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Reveiled: How Harry Potter has shaped the way we speak?

Calling all muggles and mudbloods, dementors and squibs,

The boy wizard’s first adventure hit our bookshelves in 1997, and has had a huge influence on all aspects of popular culture.

But what about the way we speak? To mark the anniversary the Cambridge University Press has looked into the many words invented by JK Rowling, to find out how deep an effect her Wizarding World has had.


Matt Norton, CUP’s resident language researcher, donned his cloak to analyse data from the Cambridge English Corpus, a multi-billion word collection of contemporary spoken and written English, to find out the ‘Potterverse’ words that have made their way into everyday dialogue.

In a blog on the CUP website, he says: “I use corpus linguistics to examine how the world of Harry Potter – or the ‘Potterverse’ – has influenced English with new words invented by Rowling (“coinings”); her reusing of rare or obscure words; and changes to existing word usage.”

Many of the terms created by Rowling are examples of ‘blend’ words, made from fusing two existing words together.

Terms like ‘animagus’, a blend of animal and magus (a kind of wizard, plural magi), and ‘merpeople’, blending from mer(maid) and people, are such examples.

Matt said: “Some of the words sound like parodies of English words, like ‘Hogwarts’, the name of Harry’s ‘School of Witchcraft and Wizardry ‘, ‘Hufflepuff’ house or the game ‘Quidditch’.

“Although ‘Hogwarts’ sounds like a combination of hog and wart, there is also a plant called hogwort, which is a genuine English word, which may have also influenced this creation.


So it seems that the English language may have already contained Potterisms before Potter, but they were obscure or “hidden”, a bit like how the magical world is hidden from humans in the Harry Potter series!”

Another trope of Rowling’s he identifies is her use of ‘dog Latin’ imitation Latin terms, particularly in the names of spells.

He suggest words “such as ‘Expelliarmus’, the defense spell; ‘Expecto Patronum, to protect against dementors; and ‘Finite Incantatem’

“The magical object ‘Horcrux’ has a dark, occult-like tone and appears to be a blend of horror (or similar Latin word) and Latin crux meaning cross.”

He also addresses the numerous invented words used across the books and films, many of which have now taken on a life of their own.

Examples include ‘Hogwarts’, which can be used to refer to old dramatic buildings “such as some of the older Cambridge University colleges”, or just university in general.



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