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In Goblet of Fire Hermione is dragged through the mud in Witch Weekly by Rita Skeeter. After reading the article, Ron suggests Skeeter is making Hermione out to be a “scarlet woman”:

“I told you!” Ron hissed at Hermione as she stared down at the article. “I told you not to annoy Rita Skeeter! She’s made you out to be some sort of — of scarlet woman!”

Hermione stopped looking astonished and snorted with laughter. “Scarlet woman?” she repeated, shaking with suppressed giggles as she looked around at Ron.

“It’s what my mum calls them,” Ron muttered, his ears going red.

Goblet of Fire, chapter 27 (Padfoot Returns)

That phrase clicked in my mind as a reference to the Scarlet Letter, written in 1850, as a term to refer to a tramp, or women who sleeps around.

Is my assumption that the term “scarlet women” is a reference toward that book correct, or is it from something else in history, and which of these things would Mrs. Weasley a witch who does not interact with muggles have pulled from as a basis for her use of this? Or am I just over thinking this and its a highly common phrase to use in British English, and common enough for a muggle phrase to flow into wizard's vocab?

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    Erm. They all speak English and live in England and spend their time around muggle-borns who still have family ties to muggles. – Valorum Dec 29 '15 at 16:23
  • @alexwlchan thanks for the edit – Himarm Dec 29 '15 at 16:37
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I think the phrase “scarlet woman” goes back way further than 1870.

Quoting from Dictionary.com, which in turn cites The American Heritage Idioms Dictionary:

This expression first appeared in Revelation 17:5, describing Saint John's vision of a woman in scarlet clothes with an inscription on her forehead, “Mystery, Babylon the Great, the mother of harlots and abominations of the earth.” Some interpreters believe she stood for Rome, drunk with the blood of saints, but by about 1700 the term was being used more generally for a woman with loose morals.

Wikipedia has a full article about the so-called “Whore of Babylon”, including a translation of the passage in Revelation from which the term apparently springs.

It’s not a particularly common phrase in British English (in my experience), but it’s not unusual for Mrs. Weasley to have picked it up.

There will undoubtedly be cross-pollination of language between magical and Muggle societies, even if there’s a divide between them – words just might be slower to percolate to magical folk. But the Statute of Secrecy was only passed in 1692 (when the word was beginning to come into use), and it’s been 300 years hence – it’s not surprising for it to be in Mrs. Weasley’s vocabulary.


I’m not familiar with The Scarlet Letter particularly, but I think it’s much more likely the book’s name was inspired by the phrase, not the other way around.

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Given that it's a biblical expression Mrs Weasley may well be a Christian.

Failing that, she may have heard it from the Fat Friar during her time at Howard.


That being said the term "Scarlet Woman" has been in common usage for hundreds of years and peaked in popularity in the 1920s, more than long enough ago for the expression to have cross-pollinated into general use in the wizarding world.

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