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Wizarding idioms

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Wizarding idioms are expressions that are unique to wizarding culture. 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.
  • “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's Potter complaint that Snape would not let him continue Potions unless he got an 'Outstanding' in his O.W.L.
  • "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.
  • "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.
  • "Galloping gargoyles", "Gulping gargoyles" and "Gallopin' Gorgons"' - the former used by Cornelius Fudge and Professor Tofty when they express outraged shock and the latter used by Rubeus Hagrid in 1991 when he forgot to tell Albus Dumbledore that he had given Harry Potter his Hogwarts acceptance letter. A play on "gallopin' gals".
  • "Get off his high hippogriff" - synonymous with "get off his 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.
  • "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'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.[1]
  • "I'm so hungry I could eat a hippogriff" - synonymous with "I'm so hungry I could eat a horse" and the like, meaning so hungry that one could eat something as large as a hippogriff.
  • "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.
  • "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, Ron asks her what "in the name of Merlin" she is doing. Ron also uses a similar expression when he contemplates why Neville Longbottom attacks the Slytherins after they mock mad people.
  • "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.
  • "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 represents the lack of inequality and treatment that goblins suffer from.
  • "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.
  • "Merlin's beard" - expression of surprise, synonymous with the Muggle phrase God's wounds! (Zounds ! in Shakesperian literature). Also, 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. And also Merlin's saggy left... (the rest was unknown) by Ron Weasley to, and interrupted by, his father. Also Merlin's most baggy Y Fronts exclaimed by Ron Weasley when Hermione was holding the portrait of Phineas Nigellus Black.
  • "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.[2]
  • "Time is Galleons" - synonymous with "time is money", a Muggle adage about the time value of money.
  • "Tip of the dungheap"[3] - a small piece of a larger picture. Play on "tip of the iceberg".
  • "To have a hairy heart" - means 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.
  • "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 your wand in a knot?" - synonymous with "What's got your 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.

Appearances

Notes and references

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