Warner Brothers
Warner Brothers

12 Post-Potter Revelations J.K. Rowling Has Shared

Warner Brothers
Warner Brothers

Any proper Harry Potter fan will insist that the series didn’t truly end with the release of the seventh and final book in July 2007, nor did it end with Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 in theatres in July 2011. There’s no more obvious testament to the wizarding world’s enduring legacy than J.K. Rowling herself, the author who has so much left to give to fans who are always eager to hear more. She continues to release new material via the Pottermore website and has yet to quash rumors of a forthcoming authoritative Harry Potter encyclopedia (though she hesitates to use the e-word).

But some of Rowling's most surprising insights about the fates of Harry and friends have come straight from her own mouth in various interviews given since Deathly Hallows closed the book on their stories. Here are some of the most essential insights from those interviews—though if the past few years are any indication, they won’t be the last. Note: If you haven't read all the books or seen all the movies, spoilers abound!

1. Dumbledore was gay

Harry Potter Wikia

When a fan got the chance to ask Rowling whether beloved headmaster Dumbledore, with his twinkling blue eyes, had ever been in love, the answer must have been wildly unexpected: not only had Rowling “always thought” of Dumbledore as gay, but his one great love had been his former best friend and Dark wizard Gellert Grindelwald, whom he ultimately defeated in a duel the likes of which were never surpassed by any two wizards since. By Rowling’s account, Dumbledore’s infatuation with Grindelwald may have blinded him to the danger which his plans of benevolent-but-totalitarian wizarding domination posed to the entire magical world. Rowling never explicitly states whether or not Dumbledore’s affections were ever returned, but either way, there’s a wrenching sense of tragedy in Dumbledore’s love life that never was.

2. Ron and Hermione’s relationship may have been a mistake

Harry Potter Wikia

In an interview with Emma Watson, otherwise known as the real-life Hermione Granger, Rowling dropped one of the biggest bombshells of her career when she confessed her sense that pairing off Ron and Hermione had been a mistake. She admits that at the time, she had pushed a Ron/Hermione relationship for “very personal reasons” and as a form of “wish fulfillment” in service of her original ideas of where the books would go, not because the two were a particularly “credible” couple; in retrospect, she thinks it would have made sense for Hermione to marry Harry instead.

Rowling’s most recent statement contradicted not only her published work, but her previous interviews, in which she claimed that Harry and Ginny were true “soul mates,” whereas Ron and Hermione operated on an opposites-attract level: “[They] are drawn to each other because they balance each other out. Hermione's got the sensitivity and maturity that's been left out of Ron, and Ron loosens up Hermione a bit, gets her to have some fun. They love each other and they bicker a bit, but they enjoy bickering, so we shouldn't worry about it”—and yet she has now joked (unless she wasn’t joking) that Ron and Hermione would have needed to seek relationship counseling. Fans predictably erupted at what they saw as Rowling’s unwanted editorializing on books long gone to print, though early fans of a Harry/Hermione pairing were quietly vindicated; either way, the books have been written, and there’s always fanfiction for all the rest.

3. Tonks and Lupin almost lived, but Ron and Arthur Weasley almost died

Authors are allowed to change their minds, but when it comes to matters of a character’s life or death, there’s a lot to consider. It seems inconceivable now, but Rowling admits that about halfway through the series, when she “wasn’t in a very happy place” in her own life, she considered going back on her previous commitment to herself to keep the Golden Trio alive, and almost killed off Ron Weasley. In retrospect, she now believes that she wouldn’t really have been able to do it, but at the time, she entertained the notion “out of sheer spite.” Luckily for Ron, Rowling’s fit of pique passed, and he was spared.

Arthur Weasley’s near-death was a subject of more serious deliberation: Rowling felt uncomfortable with the idea that the entire Weasley clan should survive (since purely on a statistical basis, that would have been hugely unrealistic), and she thought Mr. Weasley might be the one to go. She granted him a reprieve when she realized what a huge blow such a loss would deal not only to Harry, in whose life Mr. Weasley played the most stable father figure, but to Ron. As half an orphan—half of what Harry had been all his life—he would have lost his humor, and Rowling decided that she needed to keep Ron “intact,” thereby sparing Mr. Weasley. The honor of being the Weasley to die in battle therefore fell to Fred: Of the two twins, Rowling had always written George as the more sensitive one, and Fred as “the funnier, but also the crueler of the two.” Hoping to circumvent fans’ expectations that George, the more passive of the pair, should be the obvious choice to die, Rowling decreed that Fred had to go.

