Wizarding idioms are expressions that are unique to the wizarding world. However, many of them seem to have analogous Muggle idioms, from which they may have been derived.

List of idioms

  • "Cat among the pixies" — play on "cat among the pigeons," which is also the name of a Hercule Poirot novel by Agatha Christie, meaning to do something to cause a lot of people bother or worry. Specifically, Arabella Figg's description of Mundungus Fletcher.[1]
  • "Don't count your owls before they are delivered" — play on the Muggle phrase "don't count your chickens before they hatch," meaning to warn someone not to plan anything that depends on a good thing you expect to happen in the future. Used by Albus Dumbledore upon Harry Potter's complaint that Severus Snape would not let him continue Potions unless he got an 'Outstanding' in his O.W.L.[2]
  • "Dorcus" — The memory of Dorcus Twelvetrees' catastrophic breach of the International Statute of Wizarding Secrecy ensured that her name with time entered magical language of the magical community in the United States of America, so that being "a Dorcus" was slang for an idiot or inept person.
  • "Erumpent in the room" — A play on "elephant in the room," meaning that there is an obvious problem or difficult situation that people do not want to talk about. Albus Dumbledore used the expression in his welcoming speech at the Start-of-Term Feast of the 1985–1986 school year regarding the Cursed Vaults.[3]
  • "Fell off the back of a broom" — synonymous with "fell off the back of a lorry/truck," meaning stolen merchandise. Mundungus Fletcher leaves his shift of watching over Harry Potter to see to such items, in 1995.[1]
  • "The fire's lit, but the cauldron's empty" — play on the Muggle phrase "the lights are on, but nobody's home," meaning someone appears to function correctly but is not completely self-aware. Used by Ivor Dillonsby to describe Bathilda Bagshot.[4]
  • "Galloping gargoyles" — A play on "gallopin' gals," expressing outraged shock, used by Cornelius Fudge[5] and Professor Tofty.[6]
  • "Get off one's high hippogriff" — synonymous with "get off one's high horse," meaning to stop being conceited — used by Rita Skeeter to describe Elphias Doge. A hippogriff is a magical creature resulting from mating a horse with a griffin, making it appropriate as a magical metaphor for a horse.[9]
  • "Hanged for a dragon as an egg" — synonymous with "hanged for a sheep as a lamb;" if one is to be punished for committing a minor offence anyway, one may as well go ahead with something even worse if it gets the job done better.
  • "Hold your hippogriffs" — synonymous with "hold your horses;" a request to wait for an explanation. Hippogriffs are magical creatures and a more appropriate animal to use than a horse. Thestrals, unicorns or other creatures of a similar nature may have been used in earlier forms of the saying, however, the slight alliteration has made this the most used.
  • "I could eat a hippogriff" — synonymous with "I could eat a horse" and the like, meaning so hungry that one could eat something as large as a hippogriff.[10]
  • "I wouldn't come near you with a ten-foot broomstick" — synonymous with "ten-foot pole" in the Muggle world. Used in reference to someone or something that is considered unapproachable or offensive.
  • "I'll take Cadogan's pony" — Roughly meaning "I’ll salvage the best I can from a tricky situation". Comes from the tale of Sir Cadogan and his brave assault against the Wyvern of Wye.[11]
  • "In for a knut, in for a galleon" - synonymous with "in for a penny, in for a pound", same meaning as with "hanged for a dragon as an egg".
  • "In the name of Merlin" — expression of bewilderment, used similarly by Muggles. When Hermione Granger leaves clothes for the Hogwarts house-elves in the Gryffindor common room, Ronald Weasley asks her what "in the name of Merlin" she is doing.[12] Ron also uses a similar expression when he contemplates why Neville Longbottom attacks the Slytherins after they mock people who were in St Mungo's Hospital for Magical Maladies and Injuries.[13]
    • "~ Merlin's pants" by Ron Weasley on how Hermione managed to get ahold on books about Horcrux.[14]
    • "~ Merlin's saggy left –" (the rest was unknown) by Ron to, and interrupted by, his father.[14]
    • "~ Merlin's most baggy Y-fronts" by Ron when Hermione was holding the portrait of Phineas Nigellus Black.[15]
  • "It's no good crying over spilt potion" — synonymous with "It's no good crying over spilt milk," meaning it is no use worrying about unfortunate events which have already happened and which cannot be changed. Used by Arabella Figg.[1]
