“I wouldn’ say no teh a bit o’ yer birthday cake, neither.”

“He usually gets me ter do important stuff fer him.”

               —Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

Hagrid’s pronunciation of to is spelled ter in the book, so teh seems to be an article, at least according to Wiktionary.

However, it seems to be an uncommon usage, so I would please like to know its meaning, plus when this particular usage may be safely adopted.


3 Answers 3


As tchrist and Matt Эллен tell you, this is 'eye dialect'. It doesn't represent any particular pronunciation: it's just JKR's way of signalling that you should 'hear' Hagrid speaking a non- or sub-standard variety of the language.

The inconsistency comes about because JKR's usual (and arbitrary) use of {ter} trips her up. JKR (and, presumably, Hagrid) speaks a non-rhotic dialect, so she naturally spells an unstressed to with an {r}, which to her (and generations of British writers) represents a contrast between 'proper' /tu/ and 'dialect' /tə/.

(Never mind the fact that that's how everybody actually pronounces to in most contexts).

But in most non-rhotic English dialects, when syllable-terminal /r/ occurs appears before a vowel it is pronounced, in effect as the head of the following syllable. JKR does not want to suggest the pronunciation /tərə/ for to a; so she changes her arbitrary {ter} to an equally arbitrary {teh}.

(Never mind the other fact that it is precisely in this context that most speakers, standard or non-, will actually pronounce to as /tu/. We're dealing with literary convention, not phonetic fact.)

HP 1 (Harry Potter and the Philosopher's/Sorcerer's Stone) was published in 1997, which I suppose was before the chat/text spelling {teh} for {the} became current. Or perhaps I am wrong in that supposition, and JKR was merely not at the time aware of the {teh} convention, either because she was too old (32) and too literarily educated (BA Exeter in French and Classics) to frequent circles where it was current or because she was too poor to have internet access.

  • 1
    I find her (or should that be huh? :) mixing of ter and yer and fer to be annoying, confusing, or both.
    – tchrist
    Apr 2, 2013 at 12:39
  • @tchrist I do too. Perhaps if she'd read Linguistics or English Lit she'da done better. But I remember being very confused by the conventional <r>s when I was a boy reading mostly English English novels. Apr 2, 2013 at 13:49
  • 2
    JKR was and is too old for "teh" "interwebs", huh?
    – Ryan Amos
    Apr 2, 2013 at 15:53
  • 1
    @RyanAmos Well ... possibly too old and literary for the boards where l337 was written. Texting of course antedates HP 1. Apr 2, 2013 at 17:19
  • @StoneyB: Texting does, yes, but it was nowhere near as widespread in the late 90s as it is today – which I think was part of your original point.
    – J.R.
    Apr 3, 2013 at 0:57

This is nothing more than eye dialect, which per Wikipedia means simply:

Eye dialect is the use of nonstandard spelling for speech to draw attention to pronunciation. The term was originally coined by George P. 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.

Some notable authors who utilize eye dialect include Mark Twain, Joel Chandler Harris, William Faulkner, Robert Ruark, Charles Dickens, Alex Haley, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Terry Pratchett, and Russell Hoban.

However, most authors are likely to use eye dialect with restraint, sprinkling nonstandard misspelling here and there to serve as a cue to the reader about all of a character’s speech, rather than as an accurate phonetic representation.

While mostly used in dialogue, eye dialect may appear in the narrative depiction of altered spelling made by a character (such as in a letter or diary entry), generally used to more overtly depict characters who are poorly educated or semi-literate.

Eye dialect is often employed when authors wish to establish a sympathetic sense of superiority between themselves and the reader as contrasted with the nonstandard speech of the character. Such spellings serve mainly to “denigrate the speaker so represented by making him or her appear boorish, uneducated, rustic, gangsterish, and so on”. “The convention violated is one of the eyes, not of the ear”.

Note that beyond those you’ve yourself highlighted, o’ and yer and fer are all also eye-dialect examples in the supercited passage from Rowling’s first book.


It means to as well. i.e. "I wouldn't say no to a bit of your birthday cake."

It's just a different way of representing how Hagrid sounds.

Teh is a shortening of the pronunciation ter.

In spoken English, especially in British English, /ɑː/ can be shortened to /ɛ/ or /ə/ at the end of words.

  • 1
    Function words (always?) get reduced in normal phrasal use, as opposed to in citation form. So in your cited sentenced, all of no, a, of, and your git riduced.
    – tchrist
    Apr 2, 2013 at 12:14
  • 1
    Perhaps Hagrid was just making the wrong mistake. Apr 2, 2013 at 20:01

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