Rowling never intended for Lupin or Tonks to die in battle. Although she wanted to spare Ron the loss of a father, she did later decide that she needed a character to lose both parents as a means of bringing the orphan story full circle. Teddy Lupin, like both Harry and Neville, grows up without a mother or father, instead entrusted to the care of relatives; yet Rowling intended to show that unlike the two other boys who grew up without a traditional nuclear family, Teddy was able to grow up with loving caregivers in a world that, after Voldemort’s fall, was “a better place.” She also emphasizes that Teddy benefits from an even better godfather than Sirius: Harry becomes a true father figure to Lupin’s son, and despite his orphanhood, Teddy turns out okay.

4. Harry and Voldemort are blood relatives

Harry Potter Wikia

Clever fans may have sussed this out on their own simply by connecting some of the dots regarding ownership of two of the three Deathly Hallows, family heirlooms that were passed down from descendant to descendant before one reached Harry Potter and another, Lord Voldemort. When Albus Dumbledore gifted the Cloak of Invisibility to Harry on his first Christmas at Hogwarts, he had merely been keeping it safe on behalf of Harry’s father James, a direct descendant of Ignotus Peverell, its original owner and one of the “Three Brothers” whose story is fictionalized in an old wizarding fairy tale. The Resurrection Stone, having been set into a ring, passed similarly between generations from Cadmus Peverell to the Gaunt family and eventually to final surviving patriarch Marvolo Gaunt, Tom Riddle, Jr.’s maternal grandfather. When Marvolo died, his son Morfin inherited the ring, and it was from him that Lord Voldemort-to-be claimed the heirloom he believed to be his birthright. From there, it seems reasonable to assume that Harry and Voldemort might share a common ancestor through their pureblood connections, and Rowling confirmed that they are in fact distantly related through the Peverells. Then again, with the insular nature of wizarding lineage, Rowling notes, “nearly all wizarding families are related if you trace them back through the centuries.”

5. Harry and Dudley made amends

Harry Potter Wikia

The two cousins parted uneasily after a childhood of fearing, tormenting, and misunderstanding one another, with “I don’t think you’re a waste of space” remaining the kindest words Dudley ever spoke to Harry, yet in that brief instance offering some hope that the two might someday reconcile. Though Rowling sadly quashed the notion of Dudley appearing at King’s Cross in the Epilogue beside his own wizarding child, citing a conviction that “any latent wizarding genes would never survive contact with Uncle Vernon’s DNA,” she does say that he remains on “Christmas card terms” with Harry, who in turn makes an effort to drop in to see his cousin when in his neighborhood. Though their children manage to play together, Harry and Dudley merely “sit in silence” as they watch; some things never change.

6. Snape was remembered as Headmaster

Harry Potter Wikia

In the triumphant final scene after Voldemort’s defeat, Harry enters the Headmaster’s office to rousing applause from the moving portraits of Hogwarts’s former Headmasters and Headmistresses, but one figure is conspicuously absent: Severus Snape. Having abandoned his duties prior to dying, Snape would not have been considered worthy to take his place among the other, more revered Hogwarts heads. However, Rowling believes that Harry would later have insisted on Snape’s portrait being hung as deserved.

7. Neville’s parents never recover

Harry Potter Wikia

As if the slew of heartbreaking deaths during the Final Battle weren’t enough cause for fans to curse Rowling’s unwillingness to write too many happy endings, she also shared in an interview that Frank and Alice Longbottom never surfaced from their torture-induced madness. The long-time residents of St. Mungo’s Hospital for Magical Maladies and Injuries, placed in the incurable wing for continuing palliative treatment after overexposure to the Cruciatus Curse by Bellatrix Lestrange and her fellow Death Eaters, remained forever unaware of their son’s heroic role in avenging their fates.

8. Harry and Ron stayed Hogwarts dropouts

After so many incidences of Harry and Ron shamelessly copying Hermione’s notes and each other’s homework, it wasn’t hard to see this one coming: Only Hermione bothered to go back and finish her final year of education after Voldemort so rudely interrupted everyone’s studies. She took her N.E.W.T.s—presumably scoring top marks across the board—and would have been the only one of the trio to participate in the Hogwarts graduation tradition of riding the boats back across the lake, reversing the process by which she and her fellow first-years arrived.

