Real World Words of Harry Potter

Calling All Muggles

Do you know why we non-magical folks are referred to as muggles in the world of Harry Potter?

J.K. Rowling says she created the word muggle from mug, an English term for someone who is easily fooled. At the 2004 World Book Day, Rowling said: "I was looking for a word that suggested both foolishness and loveability. The word 'mug' came to mind, for somebody gullible, and then I softened it. I think 'muggle' sounds quite cuddly. I didn't know that the word 'muggle' had been used as drug slang at that point... ah well."

It's true, one of the other definitions for muggle, is a slang term for marijuana, but obviously that's not where Rowling was going. Let’s look at how other dictionary.com words are re-imagined in the wizarding world.

Quidditch

Quidditch is a word coined by J.K. Rowling to describe an imaginary game in which players fly on broomsticks. Muggle versions of the game now exist in our world, and knowledge of the game is so widespread that yes, it has been officially added to dictionary.com.

We first learn about Quidditch in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, when Ron Weasley explains the game to Harry Potter, during the train ride to school:

“What’s your Quidditch team?” Ron asked.

“Er—I don’t know any,” Harry confessed.

“What!” Ron looked dumbfounded. “Oh, you wait, it’s the best game in the world—” And he was off, explaining all about the four balls and the positions of the seven players….

Boggart

A boggart is a ghost or poltergeist.

In Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Harry and his friends learn about boggarts in Professor R.J. Lupin’s Defense Against the Dark Arts class. When Professor Lupin asks: “What is a boggart?” Hermione Granger answers:

“It’s a shape-shifter,” she said. “It can take the shape of whatever it thinks will frighten us.”

Laughter is the key to repelling a horrifying boggart. “It requires force of mind,” Lupin explains. “What you need to do is force it to assume a shape that you find amusing.” Then, use your wand “and cry ‘Riddikulus.’”

Basilisk

A basilisk in classical mythology is a creature that looks like a serpent, lizard, or dragon, and can kill by its breath or look.

In Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, the basilisk that’s gotten loose in the Hogwarts castle is just as dangerous. Any person or animal that looks directly in its eye will be killed—and looking at it indirectly can cause the victim to be Petrified.

Harry meets the basilisk—also referred to as a serpent or snake—in the Chamber of Secrets:

The basilisk was moving toward Harry; he could hear its heavy body slithering heavily across the dusty floor….The enormous serpent, bright, poisonous green, thick as an oak trunk, had raised itself high in the air and its great blunt head was weaving drunkenly between the pillars.

Mandrake

A mandrake is a narcotic, short stemmed European plant.

In Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, we learn that a Mandrake, or Mandragora, is a powerful, restorative plant. They are used to “return people who have been transfigured or cursed to their original state. Professor Sprout teaches herbology students how to repot the plants. They must wear earmuffs, because “the cry of a Mandrake is fatal to anyone who hears it.”

When Professor Dumbledore tells Argus Filch that his cat, Mrs. Norris, is Petrified (not dead), mandrakes are the solution:

“We will be able to cure her, Argus,” said Dumbledore patiently. “Professor Sprout recently managed to procure some Mandrakes. As soon as they have reached their full size, I will have a potion made that will revive Mrs. Norris.”

Gryffindor

In classical mythology, a griffin —also spelled gryphon or griffon—is a fabled monster with the head and wings of an eagle and the body of a lion. Legend has it that griffins were brave, strong and wise.

In the wizarding world, Gryffindor is one of the four houses at the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Harry Potter, Ron Weasely and Hermione Granger are all Gryffindors. The symbol of Gryffindor House is a lion, and the characteristics of Gryffindor students are courage, bravery and determination.

In Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, the Sorting Hat says:

You might belong in Gryffindor,

Where dwell the brave at heart,

Their daring, nerve, and chivalry

Set Gryffindors apart

Hippogriff

A hippogriff is a fabulous creature resembling a griffin, with the body and hind parts of a horse.

In Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Harry and his classmates meet Buckbeak and other hippogriffs in a Care of Magical Creatures class taught by Hagrid:

Trotting toward them were a dozen of the most bizarre creatures Harry had ever seen. They had the bodies, hind legs, and tails of horses, but the front legs, wings, and heads of what seems to be giant eagles, with cruel, steel-colored beaks and large, brilliantly orange eyes. The talons on their front legs were half a foot long and deadly looking.

“Now, firs’ thing ye gotta know abou’ hippogriffs is, they’re proud,” said Hagrid. “Easily offended, hippogriffs are. Don’t never insult one, ’cause it might be the last thin yeh do.”

Marauder’s Map

A marauder is someone who roams or goes on a quest of plunder.

In Harry Potter, marauders are more mischievous than criminal. The Marauder’s Map is a magical document that young wizards use to roam within Hogwarts and find secret passages to leave the castle.

In Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Fred and George Weasley give the Marauder’s Map to Harry. Fred says it helps “a new generation of law-breakers.” At first, Harry thinks it’s a “bit of old parchment”:

George took out his wand, touched the parchment lightly and said, “I solemnly swear that I am up to no good.”

[The Marauder’s Map] was a map showing every detail of the Hogwarts castle and grounds. But the truly remarkable thing were the tiny ink dots moving around it, each labeled with a name in minuscule writing.

Remembrall

OK, you won’t find Remembrall in the dictionary, but the name of the magic ball sent to Neville Longbottom is clearly inspired by the word remember. Add that with "ball" (and maybe "all"), and you've got a great portmanteau—a word made by putting together parts of other words.

In Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Neville shows his friends “a glass ball the size of a large marble, which seemed to be full of white smoke.”

“It’s a Remembrall!” he explained. “Gran know I forget things—this tells you if there’s something you’ve forgotten to do. Look, you hold it tight like this and if it turns red…you’ve forgotten something.”