Everyone knows JK Rowling is a wordsmith. When you’re the creator of a mythical world, you’re pretty much required to devise new vocabulary words. Just look at Tolkien or George R.R. Martin. They’ve made bajillions of dollars just by stringing a bunch of letters together into terms that didn’t previously exist. (I think . . .I might’ve just described every book on the planet.) Shakespeare perfected this process and apparently passed the torch to Tolkien, who ultimately passed it to JK Rowling, who has locked it in a glass case and refuses to share. In honor of Warner Bros. new HP spinoff that was recently announced, here are a handful terms (out of a few hundred) that the author concocted. (NOTE: Many of these words existed before Rowling’s time. She invented new definitions for some of these words, thus bringing them back into circulation.):
1) Squib (n.): a non-magical person who is born to magical parents
Before I explain squib, I should probably clarify that it is not “squid.” While I’m sure Rowling is a very intelligent lady, I doubt she would have enough background on marine life to have the authority to name a type of cephalopod. Squib actually refers to a non-magical person who is born to parents that are witches or wizards. Though it’s not entirely confirmed, many believe squib comes from the expression “damp squib” which means a firecracker that comes out like a fizz rather than a loud bang. In this way, it’s often used to describe something that people expect to be amazing, but ends up being disappointing.
2) Mudblood (n.): a magical person who is born to non-magical parents
The opposite of a squib, a mudblood is a witch or wizard born to Muggle parents (another word that Rowling created). Less linguistically fancy than some of Rowling’s other words, mudblood is simply a mix of “mud” and “blood,” used to indicate blood that has been tainted or dirtied by their Muggle status. The only good thing to come out of this term is Draco Malfoy’s face when he tells Hermione she’s a “filthy little mudblood.”
3) Horcrux (n.): an object infused with a fragment of a person’s soul
Horcrux comes from the French word “dehors” meaning “outside” and “crux” meaning “soul,” which blend together to make “the outside soul.” A centerpiece of the seventh Harry Potter book, horcruxes represent objects infused with parts of a person’s soul as a way of ensuring a longer life. (Though, if that meant being doomed to look like Voldemort forever, I think I’d pass on that offer.)
4) Animagus (n.) a witch or wizard who can morph into an animal at will
Nerd moment: if I could have any superpower, it would be the ability to turn into animals at any moment, like Beast Boy from Teen Titans but without the consistent green color. A more sophisticated term for this power is “animagus,” which JK Rowling plucked from the depths of her own mind. It is a portmanteau of the English word “animal” and the Latin term “magus” meaning “magician” or “sorcerer.” Fun fact: JK Rowling has stated that she’d like her animagus to be an otter. What’s yours? Mine is a bald eagle with lasers for eyes.
5) Dementor (n.): a dark creature that absorbs the happiness of the creatures around them
Made from the Latin term “demento” meaning “to make crazy” or “to delude,” dementor refers to a soul-sucking creature that feeds on the happiness of others. (Your boss or local politician may be one of them.)
6) Pensieve (n.): a magical instrument used to view memories
Pensieve comes from the words “pensive” meaning “thoughtful” and “sieve” meaning “an object used to separate unwanted material from wanted material.” Pensive originally comes from the Latin “pensare” meaning “to think.” So when Harry gazes into Dumbledore’s pensieve, he’s staring at an object that organizes thoughts and memories. If I could have anything from the HP universe, it would be this one. Or a baby dragon.
7) Quidditch (n.): a sport within the realm of the wizarding world
The story behind this one is actually quite fun. After an argument with her boyfriend, Rowling stormed out of the house and into a nearby pub to get her mind off things. As usual, she got around to thinking about Harry Potter and began wondering what usually brings a society together. (I know what you’re thinking but “Call Me Maybe” hadn’t been invented yet.) She settled on sports and immediately began brainstorming a name for her new activity. Quidditch was the best she could come up with and has absolutely no linguistic relevance (Source).
8) Apparate (v.): a spell that allows a witch or wizard to teleport from one place to another
You’ve probably heard of the word “apparition” or “apparatus” but the verb form “apparate” was in fact popularized by Rowling (note: not invented entirely, but repopularized under the “teleportation” definition). Derived from the Latin word “appareo” meaning “appear,” apparate refers to the ability to teleport on command. Different from Floo Powder, which requires that you stand in a fire place and accentuate your words as you throw down a pile of dust (a slightly oversimplified description, but you get the point).
9) Thestral (n.): a mythical horse with a skeletal body and bat-like wings
I’m surprised I never got nightmares from reading these books because, come to think of it, there were a lot of terrifying creatures in them, including this one. Thestral are a dangerous type of horse only visible to those who have witnessed death. As far as I know, Rowling pulled this word out of thin air, though there is some speculation that she was inspired by other mythological creatures like Pegasus.
10) Lumos (n.): a spell that emits light from a witch or wizard’s wand
Taken from the Latin word “lumen” meaning “light,” lumos allows the students of Hogwarts to procure a quasi-flashlight at any moment. The contemporary equivalent would be a magical device known as an “iPhone screen.” It’s pretty obscure, you’ve probably never heard of it.
Those are my favorite Rowling terms but what are yours?