August 2005 Archives
Harry Potter, Book I: bezoar, (monkshood, wolfsbane, aconite, trichophagia trichobezoar); dumbledore (albus); smelt; viridian (virid, vindictive); dittany; olivander/olivaster; pince-nez
Potter words; later books: enervate (innervate); pouf (witenagemot); conjunctivitis; frisson; replete; umbrage
This week marked the release of the
sixth Harry Potter book, with all due hullabaloo. So we'll treat you to Harry
Potter words, and try to give you a taste of author J.K. Rowling's wit and
wordplay. Unless otherwise noted, all words come from the first Potter book.
Our scene opens at Hogwarts School of Magic, where the new students, age 11, nervously attend their first class in Potions, with Professor Snape.
said Snape suddenly. [He poses a question.] Hermione's hand had shot into the
air. "I don't know, sir," said Harry.
Snape's lip curled into a sneer. "Let's try again, Potter. Where would you look if I told you to find me a bezoar?" Hermione stretched her hand as high into the air as it would go without leaving her seat. Harry didn't have the faintest idea what a bezoar was. "I don't know, sir."
Snape was still ignoring Hermione's quivering hand. "What is the difference, Potter, between monkshood and wolfsbane?" At this Hermione stood up, her hand stretching toward the ceiling. "I don't know," said Harry quietly. "I think Hermione does, though, why don't you try her."
Snape was not pleased. "Sit down," he snapped at Hermione. "For your information, Potter, a bezoar is a stone taken from the stomach of a goat and it will save you from most poison. As for monkshood and wolfsbane, they are the same plant, which also goes by the name of aconite. Well? Why aren't you copying that down?"
A reader notes: Bezoar is indeed an interesting word. It can occur in humans,
too, as a result of trichophagia (chronic pulling and eating of
hair) and then is usually called trichobezoar. It is a loanword
from Persian, padzahr, meaning 'protection from poison'.
The proper names that Rowling invents are
often plays on words. Some are obvious, such as Professor Sprout, who
teaches herbology. Others are more subtle. Consider Albus Dumbledore,
the headmaster of the school.
dumbledore a bumble-bee
Rowling has said that she chose this name because she imagined Dumbledore walking around the castle, humming to himself.
Is it not the humble-bee, or what we call the dumble dore, a word whose descriptive droning deserves a place in song? Southey (thanks go to OED for the quote)
By the way, albus is an
epithet used in biology, meaning 'white': asphodelus albus.
That name is a triple pun. In one sense it speaks of a finishing school, teaching refinement.
smelt to extract metals from ore, by heating; to refine
But the other senses convey that it's a poor school indeed. They call up an image of smelly, stinking fish.
smelt (British form of) past tense and past participle of 'smell'
smelt a small silvery fish
By the way, this schooling is an example of how the Potter books have different British and US English editions, due to differing British and US usage.
Want a diabolical revenge on your enemies? Feeling vindictive (seeking revenge? Then the book
for you is Curses and Countercurses: Bewitch Your Friends and Befuddle Your
Enemies with the Latest Revenges: Hair Loss, Jelly-Legs, Tongue-Tying, and Much
Much More, by Vindictus Viridian.
viridian - a bluish-green color
virid - bright green
[Latin viridis 'green']
The author's name thus conjures up the notion of being 'green with envy', and of the the green-eyed monster (jealousy) of Shakespeares Othello.
dittany an aromatic woolly plant of
It was also believed to have a magical powers to expel weapons imbedded in soldiers. Aristotle relates that wild goats seek out the dittany plant after being struck by arrows.
Notice Rowling's wordplay on "look up".
Harry, who was looking up "Dittany" in One Thousand Magical Herbs and Fungi, didn't look up until he heard Ron say, "Hagrid! What are you doing in the library?"
Today we have an even-more-obscure form of
an extremely obscure word.
olivander (more commonly, olivaster) olive-coloured (particularly as to complexion); with an easily-tanned or Mediterranean skin
Senorita Juana Ugarte, Queen of the Carnival, approached the Royal box. Edward
of Wales jumped to his feet. "Not in many years have we been so
diverted!" cried he.
Time Magazine, Mar. 2, 1931
In the Potter books, Mr. Ollivander (double-l) is a master maker of magic wands. Can anyone suggest why author Rowling might have selected this name for him?
The school librarian is Madam Pince, whose
name is French for "pinch". (Do the librarians on our board think the
name is apt?) The French word is also part of an English term that Rowling uses
in Book Two.
pince-nez eyeglasses without earpieces, that instead clip to the nose by a spring
[literally, "pinch-nose" in French]
the Ministry is conducting more raids," said Mr.
Malfoy, taking a roll of parchment from his inside pocket and unraveling it for
Mr. Borgin to read. "I have a few ah items at home that might
embarrass me, if the Ministry were to call.