9. The Golden Trio became high-ranking government employees

Harry Potter Wikia

Luckily, Harry and Ron’s lack of formal qualifications didn’t stop them from realizing their dream of becoming Aurors, officers of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement’s elite branch dedicated to combating the use of the Dark Arts. At age 17, Harry became the youngest Auror ever employed by the Ministry of Magic, and ascended to a position as head of the department just nine years later, under his friend and fellow Order of the Phoenix member Kingsley Shacklebolt as Minister for Magic. Hermione took a more conventional path through the Ministry ranks: Starting off in the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures, she continued her crusade for house elves’ rights before transferring to a position high within the Department of Magical Law Enforcement to help scrub wizarding law of its antiquated pureblood prejudices. Together, Kingsley and the Trio spearheaded a total reform of the Ministry from its old, corrupt ways. They were joined by Percy Weasley, whose change of heart suited him well as an official in the new Ministry.

10. Neville earned a reputation for being cool

Harry Potter Wikia

Awkward, fumbling Neville Longbottom has always had defenders, since the day he valiantly stood up to his own friends and begged them not to get into any more trouble (clearly not understanding what he’d gotten himself into by befriending Harry, Ron, and Hermione). He proved his mettle time and again, particularly as a member of both the original and reunited Dumbledore’s army, and not least when he beheaded Nagini with Godric Gryffindor’s own sword. After the Battle of Hogwarts, no one could deny that Neville was a great wizard in his own right, despite all those melted cauldrons in his youth. He earned his grandmother’s respect and a position as the new Hogwarts Herbology professor. Upon marrying Hannah Abbott, the new landlady at The Leaky Cauldron, he also gained some cachet with his students: they would’ve found it “very cool,” according to Rowling, that he lived above the pub.

11. Harry got a sweet new ride

Harry Potter Wikia

Though Sirius Black’s motorbike succumbed to damage during the mid-air battle between the Death Eaters and the Order of the Phoenix trying to transport Harry to safety, its broken bits found safe refuge in Arthur Weasley’s backyard tinkering shed. Mr. Weasley’s fascination with fixing all things magic and Muggle served him well, and he finally found time after the Second Wizarding War to repair the bike and return it to Harry.

12. Harry, Ron, and Hermione were immortalized on Chocolate Frog cards

Harry Potter Wikia

The three friends were all honored for their efforts in destroying Voldemort’s Horcruxes and defeating “the most dangerous dark wizard of all time” with commemorative Chocolate Frog cards, to be distributed alongside the sweets as collectible items. Like Albus Dumbledore, Ron Weasley considered this the greatest achievement of his life.

Why a Major Error in 'A Wrinkle in Time' Was Never Corrected

Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time was published in 1962, and thanks to the recent release of a big-budget Disney adaptation, the book is just as popular as ever. The book has earned its status as a modern classic, but according to the Daily Beast, there's something hiding in the text of every copy that is rarely seen in titles that have enjoyed such a long print run. The book features an error that's been reprinted millions of times, and unless you read Greek, you would likely never notice it.

The mistake falls on page 59 of the new Square Fish edition that was published to tie in with the new film. On that page you'll find a quote from Mrs Who, one of the three mystical beings that guide the protagonist Meg and her companions across the universe. Because verbalizing in her own words takes a lot of energy, Mrs Who communicates strictly by quoting great writers and thinkers from history. In this case, she's quoting the playwright Euripides in his original ancient Greek. She follows it with the English translation, "Nothing is hopeless; we must hope for everything," but Greek speakers will notice that the two quotes don't match up. The original line in Greek includes words that don't make sense together or don't exist at all.

How was such a glaring error able to go unnoticed in a major work for so long? The answer is that it didn't: L'Engle was made aware of it by a friend of Greek heritage in the 1990s. According to L'Engle's granddaughter, the writer could trace the typo back to the Dictionary of Foreign Phrases and Classical Quotations, the book she pulled all of Mrs Who's quotes from. While transcribing the Euripides quote by hand she must have omitted a letter by accident. The quote was further removed from the original when the typesetter chose the Greek characters from her manuscript.

Even after hearing about the mistake, L'Engle didn't make fixing it her top priority. Instead she invested her energy into tackling other copyediting issues for the 1993 reprint, like removing all the periods from Mrs Who's, Mrs Which's, and Mrs Whatsit's names. When L'Engle died in 2007, the mangled quote was still standard in new copies of A Wrinkle in Time.

To date, only one English-language edition of the book contains the corrected quotation: the 1994 audiobook narrated by L'Engle herself. But the publishers of A Wrinkle in Time at Macmillan are apparently aware of the error, so the next printing may finally be the one that gets it right.

