Any Harry Potter fan knows that muggles are people who don't have any magical ability, but in 1920s slang, 'muggles' was slang for marijuana. In fact, 'muggles' was the euphemism preferred by Bing Crosby, Louis Armstrong and others who performed at nightclubs during the Jazz Age. And the word made it into print as a synonym for marijuana in a 1931 TIME article.
"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,'" TIME wrote. "Thinner, shorter than standard cigarets, 'muggles' are made from the small delicate leaves of the female marijuana plant."
So why did Potter author J.K. Rowling -- who turns 51 today -- use 'muggles' for non-wizards? Was she trying to say that some people were too burned out on marijuana to use magic? Rowling has actually commented on the crossover between cannabis culture and the Potterverse. And she says that the shared term 'muggle' is pure coincidence. She used muggle as a pun on 'mug,' which is British slang for a gullible or foolish person. Which still works as a description for some musicians who enjoyed muggles back in the 20s.
Smoking muggles was a favored pastime among the era's musicians, according to jazz clarinetist Mezz Mezzrow -- a.k.a. "The Muggles King." In his autobiography, Really the Blues (1948), Mezzrow recalled enjoying a few joints while taking a day off with his friend Rapp.
"The next day Rapp and I went out to Lincoln Park and got into a rowboat. Rapp smoked his muta [marijuana] while he played the new guitar, and I blew on my kazoo....Muggles makes you hungry as a chinch in a storage house, and Rapp gobbled up about ten boxes of crackerjacks, shoveling so fast he even ate the prizes in a couple of them."
Mezz became so famous as a musician/muggles peddler that he was immortalized in the cannabis jazz tune "When You're a Viper."
Banner Image: JK Rowling arriving for the World Premiere of 'Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows pt2', Trafalgar Square, London, in 2011. (Featureflash Photo Agency / Shutterstock.com)