Thoughts

‘No-Maj’: An Annoying Term from American Wizards

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Ever since J.K. Rowling announced the existence of Ilvermorny and American Wizarding culture, I have been annoyed by the term “No-Maj,” a.k.a. Muggle. This one word takes away some of the magic of the Harry Potter universe for me. Since it is apparently an American wizarding term, I, as an American, get to complain about it. My annoyance at “No-Maj” was renewed when I read the screenplay Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. As I read it, I found Tina, a person who works with foreign wizards, apparently doesn’t know what a Muggle is. Maybe Rowling is making a statement about Americans with that scene, but I don’t buy that Tina would not know that one common British term.

The history of the American Wizarding community is that Isolt Sayre, raised by a Gaunt, was one of the first witches in the New World and founded Ilvermorny. This is basically the founding of American Wizardry. If most children learn anything about the Wizarding World by attending Ilvermorny, it would make sense for them to learn all of their Wizarding terminology at Ilvermorny.

At some point early on in schooling, the students would have to learn the difference between humans with magic and humans without. In the original seven Harry Potter books, it seems everyone learns the word “Muggle” just before entering Hogwarts, at the latest. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (the movie) and Pottermore confirm that American Wizards call Muggles “No-Majs.” My problem with this lies in the history that Rowling laid out. There is no way that Isolt would not have heard what a Muggle is from her dear Aunt Gormlaith. The woman, like the rest of the Gaunts, hated Muggles with a passion, so it stands to reason that Gormlaith would have talked about Muggles. Knowing this, why would Isolt have stopped using “Muggles” in favor of “No-Majs”?

Perhaps the change in terminology happened after Isolt was alive. I know that “No-Maj” is short for “No Magic,” but why did this become the popular word? Did one of her students popularize the word? I don’t know the answer to either of those questions.

It is possible that it had something to do with the Salem Witch Trials (apparently, witch hunts meant nothing in Europe). If there is so much wariness of Muggles in the U.S., I don’t understand why that would warrant using a new word to describe Muggles. Does that keep Muggles from finding out about the Wizarding World from their Muggleborn and Half-Blood children? I think that they would still be suspicious of “No-Maj.” That is even more obvious, especially out of the mouths of babes. I don’t see that it would help with secrecy, assuming American wizards are logical.

I’m unsure how this word came about, but it’s annoying. Daniel Radcliffe told everyone to “stop freaking out over ‘No-Maj'” in 2015, stating that us Muggles have different words for the same thing in the U.S. and the U.K. I’m sure that American wizards would use other terminology, to an extent, but I don’t believe that “Muggle” would become “No-Maj.” For example, we might say “vacay” instead of “vacation.” Since many of our words are the same, I think if we were going to change “Muggle,” we would say “Mug” or “M.” No one would shorten “Magic” to “Maj”—and certainly not “No-Maj.” I don’t like the word “No-Maj,” and it isn’t believable to me that that word would develop in the United State’s much shorter wizarding history.

What do you think about the word “No-Maj” or any other thing that J.K. Rowling spun, concerning North American wizards? Did you like Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them?

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13 thoughts on “‘No-Maj’: An Annoying Term from American Wizards

  1. While not contesting your main point of the article (I have no strong feelings either way regarding the term) I think Radcliffe makes a legitimate point. In the UK people would say “flat” when we would say “apartment” or they would say “boot/bonnet” when we would say “trunk/hood”. There are several cases where those in the UK and those in the US use completely different words for the same thing (not just an abbreviation as you used as an example). That being said, I get it. “No-Maj” doesn’t roll off the tongue quite like “Muggle”.

    1. “No-Maj” doesn’t roll off the tongue as well as “Muggle,” but I clearly did not grow up in the American Wizarding World. Maybe it would sound completely normal to someone like Tina or Queenie.

      It’s entirely valid that there would be different words for the same thing. Then I have to ask what would be the words for “Muggle” in other Wizarding cultures? I know the translations of the books tried to maintain something akin to “Muggle,” but one could say that “Muggle” is only a term in the U.K. This makes me wish for Rowling to publish a book that shows the change of language over time in the Wizarding World.

      1. Yeah, I could see there being a lot of different terms for what Brits call “Muggles” depending on the country/culture/language. Just the fact that Americans call it something different would indicate that that’s the case to me.

  2. Do we know that the word “Muggle” was in existence at the time Isolt came to America? Even if it were, however, I don’t we can assume that “No-Maj” developed from “Muggle.” It could have begun as a competing word, eventually becoming widespread while “Muggle” dropped out of use. Language is constantly evolving, and its development isn’t linear. I would find it much stranger if Rowling’s version of the Wizarding U.S. showed no signs of linguistic change.

    1. I have no idea when “Muggle” came into usage. I assumed it had been around for a while since Rowling used the term in her story about Isolt Sayre. I suppose if we look at it as modern telling of history, “Muggle” could have been inserted into the story line since that is what modern Wizards would recognize.

  3. I think “No-Maj” is an annoying-sounding word. But when I think back about American history and all the calls for simplified, more straight-forward, and less British-sounding language, I think Rowling has a point. Not just around the American Revolution, but throughout American’s existence, including even today, people from Noah Webster to Mark Twain have been calling for a simple American English. So I can believe that “No-Maj” is exactly the kind of unimaginative, no-nonsense term Americans would have come up with.

    1. Point taken about simplified American English. I didn’t know that there was a call for simplified, straight-forward language; I only know the part of American English’s history when we removed ‘u’s from some of our words. That makes more sense about “No-Maj.”

      Do you think “No-Maj” could be considered too simplified as far as MACUSA’s fears of No-Majs discovering the existence of wizards? Wouldn’t someone as suspicious at the Second Salem people quickly catch on to “No-Maj” even if they did not know wizarding lingo?

      1. Yeah, that’s a pretty good point. If you’re going to be so literal about calling things exactly what they are , it’s probably not going to help with your secrecy! Rowling should write in a part where someone starts trying to come up with a “code word” to be used in public instead of essentially screaming “non-magical people!” 😛

  4. Yup, no-maj sounds a bit annoying! I personally don’t have an issue with having two different terms for Muggles (it makes sense imo) but the fact that Tina didn’t know the term “Muggle” and Newt didn’t know “No-Maj” was slightly far-fetched for me.

    1. I agree, though I usually think there would be two words for the same thing if we are dealing with different languages. I accept that there would be a different word since that reflects reality, but I encounter so little of it in other fantasy worlds that I ignored the possibility.

      Tina works for the government and Newt travels around the world. I would expect some level of cultural understanding. I don’t think it would be uncommon for Tina to run into British wizards, so I figured that she would at least know what a “Muggle” is. Newt also seems to know some things about American Wizardry (he commented about some of the laws), so I think he might have known what a “No-Maj” was.

  5. Personally I always found “No-Maj” annoying because to me it felt like JK Rowling is saying Americans are stupid. That they could only come up with a word that was super obvious. She might not have meant it this way, but that’s the vibe I get.

  6. I at once whole-heartedly agree with you, concede the point that Americans would be likely to simplify a term, and find it wildly hilarious that we all have an opinion about this at all.

    And really, if we were to argue that “no-maj” is a direct, simple term, what about the fact that you have to shift the spelling from mag to maj in order for it not to sound like an abbreviation for magazine? So we’re back to it just being an annoying, unpleasant sounding word that didn’t need to be created in order to differentiate the New World from the Old.

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