14

In Prisoner of Azkaban, when Snape examines the Marauder’s Map he says

“Professor Severus Snape, master of this school, commands you to yield the information you conceal!”

Prisoner of Azkaban, chapter 14, Snape's Grudge

This doesn't sound like much of a spell, and it seems like an odd thing to say when he’s not the headmaster.

Can anyone explain?

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  • 5
    Exactly. All teachers are 'masters', and the headmaster is the head master. Jun 15 '14 at 3:09
  • 2
    He simply means it in the sense "a master"; master is another word for "teacher".
    – Fattie
    Aug 26 '15 at 13:30
31

The word master isn’t exclusively used to describe the Headmaster.

In some British schools, the term master is also used to describe any male teacher. It’s somewhat archaic, but that’s presumably the term Snape is using, which is consistent with his status. Quoting from the Wikipedia page for schoolmaster:

The word schoolmaster, or simply master, formerly referred to a male school teacher. This usage survives in British independent schools, both secondary and "preparatory", but is generally obsolete elsewhere.

It’s not a spell per se, merely an attempt to “intimidate” the map into divulging its secrets. Given that it’s probably a student-made object, I’m not sure what he thinks this will achieve, but being a teacher certainly carries status and authority within Hogwarts, and certain parts of the school might recognise that and behave accordingly.

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    As someone who went to a British fee paying school (not Hogwarts though, unfortunately) I can confirm this. All male teachers are known as "masters" and are usually also defined by the subject they teach. Snape would be the Potions master.
    – Cugel
    Jun 14 '14 at 22:59
  • 10
    Been a while since I read them, but isn't snape even referred to as potions master at some point? Jun 15 '14 at 0:08
  • 5
    @BrianWarshaw: You’re right. Chapter 8 of Philosopher’s Stone, when we first meet Snape properly, is called The Potions Master.
    – alexwlchan
    Jun 15 '14 at 6:08
3

A master is a male teacher: "Potions master" means "male teacher of Potions". Female ones are "mistress", as in "Headmistress".

That being said, Hogwarts doesn't use its academic terms quite the way Muggles do, since it also calls its teachers "Professor" which in the Muggle world refers to high-ranking university lecturers, stage magicians and the operators of Punch & Judy shows. Snape, Slughorn, Flitwick and Dumbledore are all at various times referred to as [Subject master] but Hagrid and the fly-by-night DADA teachers are not, so it may be that at Hogwarts "master" is used only of teachers with a certain seniority or who are current or former Heads of House.

So when Snape describes himself as "master of this school" he is probably saying "an established teacher in good standing, employed by this school". He is making the point that he is somebody who has a right to be there and a certain amount of authority.

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  • 1
    This does not seem to add anything to existing answer.
    – Skooba
    Oct 7 '16 at 13:54
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    I don't think anyone else picked up that it may indicate some degree of seniority. Oct 8 '16 at 20:59

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