Who, what, why: What does 'Death Eaterish' mean?

Voldemort

Harry Potter author JK Rowling has called some campaigners for Scottish independence "Death Eaterish". What does she mean, asks Justin Parkinson.

JK Rowling has given £1m to Better Together, the campaign to keep Scotland part of the UK.

In doing so, she criticised "a fringe of nationalists who like to demonise anyone who is not blindly and unquestionably pro-independence".

She likened some of them to the scariest characters in her books, saying that, when trying to "make this debate about the purity of your lineage, things start getting a little Death Eaterish for my taste".

The Death Eaters are a group of wizards described as "pure-blood" supremacists led by the evil Lord Voldemort, Potter's arch-enemy. They are contemptuous of "half-bloods" and human "muggles".

Start Quote

JK Rowling

Things start getting a little Death Eaterish for my taste”

End Quote JK Rowling

The inner circle of Death Eaters - who behave without regard to wizarding law - have dark marks emblazoned on their arm, denoting membership.

"To use the D-word is pretty much as low as you can go in the Harry Potter fandom," says expert John Granger. "It will really hit a nerve with JK Rowling's fans. She is trying to get back at the people who say she's not really Scottish and shouldn't intervene in the debate."

Rowling, who is estimated to be worth more than £500m, grew up in England but has lived in Scotland for more than 20 years.

"Death Eaters are very unpleasant," says Granger. "Their belief in bloodlines has, if not a racist, then at least a racialist idea behind it."

Rowling's comments have provoked abuse on Twitter, but Scotland's First Minister Alex Salmond has said that "everybody's entitled to express a view in whatever sense".

The answer

  • In Rowling's books, death eaters are followers of Lord Voldemort, Harry Potter's arch enemy
  • They believe that "pure blooded" wizards should rule over everyone

"As much as I like and admire JK Rowling," says John McRae, an English lecturer at Nottingham University, "as an insult it's pretty alarming and referring to her own work does her no favours."

Rowling's comments are not the first time a "Death Eaterish" brand of insult has been used. In a diplomatic row earlier this year, the Chinese and Japanese ambassadors to the UK both compared their respective countries' attitude over territorial and historical disputes to that of Voldemort.

"The fact that JK Rowling can use the name of characters in her book and everyone understands just goes to show how popular she is," says Mark Forsyth, author of The Etymologicon, which looks at the connections between words in English. "I would love to be able to do the same."

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