Strictly British

U.S.: cot. The prefix "camp" used in this way means "folding and portable" (NSOED). In the U.K., a "cot" is what people in the U.S. would refer to as a crib - that is, a bed for a baby.

  • He heaved a pile of parcels onto Harry's camp-bed...In some trepidation, Harry opened the last parcel on his camp-bed (GF10)

  • "I could kip on a camp-bed" (GF16)

U.S.: slingshot.

Catherine wheel
A firework which, while detonating, rotates like a pinwheel.

Named after Saint Catherine of Alexandria, who according to legend converted to Christianity during the reign of the emperor Maximus. At age 18, she offered to debate non-Christian philosophers and not only converted many by her arguments, but went on to convert the leader of the army and the empress when later they went to see her in prison. Catherine was then condemned to be tortured to death on a spiked wheel (an instrument of torture that consequently is also known as a Catherine wheel), but the wheel was miraculously destroyed when she touched it (which is why the instrument of torture shares its name with the wheel-shaped firework). (NSOED, WEB LINKPatron Saints Index: Saint Catherine of Alexandria)

  • Shocking-pink Catherine wheels five feet in diameter were whizzing lethally through the air like so many flying saucers (OP28).

Chancellor of the Exchequer
The finance minister of the United Kingdom (NSOED). The Chancellor of the Exchequer lives at number 11, Downing Street in London - that is, he or she is a neighbour of the Prime Minister, who lives at number 10.

  • When several carpenters, a builder or two, an art historian, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer had all tried unsuccessfully to prise it from the wall... (HBP1)

cheek, cheeked, cheeky
"Cheek" means "insolence", so "cheeked" is "sassed, bad-mouthed".

A type of fairly thin, pork sausage. The name is from the Italian for an onion dish (from cipolla = onion)

U.S.: French fries.

  • He had never seen so many things he liked to eat on one table: roast beef, roast chicken, pork chops and lamb chops, sausages, bacon and steak, boiled potatoes, roast potatoes, chips... (PS7)

  • He reached across Ron for a couple of chicken legs and a handful of chips, but before he could take them they vanished, to be replaced with puddings (HBP8)

Christmas Cake
A very rich fruitcake, covered in marzipan and white icing (a bit like Wedding Cake) and decorated with holly and berries, silver accessories or snow scenes. Most people make the basic Christmas Cake several months before Christmas and feed it with brandy or sherry until completely soused. And the cake...

Christmas Pudding (Flaming Christmas Pudding)
A Christmas Pudding (Plum Pudding) is a rich dried fruit, suet/cake mixture that is steamed. It is usually served with brandy butter, or doused with brandy and lit at the table (hence the flaming). Traditionally, a sixpence (2.5p) was hidden in the pudding, and whoever got the piece containing it could make a wish. These days, a 5p, 10p or 20p piece may be used.

Pleased, happy (NSOED).

In general, this means any artificial reservoir for storing water, but the books use it mainly to refer to what in the U.S. would be called a toilet tank.

Nonsense. Untruths. "Oddly enough, the word 'Codswallop' is probably of U.S. origin. It is thought to come from the inventor of a new kind of bottle in the late 19th century. The inventor's name was Hiram Codd and the bottle had a small ball (rather like a marble) as a stopper which one had to strike smartly (or wallop) in order to get at the drink - hence Codd's Wallop - Codswallop!" (contributed by Dr. Matthew J. Williamson, University of Brighton)

common room
A room in a school to which all members in a certain category have common access for social or business purposes. Readers of Dorothy L. Sayers' novel WEB LINKGaudy Night which is set at Oxford University, will have encountered the term there. In the Muggle world, the word can also be used to refer to the people who use the room as well as the room itself, but the Harry Potter books have not so far used it like that.
The NSOED says this phrase ought to be hyphenated, but since JKR doesn't do that, we don't.

  • They all scrambled through [the portrait hole] - Neville needed a leg up - and found themselves in the Gryffindor common room, a cosy, round room full of squashy armchairs (PS7)

  • "I could take you up to our common room and show you" (DH29)

comprehensive (British edition only)
Short for "comprehensive school", what in the U.S. would be called a public school. See also public school.

