## What does "Scary-lookin' fing, inee" mean?

31

1

... Harry had never met a vampire, but he had seen pictures of them in his Defence Against the Dark Arts classes, and Black, with his waxy white skin, looked just like one.

'He murdered thirteen people?' said Harry, handing the page back to Stan, 'with one curse?'

I'm not sure what the sentence means. I searched on the web: fing could be 'thing', 'effing' and etc, but not quite sure what it is in this context. I can't find a reference for 'inee' anywhere.

-- From Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

8

recommended reading: Yorkshire Joseph's soliloquies from Wuthering Heights. Then ye'll hae done wi' 't.

– dlatikay – 2018-11-11T17:41:49.950

There are Yorkshire dialects that are harder to understand than Brontë’s. For example in parts of South Yorkshire "hole" is pronounced the same way as "oil." The "coil oil" is where you keep the fuel for your kitchen fire ;) – alephzero – 2018-11-11T18:51:27.197

18A Yorkshire friend's family used to have a tin they kept odds and ends in. If anything got lost, the first question was "Tintin?" and the answer if he couldn't find it was "Tintintin." Punctuating, "'t in't tin?" and "'t i'n't in 't tin." And in regular English, "Is it in the tin?" and "It isn't in the tin." It's not just the past which is a different country, and they do things differently there. ;) – Graham – 2018-11-12T08:43:01.503

75

The "standard" spelling is

Scary-looking thing, isn't he?

I'm not entirely sure, but I believe this kind of spelling is called "eye dialect":

Eye dialect is the use of nonstandard spelling for speech to draw attention to pronunciation. The term was coined by George Philip Krapp to refer to the literary technique of using nonstandard spelling that implies a pronunciation of the given word that is actually standard, such as wimmin for women; the spelling indicates that the character's speech overall is dialectal, foreign, or uneducated. This form of nonstandard spelling differs from others in that a difference in spelling does not indicate a difference in pronunciation of a word. That is, it is dialect to the eye rather than to the ear. It suggests that a character "would use a vulgar pronunciation if there were one" and "is at the level of ignorance where one misspells in this fashion, hence mispronounces as well".

The term is less commonly also used to refer to pronunciation spellings, that is, spellings of words that indicate that they are pronounced in a nonstandard way. For example, an author might write dat as an attempt at accurate transcription of a nonstandard pronunciation of that. The rest of this article will discuss the former definition.

(Wikipedia)

There's likely a technical point here I'm unaware of. Anyway, at the very least, the point of this spelling is to show that he speaks very differently from the others. I imagine it possibly reflects a real-world dialect, but I wouldn't know which one.

8@AustereTiger has it on the nose, its a UK English dialect, this one being common to S & E Londonwhere if you're lucky you might hear sayings such as “Inee lavelee” (although London being such a multicultural place, you're more likely to hear a foreign language than a local dialect these days). This answer is OK but as mentioned the spelling is non-standard (e.g. above I used "lavelee" but others might write it "lahvlee" ... and readers of different nationalities might well read the prounciation differently). So my advice to you would be not to read too much into it and just enjoy the book. – Little Code – 2018-11-11T14:44:41.673

@LittleCode What's "lahvlee" short for? – dan – 2018-11-12T00:29:14.523

2@dan normally written as “luvvie” I think - “variant spelling of lovey”, a term of endearment. Alternatively they might mean lovely. – Tim – 2018-11-12T01:28:29.027

2Most of the "strine" we speak in "straya" is written similarly. – mckenzm – 2018-11-12T04:25:28.080

21Lahvlee is short for lovely, not lovey or luvvie. – teslajin – 2018-11-12T07:21:50.400

1@LittleCode you're very likely to hear some variant of Multicultural London English though. Still a local dialect albeit a much newer one! But then, all dialects are in constant flux whether you like it or not. It's not just London itself; it's becoming harder to find the "traditional" local dialects in all sorts of places, not just due to people from abroad but also due to people simply migrating around England much more than they used to. In parts of Hampshire for example you're more likely to hear accents from parts of London and the South East than you are a traditional Hampshire one. – Muzer – 2018-11-12T09:08:47.073

