If anyone looked out of their window now, even beady-eyed Mrs. Dursley, they wouldn’t be able to see anything that was happening down on the pavement. Dumbledore slipped the Put-Outer back inside his cloak and set off down the street toward number four, where he sat down on the wall next to the cat. He didn’t look at it, but after a moment he spoke to it.
  “Fancy seeing you here, Professor McGonagall.”
  He turned to smile at the tabby, but it had gone. Instead he was smiling at a rather severe-looking woman who was wearing square glasses exactly the shape of the markings the cat had had around its eyes. She, too, was wearing a cloak, an emerald one. Her black hair was drawn into a tight bun. She looked distinctly ruffled. (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone)

What does the word ‘fancy’ mean, used when meeting someone you know on a place you’ve not expected? I don’t find any right meaning in OALD or Merriam-Webster’s.


1 Answer 1


As commented by @Walter, in OP's context, fancy is a synonym of imagine, believe. But the usage is becoming increasingly "dated"...

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Many of the above instances will be the idiomatic exclamation "Well, fancy that"! (equivalent to "Imagine that!", "What a surprise!", "How strange!", etc.). In OP's context, Dumbledore could quite naturally have used any of those (possibly preceded or followed by something like "I didn't expect to see you here!").

Note that Dumbledore is an elderly British schoolmaster in a relatively "formal" situation (he's greeting Professor McGonagall, one of his staff who apparently happens to have adopted the form of a cat).

Idiomatic expressions as used by Dumbledore won't necessarily be so natural for younger speakers, and per @StoneyB's comment below, even Dumbledore is speaking ironically here. Brits in particular still use fancy = like, want, be attracted to quite naturally today, but fancy = imagine, believe, think is now largely confined to ironic/sarcastic contexts.

  • +1 I think it's also pretty clear that Dumbledore's 'surprise' is ironic - but that of course is LitCrit. Aug 28, 2013 at 17:19
  • @StoneyB: I think you're absolutely right that Dumbledore's 'surprise' is ironic, which I agree technically speaking is an OT LitCrit issue. But your comment reminds me that I had intended to make one more observation regarding current usage of this and related expressions, before I was pulled away from the keyboard. Edit follows... Aug 28, 2013 at 20:04
  • Note that fancy is generally old fashioned even in the UK, with the one key exception of (esp. northern) young Brits who still using the word fancy to mean sexually attracted to (e.g. "Whadda ya talkin' bout? Laura well fancies you, mate")
    – Matt
    Aug 28, 2013 at 20:26
  • @Matt: Perhaps I didn't express myself well, but that was pretty much the point I was trying to make in my edit just now. I think you're probably right that non-facetious fancy = be [sexually] attracted to is more common in the Midlands and North. But I have the impression "I don't fancy that!" ("That does not appeal to me!", indicating mild to moderate revulsion for some proffered food, etc.) is still alive and kicking throughout the land. Aug 28, 2013 at 20:37
  • @FumbleFingers: That's true. Thinking about it, "I'm parched! Fancy a quick beer down the local?" would be perfectly normal and idiomatic in British English.
    – Matt
    Aug 28, 2013 at 21:07

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