“No-Maj” is the American word for “Muggle” – one who has no magical capabilities. No-Maj is then simply a shortened form of “no magic.” Ever since the American word for muggle was debuted to the public, people reacted to it the way one would to “moist” or “warm kiss.” People have said that it sounds cheap, as if J.K. Rowling gave no thought to the American version of wizard slang.
But there’s a reason it sounds so cheap.
Let’s keep in mind the context in which this word was created. “No-Maj” was created for the upcoming movie Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. This movie is set in 1920s America, which is known for its particular language – most notably, its cheap slang. Let’s look at some examples (from The Internet Guide to Jazz Age Slang):
Abe’s Cabe – Five dollar bill
Busthead – Homemade liquor
Egg – A person who lives the big life
Flivver – A Model T or a broken down car
Floorflusher – An insatiable dancer
Iron One’s Shoelaces – To go to the bathroom
Juice Joint – A speakeasy
Kale – Money
Noodle Juice – Tea
Ossified – Drunk
Phonus Balonus – Nonsense
Sockdollager – An action having a great impact
Splifficated – Drunk
Wet Blanket – Killjoy
Zozzled – Drunk
Just look at the words above – they sound silly and cheap and yet have an air of fun, and No-Maj fits right in. Slang is supposed to be cheap – it’s a cheapened form of formal language! Don’t believe me? Say the words listed one right after the other without their definition, and end the list with No-Maj.
Is it likely that No-Maj would be used in the United States in the 21st century? Most definitely not (Would “Magic not on point” be a substitute?). But in this context, No-Maj fits in perfectly.
Thus, No-Maj is not phonus balonus. Don’t be a wet blanket.