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Dumbledore’s favorite sweet (or drink?): sherbet lemons and lemon sherbets

Albus Dumbledore is a treat. Famously, his favorite treat is the lemon drop. Or sherbet lemons. Or is it lemon sorbet? Translations can't agree on what it is, or on the password he uses for his office in the Chamber of Secrets.

Albus Dumbledore is an absolute treat. So full of wisdom, wit, serenity, and composure—and he has remarkable love and patience to boot. It’s impossible not to love the light-hearted fellow as much as you would your own grandfather, and even more so when you learn just how human he really is: his background story, especially with his sister Ariana and his brother Aberforth, is revealed to be tragic.

It’s in our very first encounter with Dumbledore that we get a taste of his personality. And that memorable moment when we learn his favorite treat is precisely when we learn just what kind of easy-going person he is:

[Professor McGonagall:] “I suppose he really has gone, Dumbledore?”

“It certainly seems so,” said Dumbledore. “We have much to be thankful for. Would you care for a lemon drop?”

“A what?”

“A lemon drop. They’re a kind of Muggle sweet I’m rather fond of.”

“No, thank you,” said Professor McGonagall coldly, as though she didn’t think this was the moment for lemon drops.”

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (US)

Going through this translation in Turkish (Ülkü Tamer) one day, I was struck to find that Dumbledore’s favorite treat was translated into a beverage!

“Limon şerbeti. Muggle’ların bir çeşit tatlı içeceği. Hoşuma gidiyor.”

“Lemon sorbet. It’s a kind of Muggle soft drink. I enjoy it.”

Harry Potter ve Felsefe Taşı (Ülkü Tamer, Turkish)

The confusion comes from the UK version of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, where lemon drop is called “sherbet lemon.” For those of us who read the American editions, we’re familiar with “sherbet lemon” as the password to Dumbledore’s office in Goblet of Fire (but “lemon drop” in Chamber of Secrets). As it turns out—and I did not know this until coming across this Turkish translation—Dumbledore’s password should be the same in the two books. But in GoF, the editors apparently didn’t catch that they had earlier translated “sherbet lemon” to “lemon drop.”

What’s sherbet? Most of the world thought it was ice cream…

What the British mean by sherbet lemons

The reason “sherbet lemon” became “lemon drop” in the American version is simple: the candy called “sherbet lemon” in the UK is called “lemon drop” by Americans. And in the US, “sherbet” refers to a frozen juice (similar to sorbet).

In fact, the British use of “sherbet” in this manner is unique. The word sherbet comes from Turkish, which in turn comes from Arabic, sharbah, which actually means “beverage.” In the UK, a variant of the sweet Turkish drink at some point began appearing in a powdered form, and the word “sherbet” came to refer to this powder as well as candies that use that powder, such as the sherbet lemon.

Translators grappled with this particular translation, lacking the cultural knowledge of what exactly “sherbet lemon” means in British English. It’s not only Turkish that transformed the delectable into a drink.

In Luxembourgish, it’s a Spruddelkamel, which may just be carbonated water with lemon flavoring.

The Portuguese translation (by Isabel Fraga) makes it into lemonade, even explicitly saying “é uma bebida dos Muggles de eu gosto muito”—”it’s a Muggle drink that I’m really fond of.”

And according to @knockturnerik on the podcast Dialogue Alley, the ultra rare Gujarati translation also transformed the sherbet lemon into a lemonade.

In many (perhaps even most?) translations, it becomes a type of sorbet:

In Icelandic, it’s a Sítrónukrap, which seems to be a slightly more liquidy sorbet.

Icelandic Sítrónukrap. See recipe at mbl.is.

In French, it’s an esquimau (literally, “eskimo”), which seems to be a type of popsicle.

In Albanian, it’s akullore me limon—just straight up ice cream. (Poor McGonagall that she doesn’t even know what ice cream is!)

A few translations come up with different sweets that belong to the local culture.

In Catalan, it’s a pica-pica de llimona, which seems to refer to a tapa-style dessert in Catalonia.

Finnish changes it to Sitruunatoffeeta, or lemon-flavored toffee.

Completely different is the Hebrew translation, which features the קרמבו (krembo), a very popular wintertime sweet in Israel featuring marshmallow fluff and a cookie, all covered in chocolate. Nothing to do with lemon!

A German Schaumkuss, similar to the Israeli Krembo. Popular in many European countries, there is no American equivalent.

What is the password to Dumbledore’s office in translation?

On a different note, this made me curious whether translations were consistent in PS/SS and CoS between references to the sherbet lemon. Was the password to Dumbledore’s office in CoS the same as his favorite treat cited at the beginning of PS/SS?

The Turkish Chamber of Secrets did adopt “limon şerbeti.” It had a different translator from Philosopher’s Stone, but this may have just been a very literal translation of “sherbet lemon” in both cases. By contrast, the German translation has Dumbledore offering a candy “Zitronenbrausebonbon” to McGonagall, but the password to his office is “Scherbert Zitrone.” The Dutch translation clearly caught on to the connection, though: Dumbledore offers a “zuurtje” (hard candy), and the password to his office is “Zak met zuurtjes”—“Bag of hard candies.”

At this time, I only have a few translations of CoS in my possession, so I don’t have a huge sample to work from. I’m especially curious if languages that have different translators for PS/SS and CoS picked up on this intertextual reference, as happened in the Turkish translations!

If you have a copy of CoS in other languages, leave a comment telling us what you find out to be Dumbledore’s password!

3 responses to “Dumbledore’s favorite sweet (or drink?): sherbet lemons and lemon sherbets”

  1. […] does not stop Hebrew from getting creative in its own way in its translation of Harry Potter! As mentioned in the previous post, the Hebrew version of Harry Potter replaces Dumbledore’s preference for sherbet lemons with […]

  2. […] interested in many of our other articles on topics like Harry Potter in Hebrew, Dumbledore’s favorite sweets, Harry Potter in a made-up language, and HP Japanese book art. Potter of Babble is also looking for […]

  3. […] translated as kaṛahee, a flat-bottom style of wok specific to South Asia. Even Dumbledore’s favorite sweet is transformed into a sekanjabin, a refreshing honey-vinegar drink that’s also Persian in […]

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