  • "Like bowtruckles on doxy eggs" — play on the Muggle phrase "like white on rice," which means to stick to someone or something very closely.
  • "Like some common goblin" — a phrase often used in the Muggle world with a pejorative phrase such as "gypsy" or "whore" replacing the magical creature goblin. Such an idiom is used to mean the person being discussed is acting in a common, disagreeable, "low class" manner.
  • "Look like one saw a Dementor/Nundu" — similar to the Muggle idiom "look like one saw a ghost," used to denote someone who looked scared or shocked.[16]
  • "Losing a Knut and finding a Galleon" — synonymous with the Muggle idiom "losing a sixpence and finding a shilling" or other Muggle money. The phrase means that by losing something of relatively little importance, one gains something superior unexpectedly.[5]
  • "Merlin's beard" — expression of surprise, synonymous with the Muggle phrase "God's wounds!" (Zounds! in Shakesperian literature).
    • "Merlin's pants" as exclaimed by Hermione Granger upon the realisation that Phineas Nigellus Black could see their location at 12 Grimmauld Place from his portrait.[15]
  • "Poisonous toadstools don't change their spots" — play on the Muggle phrase "a leopard can't change its spots," meaning that one can't change basic aspects of their character, particularly negative ones.
  • "Ten a Knut" — synonymous with "ten a penny", meaning to be so common as to be practically worthless.[17]
  • "Time is Galleons" — synonymous with "time is money", a Muggle proverb that money is wasted when one's time is not used productively. Used by Fred and George Weasley to explain that Apparating around the Burrow is more time-efficient than physically walking up and down the stairs.
  • "Tip of the dungheap"[9] — a small piece of a larger picture. Play on "tip of the iceberg".
  • "To have a hairy heart" — similar to the Muggle idiom "to have a heart of stone," meaning to be cold and unfeeling. Derived from the Beedle the Bard story The Warlock's Hairy Heart, in which a wizard cuts out his heart and seals it away in a crystal box, causing it to grow hair.
  • "Wand of Elder, never prosper" — a superstition stemming from the bloody history of the Elder Wand, many came to fear wands created from elder wood, incorrectly believing that they will never bring good.
  • "Wasn't room to swing a Kneazle" — play on "No room to swing a cat", meaning it is very cramped. Used by Rubeus Hagrid to describe the area where the giants lived (Note that in the original saying, a "cat" was a kind of whip, which is why one would be swung).
  • "What's got one's wand in a knot?" — synonymous with "What's got one's knickers in a twist?" Expressing one's curiousity as to why an individual is acting ill-tempered.
  • "Working like house-elves" — mirrors the British saying "to work like a black", thus extending the metaphor of house-elves suffering similar oppression to black people in the Muggle world. However, the wizarding idiom also reflects the Muggle idiom "work like a dog", indicating the inferiority of house-elves.
  • "Yanking your wand" — synonymous with "yanking your chain", meaning to joke around.


Notes and references

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Chapter 2 (A Peck of Owls)
  2. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Chapter 4 (Horace Slughorn)
  3. Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery, Year 2, Chapter 1 (Year Two Begins)
  4. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Chapter 18 (The Life and Lies of Albus Dumbledore)
  5. 5.0 5.1 Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Chapter 27 (The Centaur and the Sneak)
  6. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Chapter 31 (O.W.L.s)
  7. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Chapter 9 (The Dark Mark)
  8. Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, Chapter 4 (The Keeper of the Keys)
  9. 9.0 9.1 Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Chapter 2 (In Memoriam)
  10. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Chapter 12 (The Triwizard Tournament)
  11. Writing by J.K. Rowling: "Sir Cadogan" at Pottermore
  12. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Chapter 13 (Detention with Dolores)
  13. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Chapter 17 (Educational Decree Number Twenty-Four)
  14. 14.0 14.1 Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Chapter 6 (The Ghoul in Pyjamas)
  15. 15.0 15.1 Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Chapter 12 (Magic is Might)
  16. Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery, Year 4, Chapter 1 (Year Four Begins)
  17. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Chapter 21 (The Tale of the Three Brothers)