We all know what Muggles are: people who have no magic, haven’t attended a school like Hogwarts and think “Alohomora” is how you say hello in Hawaii. ‘Harry Potter’ changed everything, turning the word into a black hole of pop culture and merchandising. Yeah, don’t look at us like that, you too have a t-shirt that says “I’m not a Muggle.” But not so long ago, the word had another meaning. A more, shall we say, playful one.
Muggles through the ages
When the first ‘Fantastic Animals’ movie came out, there were fans of JK Rowling’s saga who cried foul: “Muggle” had been changed to a much less ceremonious “Nomaj”, without there being a reason for it. Except, of course, there was. And that’s because the film takes place in 1926 New York, a time when there was another definition for the word: what we would now know as “stoners.”
Back then, in Harlem and New York jazz joints, a “muggle” literally meant a joint, which was supposed to inspire musicians. A century later, not so much has changed. In fact, Louis Armstrong, a, shall we say, aficionado of the subject, in 1928, played the song ‘Muggles’ and it became one of his masterpieces. You’ll never guess what he was referring to.
The problem with “muggles” was increasing at that time. In 1931, a Time magazine article already announced that there were school children who could be addicted because of marijuana smuggling, the so-called “muggle smuggling”, which has an incredible name for marketing. Eventually, the term was lost and used in many other places.
Throughout different novels prior to Harry Potter, a “muggle” has been an English gentleman’s tail, an artist, a good dream or a person lacking a skill. In fact, JK Rowling even got to be sued by the author of the 1984 novel ‘The Legend of Rah and the Muggles’ and won it hands down. Incidentally, Rowling was asked about the term after all this, and was disgruntled to learn what Louis Armstrong would have thought: it was based on the word ‘mug’, which, in addition to ‘mug’, means a foolish or easily deceived person. Or else, re-reading ‘Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone’ will be a truly bizarre experience.