Names and words used in Harry Potter books came from ancient Yorkshire dialect

editorial image
0
Have your say

Harry Potter fans who know about spotting a squib, catching the Niffler or using the bark of a Wiggentree may be surprised to know the origins of these words could have been in common parlance in ancient Yorkshire.

The editor of a dictionary of Yorkshire language from around 1100 to 1800 says it is possible many of JK Rowling's fantastical words had their origins in real words used centuries ago in the north of England.

Alexandra Medcalf, project archivist at the Borthwick Institute for Archives at the University of York, has edited the dictionary which builds on the lifelong work of Dr George Redmonds, who catalogued thousands of old Yorkshire terms and phrases over 60 years.

Mr Medcalf said: "JK Rowling's Harry Potter vocabulary is famously steeped in mythology and folklore and she is known to use dialect terms in her work. For example, Dumbledore is a West Country word for bumblebee.

"It seems plausible that old Yorkshire terms form part of the source of squibs, the Wiggentree and the Niffler."

In the Harry Potter books, Rowling uses the word squib to refer to magic-born people who cannot actually use magic.

According to Mr Medcalf, in the time of Guy Fawkes, who was born in York in 1570, a firework was known as a squib in the Yorkshire region. He said it could be that the Harry Potter usage is derived from the associated phrase "a damp squib", which meant firework which does not go off.

The dictionary also records the verb to nifle, which meant to steal objects of little value. It cites court records of an individual found guilty of nifling at Barnby Dunn, near Doncaster, in 1755.

In Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them, the Niffler is a creature with a penchant for stealing shiny trinkets.

The dictionary records Wiggen as an old Yorkshire word for the mountain ash or rowan tree. It was considered to protect people from evil spirits and historical sources from witchcraft trials in Yorkshire refer to people being protected by it.

In Harry Potter, the bark of the Wiggentree is used in potion-making.

Dr Redmonds's decades of research was carefully written on index cards, complete with a definition and source references, the university said.

Mr Medcalf said the dictionary will offer an insight into how Yorkshire developed its regional language with influences from Iceland, Scotland, the Low Countries, France and Viking Scandinavia.

He said: "The dictionary highlights how language is always evolving. Words come and go and everywhere has its own peculiar and particular expressions.

"We hope the dictionary provides a framework for other regions to develop their own dictionary projects, as it would be really interesting to build a complete picture of the movement of old words and language around the UK. Perhaps we could even see a revival of some of the phrases."

Tickets are going on sale for the launch of the dictionary, on January 11 2019, when it will be released online.

A hard copy will be released later in the year.

The launch event will feature a talk from writer and broadcaster Ian McMillan, the university said.