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"The ring, the ring that became the Horcurx, Marvolo Gaunt said it had the Peverell coat of arms on it! I saw him waving it in the bloke from the Ministry's face, he nearly shoved it up his nose!"

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

I don't quite understand "waving it in the bloke from the Ministry's face", especially the uses of 'in' and 'from'. How should we understand it?

14

In someone's face roughly means in front of someone's face, but it can have an aggressive connotation:

in (one's) face
1. Physically in front of one's face.
If you stick that dead bug in my face, I'm going to come after you!
Can you believe he just slammed the door in my face like that?
(TFD)

From just tells us the person's origin, so to speak,

from
3. preposition
A person from a particular organization works for that organization.
...a representative from the Israeli embassy.
(Collins Dictionary)

So, the speaker saw him (= Marvolo Gaunt?) waving it in front of the bloke's face, the bloke who was from the Ministry.


In the comments, you ask

Does that possessive 's in "the bloke from the Ministry's face" look strange to you? Is it normal to place 's like that?

It looks a little strange because writers will generally avoid this in formal writing. However, it is possible is casual speech. And that is what the author is writing. Coincidentally, after your comment, I heard someone say, "It's in John from Ohio's car". In both cases, we understand it as

  • in [John from Ohio]'s car
    in John's car, John who is from Ohio
    from [Ohio's car]
  • in [the bloke from the Ministry]'s face
    in the bloke's face, the bloke who is from the Ministry
    from [the Ministry's face]

The two may be not be strictly grammatical, but the structure certainly has currency in lax, spontaneous, or casual speech. And that is what the author is trying to reproduce.

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    It's precisely because it's not grammatical that it was chosen. The author is a professional who chooses her words carefully. She is simply trying to reproduce casual speech. The two certainly have currency in lax, spontaneous, or casual speech. – Em. Dec 8 '19 at 19:43
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    @Lambie It may be informal, and awkward-sounding due to the length of the noun phrase, but it arguably isn't an error. You might not have a similar bad feeling about, for instance, "the king of Spain's supper." See the paragraph about how "['s] can be attached to the last word of a noun phrase": en.wikipedia.org/wiki/English_possessive#Nouns_and_noun_phrases – Miles Dec 8 '19 at 21:18
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    @Lambie: People talk like this all the time. When you're writing dialog in a novel, you write the way people talk, which doesn't necessarily follow the strict grammatical rules of formal English. If the editors had tried to correct this (I bet they didn't), Rowling would have written stet. – Peter Shor Dec 8 '19 at 23:00
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    @Lambie Sorry, but this is grammatical - just made awkward by the length of the compound noun. As "the bloke from the ministry" is Bob Odgen, you can make this more obvious by via substitution: "I saw him waving it in Bob's face, he nearly shoved it up his nose". (Similarly, "I saw him waving it in the face of Bob" is also grammatical, but just as awkward) The difference between the two sentences is the emphasis of the subject: the version used emphasises "the face", while your version treats Bob ("the bloke from the ministry") as the important part of the subject. – Chronocidal Dec 9 '19 at 7:38
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    @Lambie, There's no kind way to dress this up. You're simply mistaken. – Strawberry Dec 9 '19 at 12:27
11

What you have here, I believe, is called a Group Genitive (see Collins). See the third section for more on this.


Meaning in Context:

From Cambridge, a bloke is "a man, often one who is considered to be ordinary." This is used informally. See sheila.

In your case, Harry is saying that he saw Gaunt waving (= brandishing) the ring "in the face of a Ministry official (= Bob Ogden)."

The sentence would look something like this if you simplify it:

... waving it in the man's (= man from the Ministry) face.

... waving it in the bloke's face. The bloke from the Ministry.

... waving it in the bloke-from-the-Ministry's face. [The hyphens make it easier to read this]

... waving it in the bloke from the Ministry's face.

From this EL&U post Difference between “at someone's face” vs “in someone's face” vs “to someone's face”,

"In my face" is used when someone is confronting you, arguing with you, or pointing out that they believe you have done something wrong."


Strange or not:

To me, "bloke from the Ministry's face" seems a bit strange with regards to the possessive ('s) - it is too far removed from "bloke". This might be acceptable in informal contexts (e.g., casual conversation among friends).

If "the bloke from the ministry" is being used as a nick name or a title in this context, then it could be treated like a noun.


On Group Genitive:

There are other examples that resemble the possessive (called a group genitive) in your case. See Formation of possessive construction for "the king of Spain's", "the man we saw yesterday's", and "the King of England's" (Miles provided this link in the comments).

See this ThoughtCo. article: Group Genitive

In English grammar, the group genitive is a possessive construction (such as "the man next door's cat") in which the clitic appears at the end of a noun phrase whose final word is not its head or not its only head. Also called a group possessive or phrasal possessive.

Group genitive constructions are more common in everyday speech than in formal writing.

Also see this EL&U post Adding a possessive to a singular noun phrase that ends in a plural noun for similar strange examples: "The clock under the curtain’s hour hand broke off", "The clock mounted on wheels' hour hand broke off", and "the Queen of England’s hat".

The EL&U post cites this source material: The English “Group Genitive” is a Special Clitic. I don't have the expertise to understand the technical aspect of the paper. But it does have similar expressions: "The man in the hall’s taste in wallpaper is appalling."

