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Thread: 'Muggle' Origins

  1. #1
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    'Muggle' Origins

    All that stuff on Merlin in the Character Clinic has sparked a plot bunny. I'm no good with the origins or meanings of words, so I thought I'd ask here. Basically, what are the origins of the word 'Muggle'? Does it mean anything, or is it a word that JKR simply made up?

    Do people think that the word has been used for non-magical people since there have been wizards to distinguish themselves? If not, what word or phrase might have been used instead? For example, would Merlin and Morgana call people Muggles?

    Greatful for any help.

    Sarah x


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    Someone sued JK for plagarism and one of their pieces of evidence was the word "Muggle." Part of the defense was other uses of the word including... argh, I can't remember. I think one of the uses of "Muggle" was from jazz though.

    If I find anything on that, I'll come back and post though!

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    Yeah, we know that is the result of the word's actual origin for J.K.'s word for non-magical people in her books, but I feel like what Sapphire meant was where do we think the word came from from a linguistic standpoint, were it a real word that's origin came into use for Muggles whenever it was that it started.

    Hmmm, is there some old dead language that has a word that kind of sounds like Muggle that could stem off this?

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    I googled it and immediately came to a Wiki page on the word. Apparently it has several other uses, but the first one seems to have to do with drug use in the 1920s jazz scene.

    Maybe a wizard heard Muggles use that word when talking about someone else and assumed that that was just what they were called? Or maybe wizards used the word first and the Muggles thought it just meant something like "weirdo" and started calling their drug-abusing-fellows that...

    Anyway, I don't think it would be something that was used by Merlin. The word feels a bit too modern, and I just don't see King Arthur sitting on his throne and saying "Muggle"... Maybe they just said "The non-magical folk" or "the less gifted" or something like that.
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    I googled it and immediately came to a Wiki page on the word. Apparently it has several other uses, but the first one seems to have to do with drug use in the 1920s jazz scene.

    Maybe a wizard heard Muggles use that word when talking about someone else and assumed that that was just what they were called? Or maybe wizards used the word first and the Muggles thought it just meant something like "weirdo" and started calling their drug-abusing-fellows that...
    Yeah, but, again, jazz did not come around until the twentith century. And remember in Beedle the Bard, Brutus Malfoy, who lived during the seventeenth century, wrote letters saying how wizards' association with 'Muggles' would lead to the downfall of the wizarding communities, as well as "Nothing is a surer sign of weak magic than a weakness for non-magical company."

    I also doubt that Merlin was saying 'Muggle', but I don't think it is so modern that it is less than a hundred years old.

    What languages existed in Celtic Europe that 'Muggle' could have stemmed from? Gaelic maybe?

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    I'm not sure Merlin and Morgana would have used the word. I mean obviously they could have done, but it's also possible that the word evolved over the centuries. I like the idea of Muggles being called Non-Majiks or something.

    One of the reasons I think JKR picked Muggles is partly because it sounds a bit like 'muddle' and also a word we use in UK to mean someone who is often taken for a fool is 'mug'. (He's a right mug!) When you look at the way even people like Arthur and Dumbledore treat non- magical people it's always with a degree of condescension, so 'mug' which has been around for centuries' would fit the 'Muggles' profile.

    As far as ancient languages go, the song 'gg' is a tricky one. It would suggest something like Saxon/Germanic type language (North Europe) because of the hard sounds.. Gaelic/Celt (South Europe) is another possibility although the sounds are less gutteral and more melodic. It could, I suppose, have its origins in Latin - most of the spells do and England was called England because in the slave markets we looked like 'Angels' (true).

    ~Carole~

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    Sarah,
    Don't kill me when I say this. I've studied word histories and langauage histories. Detailed ethmologies are exhausting, let me tell you. You might think that this is an interesting spin on another story, and there really is no answer out there other than opinion. That's like asking, 'Why's he called Frodo Baggins?' Well, CS Lewis marketed that name and it's his story. Should we honestly question every little thing and call it fan fiction? It's not. This isn't just aimed at Sarah. JKR chose 'Muggle' on the same stream that she chose 'Potter'. She liked it and it stuck in her brain. Why else does it matter? I know this isn't exactly what you wanted, Sarah. Why do we question every small detail? Let it be. I'm just saying.

  8. #8
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    Quote Originally Posted by Kuri
    Sarah,
    That's like asking, 'Why's he called Frodo Baggins?' Well, CS Lewis marketed that name and it's his story. Should we honestly question every little thing and call it fan fiction? It's not. This isn't just aimed at Sarah. JKR chose 'Muggle' on the same stream that she chose 'Potter'. She liked it and it stuck in her brain. Why else does it matter? I know this isn't exactly what you wanted, Sarah. Why do we question every small detail? Let it be. I'm just saying.
    What? So literary analysis is a bad thing now?

    How do you know Rowling just picked "Muggle" out of the air? She chose a lot of her names quite deliberately and with great care -- the fact that she actually researched a lot of the more obscure details in her world is one of the things that made it so captivating.

    I don't understand your objection. It's not as if this is disrespecting the author.

  9. #9
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    The Wikipedia page for "Muggle" has a link to an interview where JKR answered this very question. Carole has the right of it -

    I was looking for a word that suggested both foolishness and loveability. The word 'mug' came to mind, for somebody gullible, and then I softened it. I think 'muggle' sounds quite cuddly. I didn't know that the word 'muggle' had been used as drug slang at that point... ah well.
    And I don't see any problem with this kind of question. It's always interesting to learn, and I don't think you can possibly have too much information.

  10. #10
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    The reason I wanted the origin of the word was to see where it had come from so I could derive another word that Merlin might have used for non-magical people. The word 'Muggle' doesn't seem like the type of word they would have used in the sixth century, so I wanted something different. I'm just trying to show natural evolution of a word in a story I may or may not write, is that such a bad thing? People consider how the Potter world may have changed after the war, or from Marauder to Trio era, why should I not do the same from Merlin's time to modern?

    I wasn't intending any disrespect towards JKR in any way, and plenty of people have picked apart the names she's used and the reasons why, like Inverarity said, she was very careful at chosing names for things. I just wondered if there was a reason behind Muggle, that's all.

    Thanks for everyone's help, by the way.

    Sarah x


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