While it may serve a similar purpose, this isn't eye dialect, it's just plain dialect ... for it to be eye dialect, "fing inee" would have to have the same pronunciation as "thing isn't he". – Jim Balter – 2018-11-14T21:23:03.577

22

The English "th" sound is relatively hard to pronounce, and in some English dialects it tends to be replaced by "f" or "v" at the start of words. This is common enough to have a technical name, th-fronting. In the OP's example "thing" is pronounced "fing".

Clusters of consonants tend to be omitted or simplified in some dialects. and "t" in the middle of a word often becomes a glottal stop, so "isn't it" becomes "innit" (which has almost become a word in its own right, used as an indication that someone doesn't speak "correct" English) or even "inni'," with the final "t" turned into a glottal stop. "Isn't he" in the OP's example becomes "inee," or "innee" by analogy with the usual spelling of "innit".

1Does th-fronting occur in word-onset position only with unvoiced th ? Are vis, vat, vese, and vose never heard? – Tᴚoɯɐuo – 2018-11-11T14:10:04.000

1

@Tᴚoɯɐuo I think the analogue there would be "dis, dat, dese, dose". However, I don't know if that corresponds in every dialog that does the voiced th->f thing. But you can definitely hear both the {voiced th}->f and {unvoiced th}->d in the US in https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/African-American_Vernacular_English dialects. Common examples would be with->wif this->dis.

– msouth – 2018-11-11T15:41:23.907

2@Tᴚoɯɐuo People whose native language does not include "th" sounds often say "zis", "zat" for "this", "that". I don't know any English dialect that uses "vis", "vat". but some dialects use "dis", "dat". As the wiki link says, "Unlike the fronting of /θ/ to /f/, the fronting of /ð/ to /v/ usually does not occur word-initially … that is rarely pronounced as *vat) although this was found in the speech of South-East London in a survey completed 1990-4.[1]" – alephzero – 2018-11-11T15:45:11.090

3@msouth Common examples would also include "wiv dis" or even "wid dis" as well as "wif dis". The "th" in "with" can be either voiced or unvoiced, even when it is pronounced as /θ/ or /ð/. In my British Engilsh dialect the "th" in "with" is unvoiced, but some final "th" sounds are voiced, e.g. "forth", "fourth", "fifth", sixth", etc. – alephzero – 2018-11-11T15:54:57.157

@alephzero: Don't you have voiced/unvoiced swapped around there? i.e. "th" in with is voiced /ð/; forth etc are unvoiced /θ/ - right?

– psmears – 2018-11-12T15:38:34.430

1

@alephzero: There are some British dialects that have "vat" for "that" - see the start of the Wikipedia article on th-fronting; it has a link to a study that found this in some areas.

– psmears – 2018-11-12T15:43:33.440

13

That way of speaking is common in some English dialects like South and East London and northern areas around Manchester. "Fing" is just another way of saying "thing" equivalently "innee" is how some people say "isn't he" in some parts of England. I'd imagine it's to show the character's regional accent.

8

You're quite right to suggest thing for "fing". "inee" would be a contracted form of "isn't he" therefore the sentence expanded and pronounced would be:

Scary-looking thing, isn't he?

4

It's common in many dialects throughout England to pronounce 'th' as 'f' and is known as 'th-fronting', so 'thing' could be rendered in writing as 'fing'. It's actually common to the extent that most people don't even realise that they are doing it. The 'inee' bit is referring to 'Isn't he?' but it's obvious that the 'h' is not being pronounced: again, this is quite common.

It's similar to the way that the Spanish language has sounds which are pronounced very differently depending on the country or region of the country to the point where it no longer sounds 'correct' to someone who is learning the language, even though in reality it is normal to just follow the pronunciation which is around you, without worrying whether it is 'correct' or not.