contextual reasons and hopefully, the OP can figure it out. After all, this is an English language learners site, not a Harry Potter Q&A site. – Astralbee Oct 3 '19 at 10:13
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    For the record, in context the meaning is slightly different to either of your suggestions; the character being quoted was saying that Dumbledore (mostly successfully) tried to prevent people from finding out about his sister. I think that's a less common usage, though? (Oh, and the speaker isn't exactly disparaging the sister, either, just emphasising that Dumbledore was responsible for her, because he is being accused of not having taken adequate care of her.) – Harry Johnston Oct 3 '19 at 18:23
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Dumbledore kept that sister of his quiet for a long time.

You should parse the sentence like this:

Dumbledore kept [that sister of his] quiet for a long time.

This would be identical in meaning to:

Dumbledore kept [his sister] quiet for a long time.

Normally "kept quiet" would be interpreted literally, that he kept his sister from making noise, but in context, it is a little unclear whether that's what is meant, or if it means he kept her existence and/or condition secret.

Here are the relevant paragraphs (Chapter 8, page 154):

“Thought wrong, then, didn’t you, Barry!” said Auntie Muriel, looking delighted at the effect she had produced.“Anyway, how could you expect to know anything about it! It all happened years and years before you were even thought of, my dear, and the truth is that those of us who were alive then never knew what really happened. That’s why I can’t wait to find out what Skeeter’s unearthed! Dumbledore kept that sister of his quiet for a long time!”

and later:

“Why did nobody ever see her, Elphias?” squawked Muriel, “Why did half of us never even know she existed, until they carried the coffin out of the house and held a funeral for her? Where was saintly Albus while Ariana was locked in the cellar? Off being brilliant at Hogwarts, and never mind what was going on in his own house!”

(Note that these characters are repeating rumors, and may not be describing the truth of what happened to Albus Dumbledore's sister Ariana.)

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  • This phrasing "Dombledore kept that sister of his quiet for a long time." would never mean he kept quiet about her. it really can only mean that either he kept her from speaking out or kept her from making a fuss--basically kept her from communicating with others in some way. Unless American English is very different from English English it can't mean what you suggest. I suppose it could be an extremely anachronistic way of phrasing what you say if you wanted to be super confusing, but I doubt even that. – Bill K Oct 3 '19 at 21:08
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    @BillK It could certainly mean "Dombledore never talked about his sister" in British English. The fact that "his sister" can speak is irrelevant. "Dombledore kept that accident of his with the broomstick quiet for a long time" would be equally idiomatic BrE. – alephzero Oct 3 '19 at 21:31
  • @BillK You may be right, I'll have to look at my copy tonight to see the full context of the sentence. Some of the passages here do in fact imply that Dumbledore was keeping his sister quiet and calm. – BradC Oct 3 '19 at 21:54
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    But in Deathly Hallows chapter 2, we have "Dumbledore couldn't keep either of them [his brother and his father] quiet anyway, they were both charged by the Wizengamot." That can't possibly mean "Dumbledore couldn't prevent his father from talking", because the crime and the charge occurred while Dumbledore was still a child, and his father died immediately after he completed his education at Hogwarts. – alephzero Oct 3 '19 at 22:34
  • @alephzero That passage is good evidence that the author does sometimes use the phrase to mean "keep (the news about) X quiet", so adds weight to that interpretation here. I don't think it entirely rules out the possibility that it is used differently in the two passages, but at the moment I'm leaning toward your view. In any case, I don't think it changes the meaning of the story all that much; Dumbledore clearly needed to keep her quiet (keep her from making noise) in order to keep her quiet (keep the news about her from getting out). – BradC Oct 4 '19 at 13:47
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"Sister of his" is another way of saying "his sister", so "of his" is not attached to "quiet", but rather "sister".

"Kept that sister of his quiet" means that he did not talk about his sister, specifically hiding information about her. You can find it by looking up "Kept quiet".

This quote is probably easier to understand if you rewrite it as "kept quiet about that sister of his".

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    The way you rewrote the phrase to be "kept quiet about that sister of his" changes the meaning too much. The original phrase implies that he was able to keep other people from talking about his sister as well, through threats or political influence for example. The rewrite only says that he personally did not say anything. – Ukko Oct 3 '19 at 18:25
  • If it was as you say, it would have to be "...kept the news about his sister quiet", and even then it would be difficult. But the intent could easily be similar to what you say--by keeping her from showing herself to others (one definition of keeping her quiet), he is able to keep the news of her existence from others. I don't know the context but if he hadn't be restraining her in some way I bet it wouldn't matter if he didn't talk about her, from the phrasing she would have made herself known. Is this correct in context? – Bill K Oct 3 '19 at 21:17
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    @Bill, she had no contact with the outside world, but not because she had some secret she wanted to tell people, which is the only situation in which you would say "keeping her quiet" to mean "preventing her from talking". The secret was that she was there at all - "kept the existence of his sister quiet", which in (slightly out of date?) British English would commonly be abridged to just "kept his sister quiet". – Harry Johnston Oct 4 '19 at 8:11

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