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With the arrival of the film Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix and the final book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the word muggle is well fixed in the imagination of children of all ages around the world.

The word J. K. Rowling may be most famous for is muggle, which in the books refers to non-wizarding folk, people with no magical ability in the world of Harry Potter. The word now appears in the Oxford English Dictionary (entered in 2003), and is additionally used to describe a dull, unimaginative person.

Rowling didn’t create the word, though she certainly popularized it. Lewis Carroll used it as the name of the bad guy in his short story "Wilhelm von Schmitz" in 1854, Louis Armstrong and his orchestra recorded a song called “Muggles” in 1928, Carol Kendall used the word “muggles” in two stories, written in the 1940s and 1950s. It has also been used in American drug slang to refer to marijuana all the way back to the 1920s.

The word’s uses continue to grow. Pagans, witches, and the like now use it the way Rowling does to distinguish themselves from non-believers or non-practitioners. Hackers use it to refer to non-hackers. And many other groups have picked up on the word as a way to refer to outsiders.

Rowling claims to have created the word based on the insult “mug”, which is used to describe someone who is dumb or easily fooled. Her claim is difficult to accept given the widespread usage of the word before she adopted it, but as often happens with language, we assimilate a great many words and expressions unconsciously, and then in good faith believe we created them. So she may have genuinely created it in the way she said without realizing that it’s been around in one form or another for almost a century.

The translation of muggle in other languages is “muggle” or something that sounds just like that, as seen below in examples from several languages.

muggle Spanish
muggle Latin (-ium, third declension noun)
マグル Japanese (pronounced: maguru)
Muggel German
麻瓜 Chinese (pronounced: maguo)

There is one exception. The French version of Harry Potter uses moldu. This happened because when the first book was being translated, no one yet exercised any control over the terms related to magic and Harry Potter’s world. So the French translators created many new words to capture and convey Rowling’s English. Once the books became wildly popular, strict control was placed up all translations, so muggle is muggle around the world. Except in France, since moldu and other terms were already established.

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