Guest Post: ‘Serious’ Punning in ‘Prisoner of Azkaban’

Serious Punning in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

By David Martin

We all know that J. K. Rowling is fond of puns.  In his book Repotting Harry Potter, James Thomas suggests that in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban J. K. Rowling uses the words “serious” and “seriously” often when the mysterious prisoner – Sirius Black – is, in some sense, looming in the background of the discussion.  For example, when Professor McGonagall finally returns Harry’s Firebolt broom to him – the broom that we learn later was given to Harry by Sirius Black as a Christmas present but then confiscated to be checked for possible curses – the exchange is as follows:

Harry’s jaw dropped. (Professor McGonagall) was holding out his Firebolt, and it looked as magnificent as ever.

“I can have it back?” Harry said weakly. “Seriously?”

“Seriously,” said Professor McGonagall, and she was actually smiling. “I daresay you’ll need to get the feel of it before Saturday’s match, won’t you? And Potter — do try and win, won’t you?

(Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, page 248)

I decided to look into this idea from another perspective: statistics.  I’m a computer guy and so I was able to work some computer magic and come up with the following numbers:


Harry Potter and the

Sorcerer’s Stone 77,726 6 0.77
Chamber of Secrets 85,692 12 1.40
Prisoner of Azkaban 107,314 27 2.52
Goblet of Fire 192,499 38 1.97
Order of the Phoenix 259,296 48 1.85
Half-Blood Prince 169,896 28 1.65
Deathly Hallows 200,077 18 0.90

So, at 2.52 instances of “serious” or “seriously” per 10,000 words of text, Prisoner of Azkaban is significantly ahead of the other books in its usage of those words.  Further, when we look at the instances of “serious” or “seriously” in the book, it’s clear that Sirius Black is lurking nearby.  Congratulations to James Thomas for spotting this.  I never would have seen it.

I also find it interesting that the LAST usage of the word “serious” or “seriously” is on page 377 as they’re about to leave the Shrieking Shack (emphasis added):

“What about Professor Snape?” said Hermione in a small voice, looking down at Snape’s prone figure.

“There’s nothing seriously wrong with him,” said Lupin, bending over Snape and checking his pulse. “You were just a little — overenthusiastic. Still out cold. Er — perhaps it will be best if we don’t revive him until we’re safely back in the castle. We can take him like this…”

There is nothing “seriously” wrong with Snape because, of course, it wasn’t Sirius that attacked him.  It was Harry, Hermione, and Ron.  There are another three chapters and 56 pages (about one eighth of the book) remaining until the end of the book, but apparently after that final pun, and once the truth about Sirius Black has become known, there’s no need for (or fun in) that pun any more.



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