[h/t Daily Beast]

iStock // Heinrich Hoffmann/Keystone Features/Getty Images // collage by Jen Pinkowski
When German Scientists Tried to Rename Bats and Shrews, Hitler Threatened to Send Them to War
iStock // Heinrich Hoffmann/Keystone Features/Getty Images // collage by Jen Pinkowski
iStock // Heinrich Hoffmann/Keystone Features/Getty Images // collage by Jen Pinkowski

In The Art of Naming (The MIT Press), Michael Ohl, a biologist at the Natural History Museum of Berlin, delves into the art, science, language, and history of taxonomy. There are some 1.8 million known species—and scientists estimate that 100 million more await discovery. Every one will need a name. How does the process work? 

Ohl takes us into the field with the explorers and scientists at the forefront of naming the natural world, including Father Armand David, a French priest who was the first to describe the panda to the Western world; American paleontologists Edward Dinker Cope and Othniel Charles Marsh, who bitterly battled in the Bone Wars; and Polish biologist Benedykt Dybowski, whose unique naming system for crustaceans called gammarids (a.k.a. "scuds") resulted in tongue-twisters such as Cancelloidokytodermogammarus (Loveninsuskytodermogammarus) loveni.

In the excerpt below, Ohl tells the story of one of the little-known footnotes to World War II: When Adolf Hitler threatened the German biologists who wanted to rename bats and shrews. And, read on for the best bat nickname of all time: "bacon mouse."

—Jen Pinkowski


On March 3, 1942, a brief item with a rather peculiar headline appeared tucked away in the Berliner Morgenpost newspaper. "Fledermaus No Longer!" the bold letters proclaimed. The following short text was printed underneath:

"At its 15th General Assembly, the German Society for Mammalogy passed a resolution to change the zoologically misleading names 'Spitzmaus' [shrew] and 'Fledermaus' [bat] to 'Spitzer' and 'Fleder.' Fleder is an old form for Flatterer [one that flutters]. The Spitzmaus, as it happens, has borne a variety of names: Spitzer [one that is pointed], Spitzlein, Spitzwicht, Spitzling. Over the course of the conference, several important lectures were held in the auditorium of the Zoologisches Museum […]."

To this day, despite the problems announced by Germany's leading specialists on mammals on the pages of one of the capital's daily papers, fledermaus and spitzmaus remain the common German names for bats and shrews. Neither dictionaries nor specialized nature guides contain entries for fleder or spitzer (provided one disregards the primary definition of spitzer, which is a "small implement used for the sharpening of pencils").

Indeed, a swift response to the item in question arrived from an unexpected source. Martin Bormann, Adolf Hitler's private secretary, sent a message on March 4, 1942, to Hans Heinrich Lammers, head of the Reich Chancellery. The missive contained remarkably unambiguous instructions from Hitler:

"In yesterday's newspapers, the Führer read an item regarding the changes of name ratified by the German Society for Mammalogy on the occasion of its 15th General Assembly. The Führer subsequently instructed me to communicate to the responsible parties, in no uncertain terms, that these changes of name are to be reversed immediately. Should members of the Society for Mammalogy have nothing more essential to the war effort or smarter to do, perhaps an extended stint in the construction battalion on the Russian front could be arranged. Should such asinine renamings occur once more, the Führer will unquestionably take appropriate measures; under no circumstance should terms that have become established over the course of many years be altered in this fashion."

There's no question that the "responsible parties" understood and responded to the injunction, which could hardly have been misinterpreted. On July 1, 1942, at least, a notice was printed in the Zoologischer Anzeiger—at that time, the "organ of the German Zoological Society"—that comprised a scant five lines. The notice has no byline and can most likely be attributed to the journal's publishers:

"Regarding the discussion [in earlier issues of the Zoologischer Anzeiger] about potential changes to the names 'Fledermaus' and 'Spitzmaus,' the Editors wish to make public that terms that have become established over the course of many years are not to be altered, following an announcement by the Reich Minister of Science, Education, and National Culture, as per the Führer's directive."

It's conceivable that Lammers forwarded Hitler's instructions (which had reached him by way of Bormann) to Bernhard Rust, the Reich Minister of Science, Education, and National Culture. Rust will then likely have ordered one of the "parties responsible" for the unpopular initiative to publish the retraction in the appropriate platform. The Zoologischer Anzeiger fit the bill, considering the fact that by 1941 it had already featured two articles debating whether the name spitzmaus should be changed.

