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I am curious as to what the origin of the term "muggle" is, and whether there is any reason why non-magic folk should not be offended by it. In other words, if there is a reasonable origin that explains the rather dopey-sounding term.

If there isn't, and it really is just kind of a silly nickname for non-magic folk, then I would be curious whether there has ever been an address to why the main characters get so offended by the term "mudblood," but never seem to mind the term "muggle."

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@Mithrandir Clearly i'm aware of that. That's not what I'm asking. – Misha Rosnach Feb 15 at 20:59
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@Mithrandir Well, the n-word was just the name for black individuals for a long time. That has nothing to do with the origin of a word, or whether it's pejorative. – Misha Rosnach Feb 15 at 21:03
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Well, since the Muggles have no idea that Wizarding world exists, it's not like they can tell them what they want to be called by. – Mithrandir Feb 15 at 21:04
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@Mithrandir If I call all Koreans "assheads" behind their backs, I'm still using a pejorative term, regardless of whether any Koreans hear me. I'm asking A. what the origin of the term is, and B. whether it's pejorative. Not its basic definition, or whether it's commonly used. – Misha Rosnach Feb 15 at 21:07
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@Mithrandir The term "witch" is, in fact, an insult in many cases. In addition, many people throughout history suffered greatly from being labeled "witches." However, it also has a descriptive etymological origin in addition to its common pejorative use. Should someone be offended at being called a witch? Probably not, if that is something she would choose to call herself. If it is not, then she will - and probably should - be offended. – Misha Rosnach Feb 15 at 21:58

Any word that describes one group defined by some lack of ability relative to another group has the potential to be considered pejorative. When that happens, people create a euphemism designed not to be pejorative, which works until people start noticing that the group described still lacks that ability that others have. Then the process repeats itself, in what has come to be known as The Euphemism Treadmill. Consider

crippled => handicapped => disabled => (whatever's politically correct now)

blind => visually-impaired

deaf => hearing-impaired

short => vertically-challenged

So long as some wizards and witches think those incapable of magic are inferior to them, whatever name is used to describe the Untermenschen will be a pejorative.

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I'm not a muggle: I'm magically challenged. – amaranth Feb 15 at 22:57
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Yes, which is why terms that are unambiguously descriptive tend to be less offensive. The more you descend down that ladder into monikers and nicknames, the more personal judgment you insert into your term. To respond to your link, that's the difference, for instance, between "person with special needs" and "retarded." The former is an objectively descriptive term, the latter is essentially a judgment one passes on someone for being "behind." That's why I'm curious about the supposed origin of the word "muggle." The less descriptive its origin, the more pejorative the term. – Misha Rosnach Feb 15 at 23:06
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@MishaRosnach: but 100 years ago or whatever, someone would be saying that "retarded" is an objectively descriptive term for someone who educationally is behind the development of the rest of their cohort, and therefore is non-pejorative compared with "thick". And in 100 years time someone might say that describing that person's needs as "special" is a judgement passed on someone, since everybody has unique needs and those whose needs take account of them being [new term for thick] are no more special than anyone else's. That's progress :-) – Steve Jessop Feb 16 at 14:54
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@SteveJessop A diminutive term of endearment, when applied to a wide segment of the population - a race, for instance - can function as pejorative by virtue of being offensive to the people it is applies to. Example: if you are Caucasian, you might think that Hispanics are really cute because, on average, they tend to be slightly shorter than your Caucasian peers. But no matter how lovingly you call Hispanics "shorties," it will still be an offensive term to them - and will rightly be viewed as pejorative. – Misha Rosnach Feb 16 at 16:17
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@Steve Fair enough. In that case I agree. I suppose that the idea of "pejorative" expands as ethics of language become more finetuned. Factors other than description come into play. It never seems to contract, though. – Misha Rosnach Feb 16 at 17:49

Out of universe:

julesrbf: Where did you come up with the word "muggle"?
JK Rowling replies -> I was looking for a word that suggested both foolishness and loveability. The word 'mug' came to mind, for somebody gullible, and then I softened it. I think 'muggle' sounds quite cuddly. I didn't know that the word 'muggle' had been used as drug slang at that point... ah well.

I think the dimension of offensive or not depends on the wizard. Some (such as Voldemort) think of Muggles as more like animals and would likely spit it out, and others (like Mr Weasley) would use the term with affection. Rowling's intention seems to suggest superiority to me, while not necessarily a way of being unkind.

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Not sure if a term that denotes foolishness gets a pass for being used kindly. – Misha Rosnach Feb 15 at 23:15
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"... although words like halfpint and gritsucker were offensive, they were as terms of universal brotherhood compared to words like "people of their type" in the mouth of men like Quirke." Terry Pratchett, Men at Arms - "Muggle" isn't perjorative per se, it's pejorative because people like Lucius Malfoy use it as if it were pejorative. – R.M. Feb 16 at 2:08
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On that note, almost any adjective can become a pejorative if you say it that way. – Cronax Feb 16 at 8:52

There is no politically correct equivalent (except for "non-magic folk" which is too long to ever replace "Muggle"). Wizards traditionally consider themselves superior to Muggles (Young Dumbledore and Grindelwald, old pure-blood families...) so it is no wonder the term sounds insulting. At the time of the story, the mindset is changing, but very slowly (wizards still play magical pranks on Muggles for kicks, as Arthur Weasley often repeats).

My interpretation is that the wizarding community is not ready for a change of terminology. That being said, it was recently revealed for the "Fantastic Beasts" movie that the American term for Muggle is No-Maj, which strikes me as modern-sounding. My interpretation is that it's a politically correct term that has not caught on outside the US.

Why exactly no one in the books says anything about the use of the word "muggle"... I think it's because there is no obvious alternative. Mudblood is very obviously offensive, not of everyday use, and has a neutral equivalent (Muggle-born). Muggle is less obviously offensive, it is used everyday by everyone including Ministry terminology and it has no easy neutral equivalent (except No-Maj, which out-of-universe hadn't been coined yet and in-universe is American English that none of the main characters can be expected to know).

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Not bad, although I'm not sure that "non-magic folk" is too long. "African Americans," a very common politically correct term, is nearly twice as long (seven syllables instead of four). Besides, neither Harry nor Hermoine have heard this term for their whole lives - they lived with muggles during their formative years. So to them the term "muggle" probably sounded similarly as it would, let's say to me. And me - if someone called me a "muggle," I'd be all like "hey!" – Misha Rosnach Feb 15 at 21:30
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@MishaRosnach If someone called me a Muggle, they'd be right. – Mithrandir Feb 15 at 21:38
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@Mithrandir If someone called me a dumbass they'd be right too. But I'd still be offended. – Misha Rosnach Feb 15 at 22:04

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