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A low rumbling sound had broken the silence around them. It grew steadily louder as they looked up and down the street for some sign of a headlight; it swelled to a roar as they both looked up at the sky - and a huge motorcycle fell out of the air and landed on the road in front of them. (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone)

Dictionaries have ‘out of thin air,’ but not ‘out of the air.’ Then do I have to read the phrase literally?

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  • yep, this one's literal.
    – mcalex
    Feb 27 '13 at 7:32
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    There is a similar phrase "out of the blue". Though this also has a general meaning of something coming out of nowhere, or something that is unexpected.
    – user485
    Feb 27 '13 at 17:22
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    In English, there are a few "out of" phrases that mean something is surprising, like "out of left field," or "out of nowhere." These phrases all mean that something arrived unexpectedly. A phrase like "That car just came out of nowhere" would mean that the car's arrival was a complete surprise. In the Harry Potter book, this phrase is kind of a joke, because in this case the motorcycle actually fell from the sky, which is not where we expect to see motorcycles coming from. Aug 9 '14 at 1:40
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In this case, it is meant literally, because the motorcycle DID fall from the sky. But more often, "out of the air" is meant figuratively, in the sense of "from a random place."

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It means "out of the sky" as in the huge motorcycle was flying in the sky [in the air above him].

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