Four made-up words from Harry Potter

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July 31st marks the birthday of possibly the most famous children’s book character of the last twenty years: Harry Potter. The birth date is also shared by his creator, J. K. Rowling, who was the first person in the world to become a billionaire from writing books. As it happens, I have spent the last few weeks rereading the Harry Potter books, and it is J.K Rowling’s invented words that, for me, really make her world of wizards come alive. It makes sense that wizards would have their own language to refer to things that we non-magical folk have no idea about. Let’s take a look at a few of these words:

Apparate – One of the perks of being a wizard is the ability to disappear from one spot and appear, seconds later, somewhere else. In Harry Potter this teleporting ability is called Apparition. The word is probably derived from the Latin word ‘appareo’ which means ‘appear’. Many of Rowling’s magic spells derive from Latin roots, for example: Accio, Lumos, and Protego. Can you work out what each spell is for?

Muggle – The word Muggle is used in Harry Potter to describe someone who neither has the ability to do magic, nor comes from a magical family. J.K. Rowling may have been inspired by the word ‘mug’, which in British English is a mild insult for a stupid or gullible person – an appropriate choice given that Muggles are often looked down upon in the wizarding world. In 2003, the word was put into the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) due its being widely used in day-to-day language. Its meaning outside of the books extends to describing someone who is unfamiliar with any particular skill or activity.

Squib - The word Squib refers to someone who does not have magical ability despite coming from a magical family – the opposite of Muggle-borns, witches or wizards who are born into a Muggle family. Again, wizarding society tends to look down upon Squibs, often making them the butt of jokes, and the word is fitting as, according to the OED, it can refer to ‘a small, slight, or weak person, especially a child’.

Quidditch - One of the most famous anecdotes about J.K. Rowling’s creation of the Harry Potter world is the invention of the wizarding sport Quidditch, which she came up with after storming out after a row with her then boyfriend. Rowling, perhaps jokingly, has described the row as fuel for the violent nature of the game. The word itself is nonsense-like (in the British children’s literature tradition of Jabberwockies and Heffalumps) which reflects the complicated, fun, and rather unpredictable sport. Fans have suggested that the word might be an amalgamation of the three balls used in the game: Quaffles, Bludgers, and the Golden Snitch.

Magic though Rowling’s world may be, an important message in the books is that magic does not necessarily make life any easier – indeed, the wizarding world is full of the same problems and prejudices that Muggles like us deal with every day. Even Fred and George Weasley’s magic spell-checking quills wear out eventually – perhaps wizards might have use for Spellzone too!

Avani Shah


29 Jul 2013
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