Friday, May 30, 2008

Dictionary Delights

Working on a poem the other day, I needed to check the finer nuances of a word, so I grabbed the appropriate volume from my Shorter Oxford English Dictionary. I also have access to the complete OED through my school's library databases; however, I still love the feel of the page and the chance encounters that occur. Here is one:

While looking for the word "moulder," I happened to flip a few pages past and found the word "muggle" staring up at me. Being a fan of Harry Potter, I was intrigued. Imagine my surprise to discover that in the early 20th century "muggle" meant "marijuana," in particular it meant "a marijuana cigarette." What? What???

When I looked in the complete OED online, I found 4 definitions for the word, with the 4th being the capitalized "Muggle," the usage of Harry Potter fame, interesting that they capitalized it. Other definitions included the obsolete "a tail resembling that of a fish" and the obsolete "a young girl, sweetheart."

The online version includes many more quotes than my shorter edition, and I was surprised to see that the marijuana "muggle" was used into the 80's. How did J.K. Rowling miss this? Or...conspiracy theorists unite...did she?

This little foray into linguistics kept me quietly amused for much of the day. I keep telling my students that they need to get a really good dictionary, but they never believe me.


Michelle said...


Your discovery made me laugh, but it is also really useful to me. You know I teach Reference and Information Services for SJSU's library school, and I always am looking for funny/quirky pieces of information to use in my sets of practice questions. So now you have given me an OED question so I can replace my tired question about Hamlet's use of "nunnery" when he is speaking to Ophelia.

And hey, have you changed your mind about the reunion yet?


Sandy Longhorn said...


Glad I could make you laugh and help out with class at the same time! Fuel prices and writing time are keeping me from the reunion.