Sunday, August 2, 2020


Before Dumbledore was the famous surname of the headmaster at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, it was a British dialect word for bumble bee. According to, there are 46 species of bumble bees in North America. This one is a common eastern bumblebee, Bombus impatiens.
This is one of my favorite "dumbledores," a golden northern bumble bee, Bombus fervidus. Click to enlarge.
In the 1866 book Description of the Habitations of Animals, Classed According to Their Principle Construction, the author, John George Wood, says: "Any Humble-bee, no matter what species, is known as a Bumble-bee, a Foggie, a Dumbledore, or a Hummel-bee, according to the peculiar dialect of the locality." This is the brown belted bumble bee Bombus griseocollis.
J.K. Rowling said, during an interview on WBRU Radio in 1999: "Dumbledore is an old English word meaning bumblebee. Because Albus Dumbledore is very fond of music, I always imagined him as sort of humming to himself a lot." This is the two-spotted bumble bee, Bombus bimaculatus.
There are dumbledores in J.R.R. Tolkien's poem "Errantry," first published in 1933. An excerpt from the longer poem that describes the events of a hero's jouriney is below, and two more common eastern bumble bees in a rose, above.

"He battled with the Dumbledors,
the Hummerhorns, and Honeybees,
and won the Golden Honeycomb;
and running home on sunny seas
in ship of leaves and gossamer 
with blossom for a canopy,
he sat and sang, and furbished up
and burnished up his panoply." 

And, in honor of the onset of hot buggy August nights -- this guy, not a dumbledore but a humble fly, reenacting a line from yet another old poem that mentions a dumbledore. Below is "An August Midnight" by Thomas Hardy, published 1901.

"A shaded lamp and a waving blind,
And the beat of a clock from a distant floor:
On this scene enter -- winged, horned, and spined
A longlegs, a moth, and a dumbledore;
While 'mid my page there idly stands
A sleepy fly, that rubs its hands... 

Thus meet we five, in this still place,
At this point of time, at this point in space,
-- My guests besmear my new-penned line,
Or bang at the lamp and fall supine.
"God's humblest they! I muse. Yet why?
The know Earth-secrets that know not I."

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