"I've decided to call him [= little dragon] Norbert," said Hagrid, looking at the dragon with misty eyes. "He really knows me now, watch. Norbert! Norbert! Where's Mummy?"
"He's lost his marbles," Ron muttered in Harry's ear.
"Hagrid," said Harry loudly, "give it two weeks and Norbert's going to be as long as your house. Malfoy could go to Dumbledore at any moment." Hagrid bit his lip.
"I –– I know I can't keep him forever, but I can't jus' dump him, I can't."
Harry suddenly turned to Ron.
“Charlie,” he said.
"You're losing it, too," said Ron. "I'm Ron, remember?"
"No –– Charlie –– your brother, Charlie. In Romania. Studying dragons. We could send Norbert to him. Charlie can take care of him and then put him back in the wild!"
(Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone)

Being the referent of ‘it’ is ‘marbles’, I’m wondering why it is not ‘them.’


"You've lost your marbles" and "You're losing it" are both English idioms meaning "you are losing your sanity" or "you are acting foolishly". In general "marbles" is a slang term for brains. In context "it" in "losing it" means "mind" or "sanity".

So "it" here does not refer to "marbles", but simply to sanity. Both phrases mean essentially the same thing, so it is appropriate to say "too" -- he means, "you also are going crazy", and not specifically re-using the "marbles" idiom.

  • 1
    I think it's interesting that JKR (and you, reflecting the usages back) choose to use present perfect with marbles, and present continuous with it, sanity, mind, etc. I don't know how this could be checked from corpora, but I have a distinct sense that reversing those tenses would be significantly less common for both versions. – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Jul 25 '13 at 15:36
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    @FumbleFingers I fully agree that it is more common to use "lost his/her/your marbles" only when the act of going crazy is completed; I rarely hear "losing his marbles". However, I feel "losing it" and "lost it" are about equally common, and JKR really did mean to express that one person was already crazy and the other was still in the process. – KutuluMike Jul 25 '13 at 16:06
  • @FumbleFingers Interesting point. I don't recall ever hearing someone say, "You are losing your marbles", it's always past tense. – Jay Jul 25 '13 at 16:16
  • @Michael, Jay: On reflection, I'm not so sure present continuous is actually less common than present perfect with the alternatives, but it does seem we all feel the opposite bias occurs with marbles. It be good if someone could produce evidence to support that proposition - and even better if they could explain it. I wonder how it would go down if I asked about this on ELU. – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Jul 25 '13 at 16:27
  • @FumbleFingers I'd be interested in the answer if you do; you should post a link here! – WendiKidd Jul 26 '13 at 0:17

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