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muggle (MUHG-uhl) noun

1. An ordinary person, one with no magical powers.

2. A clumsy or unskilled person.

[From a series of children's novels by JK Rowling.]

"Of course, the team has had less magic than a muggle this year, with a 3-9 record, even with its new star player." Lloyd Grove; The Reliable Source; The Washington Post; Nov 27, 2001.

"If a muggle stumbles on a cache, they sometimes take all the contents of the cache since they are uninformed on geocacher etiquette." Jessica Valdez; Players Try to Unearth Hidden Treasures in Game of Geocache; The Sun (Baltimore, Maryland); Apr 17, 2003.

With the fifth Harry Potter book out last weekend, the young wizard continues his magic on children and adults alike. It's a sign of his hold on popular culture that muggle, a word coined by the author of the series, recently made it into the Oxford English Dictionary (OED). To be precise, the word muggle has been a part of the dictionary for a long time, even before Harry was born. The OED lists a number of senses for this word (resembling a fish tail; a young woman; marijuana) spanning the 13th to 20th century. But Harry Potter books gave a new meaning to the term.

And that's how a language grows. Old words die - or take on a new life. New words appear. Language wordstock is replenished, refreshed, and the language remains vibrant and serviceable, ready to describe new concepts, ideas, and objects. Many language purists object to this way of growth. But we have to remember that just as yesterday's liberal is often tomorrow's conservative, in many cases, what was considered slang in the past, eventually acquires respectability.

This week we'll look at some slang and informal terms.



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