Before Harry Potter, 'Muggles' Meant Pot

This article is from the archive of our partner .

We all know a few people who may need some rehabilitation therapy to cure their Harry Potter addiction once the credits role on the franchise's final film tonight. But just how long have people been suffering from Harry-related addictions?

In fact, a Time magazine article all the way from 1931 warns of the problem. "In New Orleans many a schoolchild is said to be an addict," it reads. "Prison authorities find muggle-smuggling a perplexing problem."

Hold on--muggle smuggling?!

News reports this week have had plenty of fun with J.K. Rowling's term for non-magical people. And who can blame them? The term has been fair game ever since the Oxford English Dictionary added it back in 2003. Rowling says she fashioned the word as a play on the British slang "mug" or "an easily fooled person."

That makes sense, but the fact is the term was in use much earlier, beginning with the New Orleans jazz crowd, as a term for a marijuana cigarette. Read, for instance, an excerpt from jazz clarinetist Mezz Mezzrow's memoir Really the Blues:

"We used to roll our cigarettes right out in the open and light up like you would on a Camel or a Chesterfield. To us a muggle wasn't any more dangerous or habit-forming than those other great American vices, the five-cent Coke and the ice-cream cone, only it gave you more kicks for your money." 

Recommended Reading

Or this quote from jazz musician Hoagy Carmichael:

"It's the summer of 1923. We took to quarts of bathtub gin, a package of muggles, and headed for the black-and-tan joint where King Oliver's band was playing."

The 1931 Time article explains:

Marijuana is a variety of hemp weed (Cannabis sativa) long common in Mexico, lately becoming common in the U. S. Its leaves can be dried, ground and rolled into cigarets, [sic] which are bootlegged under the name of "muggles," "reefers," or "Mary Warners." Thinner, shorter than standard cigarets, "muggles" are made from the small delicate leaves of the female marijuana plant.

Much has been said of the aging population of Harry Potter fans of late. But perhaps journalists didn't even know the extent to which they were pandering to a more... college-aged audience. All of a sudden, news reports take on a meaning that would garner more than a PG rating.

"'Potter' Premiere draws Muggles galore!" reads a New York Post headline perhaps too gleefully. "Join the Harry Potter frenzy as we throw a Muggles Bash," advertises the Houston Children's Museum. "Hundreds of Muggles Camp Out for Harry Potter's London Premiere," declares Time magazine.

We'll excuse the latent double-entendres as unintentional, journalists, since not even we realized previously that muggles weren't quite as innocent as the Dursleys made them out to be. Indeed, Frank Bruni made the greatest claim for the collective innocence of the media on this one today when he wrote, "Muggles? I hadn't a clue."

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.