  • Can you say a bit more about the uses of 'in' and 'from' specifically, and what meaning they convey in the sentence? Those prepositions seem to be important to the question. – dwilli Dec 8 '19 at 3:34
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    "waving it in the bloke-from-the-Ministry's face" makes much more sense to me. Usually, I'd expect the bloke's face. The place where 's is added looks strange to me. That's something confused me originally I think. – dan Dec 8 '19 at 3:41
  • @dan I would expect that too. Yes, it is a bit strange. But I doubt it would bother or throw off native speakers. – AIQ Dec 8 '19 at 3:57
  • @dwilli Oh yes, I think Em's answer took care of that. Lucky me! – AIQ Dec 8 '19 at 4:21
  • To me (native British speaker) your first two clock examples feel very odd to me, but the Queen is perfectly natural; perhaps English queens and Ministry blokes are perfectly common pairings, but wheels or curtains aren't usually associated with clocks? But this is just one poster from ELL's opinion. – Ken Y-N Dec 9 '19 at 1:33
7

The cause of the confusion in this sentence is that the speaker doesn't recall the name of the person he is speaking about. The person's actual name in the story is Bob Ogden. Let us therefore reconstruct the sentence with that information:

I saw him waving it in Bob's face, he nearly shoved it up his nose!

This sentence is much simpler. It simply means that Marvolo Gaunt was aggressively showing Bob the ring in a very up-close way. So much so that the ring nearly went up Bob's nose. However, because the speaker does not know Bob's name, he has to substitute a generic noun – "bloke". This simply means "a man". In the context of a conversation referring to a specific person, it is usually not very helpful to say "the bloke" or "the man", because the listener will likely not know which specific person is being referred to. Indeed, that is why a name would be used in the first place.

In this case, the speaker uses the best description he can come up with at the moment to try to limit the pool of possible people he can be referring to. Thus he says "the bloke from the Ministry" – i.e. it wasn't any random man, it was the specific man from the Ministry. "Man from _______" would not be an uncommon mode of speech at all. You might say "the man from Australia" to refer to someone who had come from Australia. In this case, as described earlier in the story, the man in question had come from the Ministry.

Knowing this we can now replace "Bob" from above with the phrase that was used as a substitute for his name, and we get the original sentence:

I saw him waving it in the bloke from the Ministry's face

The 's is still necessary to show the possessive. There is nowhere else to put it, so it goes at the end of the entire phrase (bloke from the Ministry) that represents the person who is possessing.

  • +1 This is a great explanation, Alex. "In this case, the speaker uses the best description he can come up with at the moment to try to limit the pool of possible people he can be referring to. Thus he says "the bloke from the Ministry" – i.e. it wasn't any random man, it was the specific man from the Ministry." - perfect! – AIQ Dec 8 '19 at 17:44
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    There's also a dismissive element to the sentence. I mean, "the bloke from the Ministry" may not be very precise, as there are presumably many blokes working at the Ministry. But this sentence is a way of dismissively lumping them all into one pseudo-faceless embodiment of the Ministry itself, i.e. "It doesn't matter which bloke I'm talking about, just that he's one of those Ministry people that are a bunch of unremarkable bureaucrats whose names I can't be bothered to remember." – Darrel Hoffman Dec 9 '19 at 20:00
3

The construction "in the bloke from the Ministry's face" feels awkward because the posessive is so far from the owning noun. If it were "in the face of the bloke from the Ministry" it'd be less ambiguous but it'd feel more stilted. "Waving it in the Minister's face" might be inaccurate if it's a low-level official.

For an informal, young speaker like Ron, the given speech seems appropriate.

  • The speaker is Harry, not Ron. Also, in online versions there are other weird things: quotev.com/story/8773661/Not-Quite-The-Chosen-One/106 We really need to nail down what version and book the OP's quote is taken from. Read the bit starting with Marvolo Gaunt. See all the mistakes? Generally, Harry's English is not odd. – Lambie Dec 9 '19 at 17:37
  • Oops. I guess the oddness of the English actually made me think it was Ron. – Ross Presser Dec 9 '19 at 21:09
  • Exactly, it would be much more likely that Ron might make that kind of slip. Harry's speech is usually very idiomatic. Without hiccups. – Lambie Dec 9 '19 at 21:11
-8

There is an editing error in this text:

  • I saw him waving it in the bloke from the Ministry's face, he nearly shoved it up his nose!"

In English, you wave something in someone's face.

Ergo: there are two possibilities here.

  • I saw him waving it in the face of the bloke from the Ministry.
  • I saw him waving it in the Ministry bloke's face.

I'm sorry but unlike all the answers, I will just say: the English as quoted is not grammatical. Her editors failed to catch it. That's all.

"wave [something] in the face of [someone]

They seemed defiant, waving cell phones in the faces of seven uniformed officers. The New Yorker

FADE IN to CAROLINE waving a Post-it in the face of her beleaguered mother. The Guardian

They could not have waved a redder flag in the face of some scholars. The New York Times

It was like waving a red flag in the face of the Redskin football fanatics. The Huffington Post

The base idiom here is: to wave something in someone's face

Bear these points in mind:

Both Hermione and Harry's speech is usually very clear.
- He does not make sentences that do not read well.
- JK Rowling herself has stated she makes mistakes. Mostly plot or information mistakes.
- It is as likely, therefore, that she also made a few other slips ups. - Harry has RP and all his speech is grammatically standard.

I did not mention grammar in my answer. I said the text is not idiomatic English.

Idioms are adjusted to fit an utterance:

The idiom here is: to wave something in someone's face

  • I saw him waving it in the bloke from the Ministry's face, he nearly shoved it up his nose! [buzzer]
  • I saw him waving it in the face of the Ministry's bloke, he nearly shoved it up his nose!
  • I saw him waving it in the face of the bloke from the Ministry, he nearly shoved it up his nose!
  • I saw him waving it in the face of the Ministry bloke, he nearly shoved it up his nose!

Those last three sentences above make the sentence cohere with the idiomatic usage of: to wave something in someone's face.

wave something in someone's

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Maulik V Dec 18 '19 at 2:15

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