Mr. Borgin fixed a pair of pince-nez to his nose and looked down the list.
enervate to weaken physically, mentally or morally (can also be used
as an adjective)
This is a tricky word, as we'll see after the first set of quotes
the concern of
the ever-paranoid Stalin that he was just being used to enervate
Germany while enduring an unlimited bloodbath himself could quite
comprehensibly drive him to compose his differences with Hitler
Conrad Black, Franklin Delano Roosevelt: Champion of Freedom
The Tory party, that mighty instrument, the most formidable fighting machine in political history, has become despondent, enervate and spineless.
Bruce Anderson, The Independent, Sep. 22, 2003
A reader notes: I don't think enervate (pace the dear Brits) is properly an adjective, either.
Many folks, Rowling included, mistakenly use
enervate to mean energize the direct opposite. Though the words
seem similar, they have entirely different roots. Energize is from Greek
energos, active. Enervate is from Latin nervus, sinew; the
e- prefix is a negator as in emasculate. Indeed, an old and rare
meaning of enervate was emasculate.)
Here are examples of Rowling misusing (and modifying) enervate in her fourth Potter book, plus another misuse by a
"My elf has
been stunned." Diggory raised his own wand, pointed it at Winky, and said,
"Ennervate!" Winky stirred feebly. Her great brown eyes
Krum was sprawled on the forest floor. He seemed to be unconscious. Then Dumbledore bent over Krum again, pointed his wand at him, and muttered, "Ennervate." Krum opened his eyes. He looked dazed.
"He is simply Stunned, Winky. Step aside, please. " Dumbledore pointed his wand at the man's chest and said, "Ennervate." Crouch's son opened his eyes. His face was slack, his gaze unfocussed.
the Democratic National Convention Cambridge-spawned super-Democrat Ben Affleck again misused the word "enervate" . He told the noisy gang that "on the whole, I believe it's been a very successful and enervating and exciting convention."
A reader notes: Innervate means somewhat the opposite of enervate (1. to supply with nerves 2. to stimulate [a nerve or body part]), and sounds much the same.
pouf a low stuffed or padded seat or cushion
(A British reader notes: I would normally spell the word pouffe. )
We see poufs in the fourth and fifth Potter books, where the students have a class in Divination.
Lavender Brown and
Parvati Patil, who deeply admired professor Trelawney, were sitting on poufs
very close to her.
Ron looked around carefully, spotted Harry and made directly for him, or as directly as he could while having to wend his way between tables, chairs and overstuffed poufs.
witenagemot a council of high churchmen and nobility of Anglo-Saxon England, ~700 to 1200 A.D., convened periodically to advise the King
[Old English wita councilor + gemot meeting]
Rowling puns on witenagemot in her fifth book.
They've demoted him from Chief Warlock on the Wizengamot that's the Wizard High Court
A reader notes: witan as the first part of the word, that having been something like the national council of advisers to the king in Anglo Saxon times. English historical mythology has great fun with this idea, making it out that the wit, scholars shorthand for it, was the mother of all Parliaments and of liberalism itself. A lot can rest on etymology - history, politics, belief systems, worldviews... cold wars, hot wars.
conjunctivitis inflamation of the eye-membrane (called the conjunctiva)
that covers the eyeball and lines the eyelid
Rowling, seeking to educate and instruct her readers, provides practical data should the reader ever encounter a dragon. Harry uses magic to defeat a Hungarian Horntail dragon, and soon after he receives a letter.
Congratulations on getting past the Horntail. I was going to suggest a Conjunctivitis Curse, as a dragon's eyes are its weakest point, but your way was better. I'm impressed.
A reader notes: And of course the layman's term for conjunctivitis is pink eye. I can just envision a dragon with conjunctivitis...those great big eyes all inflammed and pinkish and filled with yellowish drainage. Yuk!
frisson - a sudden thrill of fear, or other excitement [from French for
replete - filled or well-supplied, esp. with food
Rowling contrasts the two in here fifth book (here somewhat amended for brevity).
Three helpings of
rhubarb crumble and custard later and the waistband on Harry's jeans was feeling uncomfortably tight. Mr. Weasley was leaning
back in his chair, looking replete and relaxed, Tonks was yawning
widely ... "Nearly time for bed, I think."
Said Sirius, turning to Harry, "I'm surprised at you. I thought the first thing you'd do when you got here would be to start asking questions about Voldemort."
The atmosphere in the room changed with rapidity ... Where seconds before it had been sleepily relaxed, it was now alert, even tense. A frisson had gone around the table at the mention of Voldemort's name.
The "Harry Potter" theme will be a
transition to the new theme that will start tomorrow.
umbrage offence or resentment at a slight or insult
Typically in the phrase take umbrage. Some say 'take umbrage at'; others 'take umbrage with'; still others 'take umbrage to'.
Some coaches would
take umbrage to torrents of criticism, or even the mildest
objection. Bellefeuille is not of that ilk.
Rob Vanstone, The Leader-Post (
The Potter connection is Dolores Umbridge,
a major character in the fifth Potter book, who comes
Why then does Rowling give her that name? The answer will come tomorrow, as we start our new theme.