What is the problem, though, that veteran scientists have with spitzmaus and fledermaus, those innocuous terms for the shrew and the bat? And how could it come to pass that Adolf Hitler—preoccupied as he was in 1942— should personally join in the campaign for the correct classification of these small mammals?


The common thread in these two unremarkable and familiar terms is of course the second word component, maus, or "mouse."

Fledermaus and spitzmaus … are (linguistically) first and foremost mice. By referencing certain characteristics in these compound words (fleder comes from flattern, "to flap"; spitz, or "point," refers to the shrew's pointy nose or rather head shape), it becomes possible to provide a clear name—or almost clear, at least, because there are many bat and shrew species, but more on that later.

Both names, of course, imply affiliation with mice, and that's the sticking point. In zoological terms, mice are a group of rodents known at the higher level of classification as Muroidea, "muroids" or the "mouse-like." The group includes quite the mix of animal groups, with occasionally curious names like zokor, blind mole-rat, spiny tree mouse, and Chinese pygmy dormouse, not to mention our pet hamsters and those domestic but unwelcome mice and rats. Common to all muroids are sundry and complex structural features in the skull, coupled of course with the oversized, continually growing incisors typical of rodents. Beyond that, although endless evolutionary gimmickry can revolve around this mouse theme (long or short legs, different fur colors and tail lengths, and much more), and even without biological expertise, most muroids tend to be identifiable as mice, if only vaguely.

Zoologically speaking, a mere mouse-like appearance is insufficient to denote a muroid. Instead, the specific anatomical features of the skull must be in evidence.

Field, house, and deer mice are familiar to many North Americans, although they typically live hidden away, and we don't often encounter them. These animals with the "mouse" base in their name are truly mice in the zoological sense.

The same cannot exactly be said for the bat and shrew—the fledermaus and spitzmaus—despite their names. Neither of them is even a rodent or, consequently, a muroid. Then what are they?

In the classification of mammals, a whole series of groupings is traditionally distinguished, usually assigned the rank of order within the class of mammals. Depending on scientific opinion, there are 25 to 30 of these orders of mammals. Rodents comprise one of these orders, to which muroids and several other groups of mammals belong.

Bats, meanwhile, are typical representatives of the order of flying mammals. Their scientific name is Chiroptera, from the Greek words chiros (hand) and pteros (wings). Chiroptera, then, means "hand-flier," which is a fitting name for bats and their closest relatives, flying foxes.

The systematic placement of the shrew, or spitzmaus, is determined in much the same way. They, too, fail to possess the mouse characteristics in question, although they do share traits with moles and hedgehogs, as well as with the solenodon (meaning "slotted tooth"), which is a venomous critter native exclusively to the Caribbean islands. They are now situated under the wondrous designation Eulipotyphla, but only since 1999. How they are related—along with ties to an array of other mammal families, such as tenrecs, desmans, and golden moles—has not been conclusively explained.

Experts have known for a long time—since Linnaeus's Systema Naturae at the latest—that neither bats nor shrews are related to mice, to which common parlance pays no heed. The fledermaus and spitzmaus comfortably maintain their spots in the lexicon.


One of the first mammal biologists to campaign for the standardization of German mammal names was Hermann Pohle. Born in Berlin in 1892, Pohle remained faithful to the city until his death and spent a large part of his life working at the natural history museum there. His career as a mammal biologist started early, when as a university student he worked as an unpaid hireling in the museum's famed mammal collection. Through diligence, endurance, and scientific acumen, he worked his way up to head curator of mammals. He thus held one of the most influential positions, of both national and international significance, in the field of systematic mammal research.

In 1926, Pohle—along with Ludwig Heck, the former director of the Berlin Zoo, and a number of other colleagues—founded the German Society for Mammalogy, of which he was the first head. Pohle thus had his finger on the pulse of mammal research, as it were, and he followed the history of the society over the next five decades "with keen interest," as one biographer noted.

In addition to his work as a researcher and curator of the mammal collection at Berlin's Museum für Naturkunde (Museum of Natural History), Pohle's interests also lay with German mammal names. Not only did he push for standardization of names, Pohle also campaigned to have existing names assessed for scientific plausibility and changed, should they not pass (his) zoological muster.

