When Mr. and Mrs. Dursley woke up on the dull, gray Tuesday our story starts, there was nothing about the cloudy sky outside to suggest that strange and mysterious things would soon be happening all over the country. Mr. Dursley hummed as he picked out his most boring tie for work, and Mrs. Dursley gossiped away happily as she wrestled a screaming Dudley into his high chair.
(Harry Potter)

It seems that "picked out his most boring tie" creates an antinomy [contradiction]. How can a person pick something boring out for work? Is there a certain meaning for boring with materials, or am I wrong in understanding the word?

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    It's characterization. Dursley is a boring person in a boring job, so naturally when he feels most 'himself', he picks his most boring tie. ... Alas, this is Literary Criticism, and therefore Off Topic. – StoneyB on hiatus Feb 22 '13 at 11:52
  • @kiamlaluno: After a brief discussion over on chat, I'd strongly suggest replacing "antinomy" with a more commonly-used word, such as "contradiction" or "paradox". – Steve Melnikoff Feb 22 '13 at 11:55
  • @SteveMelnikoff That is fine, but also the accepted answer should be changed, since it is using antinomy too. – kiamlaluno Feb 22 '13 at 12:09
  • @StoneyB How is this Literary Criticism? I think the OP was confused by "most boring" in general, and not necessarily by anything else in the paragraph. (Just curious as to your reasoning!) – WendiKidd Feb 23 '13 at 0:08
  • @WendiKidd Because boring is chosen not on linguistic but on literary grounds; because its meaning cannot be derived from the text alone but from the dromenon of which the text is merely the skin. – StoneyB on hiatus Feb 23 '13 at 0:22

This is an example of style. Ms Rowling is using, erm, an antinomy to make a (somewhat) humorous point.

No, there isn't a certain meaning for 'boring' with materials. It means not interesting, or tedious*.

You are correct in thinking it strange you normally wouldn't pick out a boring tie (or anything else) to wear. How you dress shows your style (regardless of whether you dress to impress, whether you have a complete lack of style, or whether your attitude toward being stylish is one of 'who cares?'). Generally, people wouldn't like to show themselves as being boring (even if they are).

But this is the author's point. The reader's feelings for the Dursleys are generally those of antipathy, due to the behaviour that they have demonstrated. Given this, one would not be surprised to find their behaviour in other areas to be less than appealing (especially to the average reader). Therefore, in Mr Dursley's case choosing a boring tie is entirely appropriate for the sort of person he has been shown to be.

So, essentially, yes, it is an odd way to behave, but the author is making a point of that oddness, so in the context of the story, it does make sense.

*: In this context. Boring also means drilling a big hole, but that's not relevant right now.

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  • To Ms Rowling it may have been the most boring/dull/etc tie but to Mr Dursley it may very well have been his fanciest/daring/exciting/etc tie. This is what causes the confusion. – Marc van Dongen Feb 22 '13 at 7:36
  • errm, no, I don't think so. ".. as he picked out his most boring tie ..." Dursley is an obnoxious character and part of that obnoxiousness is being uncaring about what others might think. Wearing a boring tie would fit right into that behaviour - imho. – mcalex Feb 22 '13 at 7:42
  • It's not the he that matters. Let me expand. If you say "He picks my tie" it doesn't mean that he picks the tie that is his but that he picks the tie that is mine. Likewise, if you say "He picks his tie" it means the picks the tie that is his. If he picks his most boring tie this means he picked the most boring tie that is his. What is not clear is who thinks the tie is (most) boring. E.g. I think that if you say "He picks my most boring tie" it may mean that (1) he picks the tie that I think is the most boring, or (2) the tie that he thinks is the is the most boring one. – Marc van Dongen Feb 22 '13 at 8:30
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    Why is "picked out his most boring tie for work" an antinomy? I could say "I picked out the boring tasks" and it doesn't sound as an antinomy; it just means I prefer doing first the boring jobs, and then the funny ones. – kiamlaluno Feb 22 '13 at 9:14
  • @kiamlaluno one for OP, methinks. I could see what Listenever meant by the word, and the definition isn't that much of a stretch. Your example is less antinomonous(?) because of the clause after the semicolon, but if you had just picked out the boring tasks - and left the funny ones for someone else to do - that would capture OP's intent with the word. – mcalex Feb 22 '13 at 9:33

In the context of fashion, boring would be an antonym for flashy, and a "boring tie" would be one unlikely to catch someone's attention.

Collins defines flashy as "brilliant and dazzling"; Macmillan defines flashy as "very bright and colorful".

So, if these were the ties available in the closet:

different neckties

I would say that (especially with a white dress shirt):

  • a is a bright necktie
  • d is a loud or ostentatious necktie
  • c and e are plaid neckties, but they might also be called unusual neckties

and also – especially in comparison with the others:

  • b could be called a boring necktie, or the most boring of the lot.

In this fashion context, boring could be a synonym for understated, although I'd probably consider understated to have more positive, professional overtones, and boring to be more negative, and perhaps a somewhat slangier term. If I thought someone was dressed too flashy, I might say:

Why don't you try a more understated tie?

whereas if I thought their outfit looked too plain for the occasion, I might say:

Why don't you try a less boring tie?

So, in a fashion sense, I might say:

Lady Gaga is not exactly known for wearing boring clothes.

as a way of saying:

Lady Gaga is known for her outlandish outfits.

With all that said, I think it's important to back up what mcalex mentioned in his answer. The author is doing some character development, and I very much doubt that Mr. Dursley's closet is filled with ties like the ones I've depicted above. Instead, I would guess that all of his ties are rather mundane, but, on this boring day, Mr. Dursley picked out the most boring tie out of all his boring neckties.

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