Unlike Muggle swears, wizarding curse words are intended more for dramatic emphasis than to offend – although Molly Weasley might not agree.
These range from utterly bonkers to totally bamboozling. And one of the most common curses is attributed to one of the greatest wizards in history. (Sorry, Merlin.)
The wizard of Arthurian legend was one of the most celebrated of all time: the wizarding world even has ‘the Order of Merlin’ to honour wizarding kind. Despite all of that, you probably know him more by his ‘most baggy Y-fronts’, his ‘pants’ or perhaps just his name alone – which is regularly invoked by surprised or shocked witches and wizards.
‘What in the name of Merlin’s most baggy Y-fronts was that about?’
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
The biggest culprit when it came to taking Merlin’s name in vain was a certain Ron Weasley. He was very familiar with Merlin’s undergarments and regularly turned the air blue when given extra homework or after a dodgy Quidditch match. Just don’t mention ‘Merlin’s saggy left…’ Let’s not even go there.
Ron and his similarly versed siblings (most notably Fred and George) appeared to have learned everything they knew from Arthur Weasley.
‘Merlin’s beard!’ exclaimed Mr Weasley wonderingly, pulling Harry aside to let them all pass. ‘You were tried by the full court?’
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
In fact, almost everyone we met from the Ministry of Magic peppered their language with Merlinisms with regularity. Cornelius Fudge, who tried so hard to deny Voldemort’s return, tended to blurt out ‘Merlin’s beard’ quite a bit, especially when faced with incontrovertible proof of the Dark Lord’s return. Well, it was a stressful time.
Hogwarts teachers, for shame! It turned out that quite a few of the school’s staff need a wizarding swear jar, especially the likes of Dumbledore, Slughorn and Moody.
Hagrid was a little more creative in his linguistic choices, invoking the occasional ‘Gallopin’ Gorgons’ rather than taking it out on poor Merlin; while Filch, who was unable to perform curses of the magical kind, had perfected the art of magical cusses with aplomb, spitting out ‘great sizzling dragon bogies… frog brains… rat intestines’ during times of irritation.
Like Muggles, wizarding folk also shared a preoccupation with, erm, well, poo. But even the likes of excrement was given a magical makeover when life got a little rough. For example, Ron described a particular performance during a Quidditch match as ‘like a sack of dragon dung’.
Thankfully, folks didn’t tend to get more foul-mouthed than utterances of ‘dunderhead’, ‘dungbrains’ and ‘git’ during the Harry Potter books – but there was one slur that was a terrible exception.
‘Mudblood’ was the derogatory term used against witches and wizards born to Muggles, and wasn’t so much a swear word as it was a sign of deeply rooted wizarding prejudice. Malfoy, himself from a pure-blood family, called the Muggle-born Hermione a Mudblood – much to Ron’s disgust, and it wasn’t long before we realised just how awful it was that a child Malfoy’s age was using such a loaded word.
Perhaps the funniest and most powerful swears came from those who didn’t normally say them. For example, Hermione shrieked ‘Merlin’s pants!’ when the trio were hunting Horcruxes. Pretty shocking stuff.
And while Molly might have pursed her lips at any mention of Merlin’s unmentionables, she herself was responsible for the best swearing moment of them all – one that Muggles may have been rather familiar with. During the Battle of Hogwarts, after one of Bellatrix Lestrange’s killing curses missed Ginny by inches, she shrieked, ‘NOT MY DAUGHTER, YOU BITCH!’ before finishing her off for good.
Gallopin’ Gorgons, indeed!