In 1942, Pohle published a summary article addressing the question, "How many species of mammals live in Germany?" He appended a comprehensive list of all German mammals, each with its correct "technical name," as Pohle called it, as well as its corresponding German name. When it came to the various species of spitzmaus (of which the Germans have eight, incidentally, despite the long-standing impression that there is "the" one and only shrew) and the 16 species of bats that have the base word "fledermaus" in their name, Pohle consistently uses alternative terms. The eight shrew species thus became waldspitzer, zwergspitzer, alpenspitzer, wasserspitzer, mittelspitzer, feldspitzer, gartenspitzer, and hausspitzer. For the bats, the base of their compound name was changed to fleder: teichfleder, langfußfleder, wasserfleder, and so on, all the way to a term of particular elegance, wimperfleder.

Pohle's article, which predates the society's 15th General Assembly and Hitler's emotional veto by more than a year, is a particularly interesting source because he also shares his actual motivations for the suggested changes. His emphatic objective is to see "the term 'Maus' disappear, responsible as it is for laypersons' wont to lump the animals together with actual mice."

In the estimation of these laypersons, mice are something "ugly and destructive that must be fought, or ideally exterminated." Shrews and bats, harmless as they are to humans, are thus subject to the same brutal fate. Pohle hopes for a "shift in perspective" to occur, once the endangered animals are no longer referred to as mice.

What to do, then? Pohle would prefer the term spitz for spitzmaus, but it's already been assigned to a dog breed. Rüssler could also work, only it already applies to some other insectivore. That leaves spitzer, a name that emphasizes the pointy head as a distinguishing characteristic and is still available.

Pohle wants a name for bats without "maus" but happily with a nod to the animals' flying ability. Most names of this kind are already employed for birds, and "flatterer" or "flutterer" could only logically be used for a certain population of bats, namely, those bad at flying. "Flieger" or "flyer," another hot candidate, is also in use by various other animal groups.

But why, Pohle asks the reader, would one even need to say "fledermaus," when "fleder" actually makes perfect sense? Pohle mentions that the original meaning of "fleder" was different, but few people were aware of this fact anymore.

On the off chance that he was correct in this assessment, let it be noted that fledermaus can be traced back to the 10th century, to the Old High German "vledern" or "flattern" (the infinitive form of "flatterer"). The image of the bat as a "fluttering mouse" has existed since this time in many languages, including "flittermouse" in English. A number of other German terms exist for bats. In some regions of Germany, such as Rhineland-Palatinate and Southern Hesse, the Old High German "fledarmus" is said to have been used to describe nocturnal creatures, such as moths. There, bats were apparently called "speckmaus," instead of fledermaus, because while hibernating, they could be seen hanging like pieces of bacon (speck) in the smoke.

Pohle's dedication to promoting the protection of bats and shrews through a bold name change reached its temporary culmination a year later, when—at the 15th General Assembly of the German Society for Mammalogy in Berlin—a resolution was passed on a universal and binding adoption of the spitzer- and fleder-based names Pohle had suggested. The results are known: Hitler was not amused.


We can only guess at what Hitler's actual motive was in issuing such drastic threats to prevent the name alterations proposed by the German Society for Mammalogy. It could have been his outrage that in 1942—hard times because of the war—leading German intellectuals were concerned with something so unimportant and banal as the appropriateness of animal names. Perhaps this anecdote is just a further example of Hitler's hostility toward intellectuals.

It is ultimately unclear, even, to what extent Hitler was the driving force behind this directive or whether this is a case of subordinates "working towards the Führer," as historian Ian Kershaw describes it. Conceivably, after reading the Berliner Morgenpost, Hitler may have remarked negatively regarding the zoologists' plans. His circle—in this case, Bormann—may have immediately interpreted this as "the Führer's will" and sprung to action accordingly. As for Pohle and his colleagues, it can't have mattered much whether the "invitation" to the Eastern Front came directly from Hitler or was communicated in an act of premature obedience.

Whatever the case may be, Pohle's suggested name changes did not fail because of Hitler's intervention, which presumably resonated as little with the German-speaking public as the original notice. Pohle failed because he wanted to take the basic idea of a standardized naming system out of the scientific context and transfer it into the realm of vernacular. Everyday German is not formally and officially regulated, and like every other vernacular, it follows different rules than scientific speech. It is shaped by a multitude of factors and influences that have their own unpredictable dynamic, which leads to some word usages changing while others stabilize.

In kindergarten, we learn that small, furry four-legged animals with a tail are "mice." This act of naming fulfills the exact function expected of it. It "tags" specific linguistic content—a meaning—that is generally understood. The difference between muroids and insectivores, which is important to zoologists, has no application in everyday confrontations with "mouse-like" animals and makes no difference to most people. A mouse is a mouse, whether a striped field mouse or a shrew.


More from mental floss studios