MARY LOUISE KELLY, host:
If you're headed to see the final Harry Potter movie this weekend, chances are you know what I'm talking about if I mention the word snitch, or a phrase like 10 points to Gryffindor.
(Soundbite of movie)
Unidentified Person (Actor): (as character) He's got the snitch. Harry Potter receives 150 points for catching the snitch. Gryffindor wins.
(Soundbite of applause)
KELLY: As any wizard knows, they're playing Quidditch there, Quidditch one of many Harry Potter-isms that's now part of our language.
Well, Ben Zimmer runs the website Visual Thesaurus and he's compiled for us a muggle's guide to Harry Potter-isms.
Mr. BEN ZIMMER (Visual Thesaurus): Hello.
KELLY: All right. So let me start right there - muggle. I think if people know just one Harry Potter-ism, that's probably it. I gather this has even earned an entry in the Oxford English Dictionary.
Mr. ZIMMER: That's right. Muggle is in there. So it has the meaning within the Harry Potter universe of a person who does not have magical powers. But it's been extended to mean a person who lacks any particular skill. So different subcultures have used this word. So for instance, computer hackers could describe non-hackers as muggles.
KELLY: OK. So muggle, Quidditch. We just heard snitch from the movie there. Also, a lot of the names from the J.K. Rowling books, now movies, which have worked their way into our everyday language. There's one example I wanted to quote for you. This is in the news right now.
Tina Brown, who we often hear from on this program, writing in the news about the current travails of Rupert Murdoch. And she says, and I'm quoting: He could've been Dumbledore crossed with Harry Potter, but he's Voldemort and he's not vanquished - yet.
Ben Zimmer, translate for those non-Harry Potter fans out there.
Mr. ZIMMER: Well, Dumbledore, of course, is the wizard that takes on that kind of mentor role for Harry Potter. And so I suppose that means that he could've been wise and courageous but instead he went over to the dark side, like Lord Voldemort, who's the, you know, arch enemy of Harry Potter in the books and films.
(Soundbite of movie)
Unidentified Man (Actor): (as character) He who must not be named did great things - terrible things, but great.
KELLY: He who must not be named.
Mr. ZIMMER: Right. Since the wizards and witches are afraid of summoning him, that's what they call him. And that comes in handy too, if you want to talk about someone unseemly or someone whose name you don't want to get into the conversation. In fact, I know a woman who refers to her ex-husband as He Who Must Not Be Named, and her sisters sometimes just call him Voldemort, you know.
(Soundbite of laughter)
KELLY: I guess some of the other characters in the book have also worked their way into our conversations. You could refer to a really mean teacher, for example, as a Snape.
Mr. ZIMMER: Sure.
KELLY: Who else?
Mr. ZIMMER: Hermione, she's, you know, a bright young overachiever, sometimes trying a little too hard. So you could call someone a Hermione. You could use Draco�to refer to an evil bully. They're such evocative names that Rowling has come up with, so they're fun to say.
KELLY: I guess the question is whether all these Potter-isms will stand the test of time. Are we still going to be talking about bad guys as Voldemort 10 years from now?
Mr. ZIMMER: I think so, because so many children have grown up with the books and with the films. It's become this formative experience in becoming a literate person. And so I think that it has become entrenched for that generation. So they'll continue to use it. Perhaps not as frequently. But certainly terms like muggle I would expect to stand the test of time.
KELLY: And that's linguist and muggle Ben Zimmer we've been talking to.
Ben Zimmer, thanks a lot.
Mr. ZIMMER: Thank you.
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