Slang for "nose". Conk is most likely derived from Conkers or horse chestnuts, which are used in a child's game in which one person uses his/her conker to smash those of opposing players. Also, "nut" means head, as in, "watch your nut" (watch your head), "He's off his nut" (he's crazy). (contributed by Pat Gilliland) To "conk out," means to pass out.

  • "Grab your nose and yell, 'GOT YER CONK!'" (PS8)

U.S.: cooking. What in the U.S. is called a "cookbook" is referred to in the U.K. as a "cookery book".

  • His hobbies include backgammon, vegetarian cookery, and collecting vintage broomsticks (QA)

A small stand of trees and undergrowth, particularly if it is grown for periodic cutting (NSOED).

  • [The path] seemed to be heading for a patch of dark trees a little below them. Sure enough, the track soon opened up at the copse (HBP10)

cosy, cozy
A "cosy" or "cozy" is a cloth covering (often padded or quilted) for something; see tea cosy for an example of this.

U.S. readers may get a somewhat mistaken impression from this word. It can refer to any moderate-sized detached house in the suburbs or the country, though it tends to be used to suggest a small, modest place. It may specifically mean a rather old-fashioned building of this type, but that depends on context.

  • After about twenty minutes, a small stone cottage next to a gate swam into view (GF7)

cotton on
U.S.: "catch on", "get it", understand.

  • "Why don't you show Harry where he's sleeping, Ron?" said Hermione from the doorway.
    "He knows where he's sleeping," said Ron, "in my room, he slept there last -"
    "We can all go," said Hermione pointedly.
    "Oh," said Ron, cottoning on. "Right."
    - Hermione and Ron (GF5)

A derogatory slang term for a woman, suggesting that she is coarse and/or unpleasant (NSOED).

  • that Skeeter cow (GF24)

  • "He's a hard-working, down-to-earth sort of person, whereas she's -"
    "A cow," said Ginny, nodding.
    - the Weasley women in conversation (HBP5)

As in Wizard Crackers or Christmas Crackers: A tube of cardboard wrapped in fancy paper and twisted at both ends. Inside the tube is a strip of paper coated in gunpowder, which snaps (cracks) when two people pull the cracker apart. Inside the tube, there would be a paper party hat, a small gift and a very childish joke on a little slip of paper. Crackers are pulled at Christmas dinner or lunch on 25th December.

crack on
Keep going, continue.

  • "Well, shall we crack on, then?" he said, rubbing his hands together. "Got to give our champions their instructions, haven't we?"

cream cake
A cake with a creamy filling.

U.S.: potato chip.

  • Uncle Vernon's rations turned out to be a packet of crisps each and four bananas (PS3) (British edition only)

A sort of yeasty, rubbery bread formed into small, flat circlets and baked. The texture is not only rubbery, but full of holes. The finished product is meant to be grilled or griddled until slightly crunchy and served soaked in butter. Not the same thing as a muffin.

Broadly speaking, this word means roughly what it does in the U.S. - any small partitioned space to accomodate one or two people - but where in the U.S. it has come to have an office-related context, in the U.K. editions of the books it is also used to refer to what in the U.S. would be called stalls in restrooms.

cupboard, cupboardlike
U.S.: closet. "Cupboardlike" means "like a closet".

  • Harry was used to spiders, because the cupboard under the stairs was full of them, and that was where he slept (PS2).

  • "Once they're asleep, pull out a few of their hairs and hide them in a broom cupboard."
    - Hermione, referring to Crabbe and Goyle (CS12).

  • A little puzzled, Harry followed Dumbledore through the creaking door into a space a little smaller than the average cupboard (HBP4)

  • cupboardlike (DH25)

A cup of tea.

Curriculum vitae (L. "curriculum", course + "vitae", life). U.S.: résumé.
Thanks to everyone who wrote in about this one.

Primary editor: Michele L. Worley.
Original page date 28-October-2005; Last page update 5-August-2007 MLW