As Dumbledore once said, ‘Fear of a name increases fear of the thing itself.’ But what about the fear of pronouncing those names entirely wrong? It’s certainly something we had to grapple with when we first read the Harry Potter books, from spells (‘make the “gar” nice and long’) to beloved characters’ names. Here are some mistakes we’re sure quite a few of you used to make, along with ourselves.
Funnily enough, Hermione was the one who usually had to give us lessons in locution, such as famously teaching us all to properly enunciate Wingardium Leviosa. But maybe she should’ve started by telling us how to pronounce her own name. Her-me-own. Hermy-won. Herm-own-ninny. Even some of Hermione’s most devout fans didn’t have the slightest clue how to say her name.
Needless to say, when the first film hit cinemas in 2001, there were more than a few people waiting with bated breath to hear her to-the-point introduction: ‘Her-my-oh-nee.’ At last, it all made sense. And in truth, it was easy to laugh off when we saw Quidditch superstar Viktor Krum require a similar lesson in Goblet of Fire.
This is the one that made us question everything we know. Lord Voldemort, the wizard who inspired such fear that people dared not speak his name, most certainly had a satisfying, sharp ‘t’ at the end of his nom-de-terror… until he didn’t. When J.K. Rowling tweeted that the ‘t’ is meant to be silent, we realised our entire lives had been a lie. We’ve collected ourselves since then, but that doesn’t mean we don’t occasionally forget, promptly remember and start the whole cycle of shock all over again. And we’d only just got over saying his name in the first place.
When it came to Knuts, we were all swagger. Surely ‘Knuts’ behaves like ‘knows’ and has a silent ‘K’, right? Wrong again. While we were running around saying ‘nuts’, Harry, Ron, Hermione and everyone else in the wizarding world were purchasing goods and services with Galleons, Sickles and ‘ca-nuts’. We didn’t ca-now that.
By the time Professor Slughorn introduced his N.E.W.T. students to Amortentia, we thought we had the measure of the kind of concoctions that came to fruition in the dungeons. Though, admittedly, Veritaserum and Felix Felicis gave us a few moments of pause too, it was this tricky little love potion that had us putting on airs. Which is to say, all of that pomp and romance had us convinced that this elixir of endearment called for a bit of a French twist on the word. As it turns out, those ‘t’s are sharp and proud in all of the ways the ‘t’ in the Dark Lord’s name is not.
The wizarding world has thrown we Muggles more than a few curveballs over the years. So, when this term for the stone pulled from the stomach of a goat surfaced, we weren’t prepared to believe bezoar was a ‘what you see is what you get’ kind of word. Be-zor was far too simple, it had to be. (Actually, it wasn’t and isn’t.) Oblivious of that fact, we tried on a few twists such as bee-zo-are (how bizarre), only to find that the absence of tricks was what tripped us up.
This incantation combines length and a somewhat repetitive composition to great effect at first blush. When one’s eyes are flying across the page, desperate to know what’s unfolding in the aftermath of the Quidditch World Cup, this one is particularly unwieldy. Fortunately, in the cold light of day, Morsmordre (mores-more-druh) is a tongue-twister only in its resemblance to that Muggle delight, s’mores. On second thought, perhaps it’s unfortunate that such a dark spell rolls off the tongue so nicely.
The precise pronunciation of Firenze’s name proved to be as mysterious to some of us as the vague premonitions he and his fellow centaurs made to Harry, Ron, Hermione and pretty much everyone else at Hogwarts. But we’re disinclined to agree with Professor Trelawney that Firenze is a ‘nag’. If anything, he’s a bit of an iconoclast for flouting the rules and traditions of his kind to educate young witches and wizards. As such, it was rather a proud moment when we finally wrapped our heads around the idea that his name is more akin to ‘frenzy’ than ‘fire’.
We felt quite bad enough for Harry when we learned he was to face a hearing for defending Dudley, of all people. But our sympathy soared when we saw what he was up against: the previously name-dropped, but unseen Wizengamot. The word sounds like a gauntlet to be run, never mind a trial at their hands. The Wizengamot proved to be rather an obstacle course for the tongue as well. To find success, put yourself in mind of a wee, zen, game called mot. Say it with us: We-zen-gaa-mought. Whew.
Now that we’ve done the heavy (mental) lifting, let’s end on a few words chosen by Hogwarts’ greatest mind that we definitely can pronounce: Nitwit. Blubber. Oddment. Tweak.