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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.
    "Potter!" 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?"
 
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Thanks, Wordcrafter. 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'.

Many a man who is pure in heart
and says his prayers by night
may become a werewolf when the wolfsbane blooms
And the moon shines bright.


Ceci n'est pas un seing.
 
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Funny you'd mention this word first, as it is a very important thing to know in the 6th book. In fact, Hermione ridicules Harry for forgetting about this exact scene. Big Grin


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"Happiness is not something ready made. It comes from your own actions.
~Dalai Lama
 
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The proper names that Rowling invents are often plays on words. Some are obvious, such as Professor Spore, 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.

Edit 6/24: I'd referred to "Professor Spore, who teaches herbology". It's been brought to my attention that that teacher is Professor Sprout. Quite so. Phyllida Spore is the author of One Thousand Magical Herbs and Fungi.

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Dudley will attend a school called Smeltings.

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.

    British: Dudley had a place at Uncle Vernon's old school, Smeltings. Harry, on the other hand, was going to Stonewall High, the local comprehensive.
    U.S.: Dudley had been accepted at Uncle Vernon's old private school, Smeltings. Harry, on the other hand, was going to Stonewall High, the local public school.
 
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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 Shakespeare’s Othello.
 
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We've been out of touch with the computer. Sorry!

dittany – an aromatic woolly plant of Crete, akin to oregano, formerly used medicinally. and also believed to have magic powers. It was thought that dittany could expel weapons imbedded in soldiers. Aristotle relates that wild goats seek out the plant after being struck by arrows.
[After Mt. Dicte in Crete.]

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?"
 
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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
    Sloe-eyed, olivaster 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?
 
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The -aster pejorative suffix is interesting: claudaster 'somewhat lame', novellaster 'somwhat new', oleaster 'wild olive', philosophaster 'bad philosopher', pinaster 'wild pine', poetaster 'bad poet' (although a neologism, it didn't exist in Classical Latin), pueraster 'stout lad', surdaster 'somewhat deaf, hard of hearing'.

Could it be that wands are made from olive branches?


Ceci n'est pas un seing.
 
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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.

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Mr. Borgin faxed a pair of pince-nez to his nose and looked down the list

Amazing what you can do with magic, is it not?


Richard English
 
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Originally posted by wordcrafter:
The school librarian is Madam Pince, whose name is French for "pinch". (Do the librarians on our board think the name is apt?)
[/LIST]


This husband-of-a-librarian doesn't see much point in it. Or at least much accuracy.


Dr. Whom: Consulting Linguist, Grammarian, Orthoepist, and Philological Busybody
 
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I thought it was a clever, if stereotypical image. I get rather tired of the trite, over-used images of librarians, but what can one woman do?


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"Happiness is not something ready made. It comes from your own actions.
~Dalai Lama
 
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"Mr. Borgin faxed a pair of pince-nez to his nose and looked down the list"
Amazing what you can do with magic, is it not?
[muttering-about-spellchecker icon]
Richard, the books do mention somewhere that even the wizards are nowhere near developing self-spelling wands!

I have now "faxed" the problem.
 
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