Harry Potter and the Magic of Language

Language is alive. It might not be magic, but it's certainly alive – constantly changing, adapting, growing. Language is also a muscle. If you don't use it, it gets weaker and can stop working. And since the English language is evolving all the time, you need to keep your English in good shape!

Shakespeare was a huge contributor to the English language. And authors such as Roald Dahl (author of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory), and Tolkien (Lord of the Rings) were also creators of language. They invented many words while writing their stories, and Tolkien even invented a language – Elvish (the language of Elves) – which you can actually study at some universities in the UK!

J.K. Rowling, the author of the world-famous Harry Potter books has certainly made her mark too.

You may not have realised while reading the books or watching the films, but the language is full of hidden meanings – Rowling invented character names, place names, spells, magical creatures and objects based on other English words put together, but many words also have Greek and Latin roots and various mythological references. Rowling even weaves a parallel of the Christian story into the final book – of one person dying to save everyone else, oh, and coming back to life again (sorry for the spoilers). This melange of stories and languages is universally accessible and arguably what makes the stories quite so compelling.

So, in this article, let's take a look together at the etymology of some of these magical words and at some of the words that have even made it into the Oxford Dictionary…

гарри поттер

Draco Malfoy (Драко Малфой) – Draco comes from the Greek word, drakus (which means 'dragon') and Malfoy may find its roots in the Latin word, malus – 'bad, evil, wicked'. I don't know what's worse really, running into an evil dragon, or Draco Malfoy…

Severus Snape (Северус Снегг) – Severus is the Latin for 'grave, austere, stern, strict, severe'. No wonder he never smiles.

Bellatrix Lestrange (Беллатриса Лестрейндж) – Bellatrix is the name of the third-brightest star in the Orion star constellation, and also means 'female warrior' in Latin, or 'warlike' and 'skilled in war'. Another witch not to mess with.

Remus Lupin – (Римус Люпин) It comes as no surprise that this teacher moonlights as a werewolf when you know that his name comes from the Latin word lupus, which means 'wolf' or closer, lupinus, 'wolfish'.

Luna Lovegood (Полумна (Луна) Лавгуд) – Luna means 'moon' not only in Latin, but in Italian, Romanian and Spanish as well. And the English word lunatic also comes from the word luna, because in the past, people believed that it was the moon that made people behave strangely or madly.

Quirinius Quirrell (Квиринус Квиррелл) – Quirinius is the Latin for 'spear', but it is also a byname given to the Roman god of war, Janus Quirinus, who is often depicted as having two faces…

оксфордский словарь

Expelliarmus – the spell that disarms another wizard, taking away their wand. From the Latin expello, meaning 'I drive away/expel/banish', and the word arma, meaning 'weapon'.

Stupefy – this is actually an English word, which means 'to astonish and shock' but the English word also comes from the Latin, stupeo 'I am stunned, numbed, astonished'. This spell stuns the receiver and leaves them unconscious.

Petrificus Totalus – this spell sort of freezes the opponent's body so that they can't move. Rowling created this spell from three words. Firstly, the Greek word, petros, meaning 'rock' or 'stone'. Then the Latin word facio, which means 'I make' or 'I do'. And the final word is from Medieval Latin, totalis, meaning 'whole' or 'entire'. So when a witch or wizard uses this spell, they are essentially saying something like 'I will make your whole body turn into stone'.

властелин колец
Day-to-day speech

Hogwarts – the famous school of witchcraft and wizardry. The school that I even thought I'd get an invitation to when I turned eleven… but sadly I live in the real world! We can now use this word in day-to-day speech in English to joke about big, old buildings or even university. For example:

'Wow, their house is like a castle! You didn't tell me your parents live in Hogwarts!'

'Did you enjoy the Christmas holidays? Back to Hogwarts again next week then? Well, good luck with your January exams!'

Muggle – this is the name for humans like me and you in the book – people with no magical powers. Sad times. This word is in the Oxford Dictionary. There is even a rumour that the word was inspired by the British slang word mug (meaning 'stupid person'). But in English now, we can use this word colloquially to describe someone who is not very good at something, since muggles are not very good at magic I suppose. For example:

'I'm a bit of a muggle when it comes to speaking Chinese, I don't know a thing!'

властелин колец
Quidditch – the magical sport, played on broomsticks, flying high up in the sky and trying to get the balls through the hoops to score points. This is another word in the Oxford Dictionary. And at my university in Durham, you could even play this game for real! Ok, you couldn't fly, but people ran around a field with brooms between their legs. Muggle Quidditch. It was a surprising popular "sport" at university, which I guess just confirms the stereotype that students have too much free time… ????
Author of this article: Issy, teacher at Campus
4 ноября / 2019