It’s been almost 20 years since the release of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone and the beginning of the best-selling book series of all time. More than 450 million copies of the Harry Potter novels have been sold through Bloomsbury (UK) and Scholastic (USA) in that time, not to mention the e-book sales on JK Rowling’s interactive platform, Pottermore.
The series has long been praised for encouraging children to start reading; its themes, morals and messages inspired an entire generation and with children still discovering the stories today, that doesn’t look set to change any time soon.
In celebration of the up-and-coming release of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child – a West End production based on a new story by JK Rowling, Jack Thorne and John Tiffany – we give you four interesting, linguistic facts about the world’s most successful books.
1. Tom Riddle anagrams
In The Chamber of Secrets, everyone knows that one of the biggest plot twists comes when Tom Riddle rearranges the letters in his name (Tom Marvolo Riddle) to spell ‘I am Lord Voldemort’, revealing his true identity. But have you ever wondered how this worked out when the book was translated into other languages?
Essentially, translators were required to rename Tom Riddle in order to make the anagram work. Here are just a few of the alternative names he’s been given:
- Tom Elvis Jedusor – French (‘Je suis Voldemort’)
- Trevor Delgome – Icelandic (‘Eg er Voldemort’)
- Marten Asmodom Vilijn – Dutch (‘Mijn naam is Voldemort’)
- Romeo G. Detlev Jr. – Danish (‘Jeg er Voldemort’)
- Tom Musvox Ruddl – Latin (‘Sum Dux Voldemort’ meaning ‘I am the leader Voldemort’)
2. Geographical inspiration
It’s clear that JK Rowling picked her characters’ names carefully, with many offering clues as to their personalities. However, if you know the UK particularly well, you will notice that many of the characters are named after places around England. Here are the ones we managed to spot:
- Severus Snape – England is actually home to two villages called Snape: one in North Yorkshire and one in the county of Suffolk. JK has previously confirmed that she took the name from ‘an English village’, though it’s never been confirmed which of the two.
- Filius Flitwick –Flitwick is a small town in Central Bedfordshire.
- Dudley Dursley - Dudley is a large town in the West Midlands area of England; Dursley is a market town in Gloucestershire, close to where JK Rowling was born. JK has spoken of using the name ‘Dursley’ because she liked the word.
- Bathilda Bagshot - Bagshot is a small town located in the northwest corner of Surrey.
- The Peverell brothers – Peverell is an area of Plymouth, which is found in the south western county of Devon.
- John Dawlish – Dawlish is a seaside town situated in Teignbridge, on the south coast of Devon.
- Albert Runcorn - Runcorn is an industrial town found in Cheshire, North West England.
3. An Old English bumblebee
Dumbledore might be the headmaster of Hogwarts, but in 18th century English the word ‘dumbledore’ actually referred to a bumblebee.
‘Dumble’ was one of a set of rhyming words (along with ‘bumble’ and ‘humble’). All three refer to a noise you might associate with a bumblebee – hum, buzz and drone– and all three have been used to refer to the insect at some point in time. ‘Dore’ is an Old English word meaning ‘an insect that flies with a loud humming noise’. Humblebee was once the most common word for the insect, and dumbledore has always been the rarest.
Dumbledore has also been known to refer to a blundering person in some English dialects. This usage appears in Thomas Hardy’s 1872 novel, Under the Greenwood Tree.
The books have been published in at least 68 different languages, including Latin and Ancient Greek. The Ancient Greek texts are said to be the longest translated into the language for over 1500 years.
The series has even been translated into different local languages for some countries, including Spain and India. There are occasions when the books have even been translated into two dialects of the same language, for example, Portuguese versions for both Brazil and Portugal.
You can study language courses in England, the home of Harry Potter, with TLG. A University Pathway Course will provide you with the language skills you need to study at a British university. Find out more about language courses available at the The Language Gallery.