I write primarily fantasy; recently, it's been brought to my attention that I use the terms "muggle" and "squib" informally fairly often in roleplay. If I were to publish something, I'd not want to use Potterverse terms; "muggle" can be substituted with "mundane" or "normie", I suppose, though they don't have the same ring to them, but is there a better, less verse-specific term I can use instead of "squib" to mean "Someone who was expected to have magic due to magical heritage but who does not?"

  • 2
    This seems like it might be a better fit on English, where word choice is on-topic.
    – justkt
    Commented Oct 11, 2011 at 19:48
  • Agree with @justkt ... Commented Oct 11, 2011 at 20:19
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    I disagree - this is a great, specific case of needing to come up with a new term with a similar meaning to an existing term that's author-specific. That's pretty uniquely a writing problem. It's coping with the same type of problem we saw in What's fair use for borrowing someone else's invented term?, it's just a specific instance.
    – Standback
    Commented Oct 11, 2011 at 20:32

4 Answers 4


Isn't one of the non-Rowling definitions of "squib" "a firecracker which doesn't explode"? So Rowling took something which means "has potential or is expected to do something, and fails to deliver," and used it for slang in a very appropriate way.

As I've said elsewhere, copy the work ethic, not the end result. Find or invent some other term which implies "fails to live up to potential or expectations" and use that instead.

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    This looks promising! I'll grab a thesaurus and mull over this for a few days. Thanks! Commented Oct 12, 2011 at 12:29
  • I could've sworn that in special effects, a squib is a small bag of fake blood, with a small charge underneath, set off by a supervisor during the filming, usually used to mimic gunshot hits. Looking at Wikipedia, it does indeed seem to be an actual, exploding, small charge.
    – Vatine
    Commented Oct 14, 2011 at 9:58
  • You are correct. "Squib" has several definitions depending on context, which is why I noted that "non-exploding firecracker" is one of them, and the most reasonable source for Rowling's slang. The SFX term is also not a leap from the firecracker one (it's a fake gout of blood, not a real one). Another reason why Yamikuronue should look up other terms and find his/her own slang for this concept. Commented Oct 14, 2011 at 12:02

The word "dud" comes to mind, or perhaps "blank" (like "he's a total blanker").


You can cheat around it by just changing the words, but, really, you're still borrowing pretty heavily from someone else's universe just by using the concepts. Are they absolutely necessary? Is there some way you could come up with your own unique (or at least, somewhat less derivative) ideas of magic?

I'm not commenting on the legality or even the morality of borrowing the ideas, just the saleability. If you borrow a lot from Rowling, or from any other runaway success, you're just one of many opportunists trying to capitalize on her popularity. That means that you have to be better than a LOT of people, since there are a lot of people writing similar stuff. I think you'll have better luck at getting well-published if you set yourself apart at the concept stage, and THEN write a kick-ass story using your own set-up.

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    Very true. Combine this response with Lauren's for a full picture: don't lift the "squib" concept whole from Rowling. Figure out what it means in your setting; what the nuances and details are that make it unique, tailored to your book, and your own. Then copy Rowling's work ethic, and find a word expressing that.
    – Standback
    Commented Oct 11, 2011 at 22:35
  • In the world in question, it's expected that a member of a specific Tribe have at least a little affinity with the specific type of magic for that Tribe; however, I'm lacking a good word for those who do not. The same concept seems to apply here but the word woudln't be perjorative in my world, merely descriptive. Commented Oct 12, 2011 at 12:29
  • Other terms that imply "different from one's brothers/sisters/parents" include: runt of the litter, hopeful monster, regression to the mean, special, mediocre, "atavism" (genetic throwback) and the opposite "born before their time", blinded, anosmiac, deaf, crippled, weak, rudimentary, vestigal, hyposmia, damaged, wounded, etc. Alas, most of the terms in the English language for various kinds of "different" are weighted with negative connotations.
    – David Cary
    Commented Sep 27, 2012 at 15:46


You could make anything up, though, it doesn't have to be a real word. You might want more than one term, one polite and one pejorative.

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