Quick Note: I wrote this post ages ago, before COVID-19, shelter-in-place, and social distancing was a thing. I debated posting it, but eventually decided it should go live. I want to help foster a sense of normalcy during these difficult times. So, with that as a goal, let’s side-eye some of the faux-profanity from J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter, eh?
Raunch Reviews is a series about profanity. Not real profanity, but speculative swearing. Authors often try to incorporate original, innovative forms of profanity into our own fantastical works as a way to expand the worlds we build. Sometimes we’re successful. Often we’re not. In this series, I examine the faux-profanity from various works of sci-fi and fantasy, judge their effectiveness, and rate them on an unscientific and purely subjective scale. This is Raunch Reviews, welcome.
The Author: J. K. Rowling
Work in Question: The Harry Potter Series
The Profanity: “Merlin’s Beard”
Within the Harry Potter series, there is one example of faux-profanity that is a bit of a conundrum for me. Partly because it’s played for laughs, but mostly because it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. “Merlin’s Beard” desperately wants to be profanity. It reads like a pejorative. It follows typical stylings of oaths evoking a name and pairing it with a physical feature. We don’t see these often today, but many oaths of this kind were popular in the Middle Ages, and later due to semantic drift, they became the mild-minced oaths popular in the 20th century.
But even in the magic-filled world of the Potter series, Merlin remains little more than a historical figure. He’s not worshiped or viewed as a deity, he was merely a respected wizard of antiquity, so evoking his name carries little weight. It’s not blasphemous, and this makes it odd to see his name employed in this manner, with no reason for its usage given. Oaths are rooted in a rebellion toward authority, and there’s no rebelling here. It’d be like an American swearing by Martin Luther King, Jr. or Abraham Lincoln. It wouldn’t carry any punch. So, while Harry Potter has done well in the past, it stumbles here, leaving us with a pseudo-oath more befuddled than anything else.
🤬 Previous Raunch Reviews
- “Drokk” from John Wagner & Carlos Ezquerra’s Judge Dredd
- “Skin Job” from Hampton Fancher & David Peoples’ Blade Runner
- “Frag” from J. Michael Straczynski’s Babylon 5
- “Gorram” from Joss Whedon’s Firefly
- “Prawn” from Neill Blomkamp & Terri Tatchell’s District 9
- “By the Firsts” from K. M. Alexander’s Bell Forging Cycle
- “Smurf” from Raja Gosnell & Jordan Kerner’s The Smurfs (2011)
- “Dren” from Rockne S. O’Bannon’s Farscape
- “Quiznak” from J. Dos Santos & L. Montgomery’s Voltron: Legendary Defender
- “Smeg” from Rob Grant and Doug Naylor’s Red Dwarf
- “Burn Me” from Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time
- “Slitch” from Robert A. Heinlein’s Friday
- “Yarbles” from Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange
- “Cuss” from Wes Anderson’s Fantastic Mr. Fox
- “Feth” from Dan Abnett’s Gaunt’s Ghosts from Warhammer 40k
- “Shazbot” from Garry Marshall’s Mork & Mindy and Dynamix’s Starsiege: Tribes
- “Seven Hells” from George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice & Fire/Game of Thrones
- “Mudblood” from J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series
- “Frak” from Glen A. Larson’s, Ronald D. Moore’s, & David Eick’s Battlestar Galactica
- “Jabber” from China Miéville’s Bas-Lag series
- “Storm it”/”Storms”/”Storming” from Brandon Sanderson’s The Stormlight Archives
Have a suggestion for Raunch Reviews? It can be any made-up slang word from a book, television show, or movie. You can email me directly with your recommendation or leave a comment below. I’ll need to spend time with the property before I’ll feel confident reviewing it, so give me a little time. I have a lot of books to read.