The etymology of Harry Potter spells
Every spell has a story to tell…
Harry Potter is a world of strange and magical language, filled with words that sound alien and new, but in fact have their roots in the real-world. Spells are no exception, with the origins of many incantations harking back to Latin terms and phrases; some spells translate pretty directly, while others have been carefully crafted and assembled from fragments of other languages. It's a fascinating example of how language changes and evolves, so here's a look at five of our favourite stories behind some of the wizarding world's most famous spells…
The Patronus Charm
「Expecto Patronum」是一種可以讓哈利召喚出雄鹿護法的咒語，可粗略地翻譯成「我期待（或等待）一位保護者」——這可說是恰如其份。至於「Patronus 」這個字本身則有段更有趣的歷史。「Patronus」在古羅馬亦有保護者的意思，但箇中含義卻截然不同。在古代羅馬，一位來自上流階級的人士，可成為另一位財力和社會地位都不如他的人的保護者，兩者會締結成「patronage（保護）」關係。「Patronage」這個字很大機會是來自「Pater」——拉丁語中的「父親」。在任何年代，在任何形式，「Patronus」這個字都是跟保護息息相關。
'Expecto Patronum', the spell that conjures up Harry’s magnificent stag Patronus, roughly translates into 'I expect (or 'await') a guardian' in Latin, which is apt. The actual result of the spell, the Patronus itself, has an even more interesting history. In Ancient Rome, the word 'patronus' meant protector too, but with very different connotations. A patronus in Ancient Rome was someone of a high class who had a 'patronage' relationship with a client, who would usually be less rich, or lower class. In turn, the word ’patronage’ most likely came from the term 'Pater', which means 'father' in Latin. In whatever time, in whatever form, the word 'patronus' always relates to protection.
The Body-Binding spell is heavily influenced by Latin, as you may have guessed from its very Latin-sounding name. However, there are dashes of Ancient Greek in this incantation too. First, we have 'Petra', which is derived from 'petros' which means 'rock' in Greek. 'Ficus' is a Latin suffix which denotes 'making' or 'doing' something. ‘Totalus’ is a loose reworking of 'totalis', which, once again, is Latin, meaning 'total' or 'entire'. So roughly speaking, ‘Petrificus Totalus’ translates to 'Make rock totally’, which we're sure victims of the curse, such as Neville Longbottom, totally understand all too well.
在七集《哈利波特》裡，「去去武器走」是最常用的咒語之一。而在《死神的聖物》裡，就連食死人也知道這個咒語是哈利的常用招式。我們已經看過這個咒語很多次了，但到底它是怎樣組成的呢？「Expel」這個字由兩個拉丁詞語所組成，可追溯到十四世紀的中古英語。「Ex」的意思是「out（逐出）」，而「Pellere」的意思是「to drive（驅動）」，因此兩個字加起來便是「Expel（驅逐）」。「Armus」聽起來很像身體的某個部位——「Arm（手臂）」，或是專指肩關節。由於「arm」跟拉丁語詞匯「arma（武器）」很相似，所以在最後也演變出「武裝」的意思。（例如 to 'arm' yourself with a wand 即是「用魔杖武裝你自己」）把這些音節串連在一起後，我們得出一句粗略譯成的短語——「驅逐武器」，而這正正是「去去武器走」會做的事。
Expelliarmus is one of the most-used spells across all seven Harry Potter books, to the extent that Harry is known by the Death Eaters for using it during Deathly Hallows. We've seen the word so many times, but how did it come together? ‘Expel’ harks back to 1300s Middle English, where two Latin terms were combined to create it. 'Ex' means 'out' and 'pellere' means 'to drive', which finally formed the word ‘expel’. Its definition in basic terms means to 'drive out'. 'Armus', as you may expect, is indeed Latin for a similar sounding part of the body: the arm, or specifically the shoulder joint. In time, the term 'arm' took on combat meaning (such as, to 'arm' yourself with a wand) with the Latin term 'arma' meaning weapon. Piecing the syllables back together, we have a rough translation of the phrase 'drive out weapon' – which is precisely what Expelliarmus does.
Lumos and Nox
Sister spells Lumos and Nox give light and take it away, respectively. Lumos could well come from the 19th-century Latin word ‘lumen’, which simply means 'light'. Adding the Latin suffix 'os' means to 'have something’: to have light, in this instance. Nox is Latin for 'night', but is also rooted in Greek mythology. 'Nyx', closely related to 'Nox', is the name for the Greek goddess of night: a feared, shadowy figure who was known as a powerful force, and even intimidated the mighty Zeus.
A word dominated by the letter S was related to a man with a similar example of sibilance in his own name – Mr Severus Snape. But surely Snape must have had more inspiration than that for such a complex spell name with such deadly intentions? Digging deeper, we can see that Snape was fond of Latin too, seeing as the first half of his self-made curse, 'sectum', is Latin for 'having been cut’: an interesting choice for a man who has the word 'sever' in his own name.
The second part of the word, however, is fascinating. Because although 'sempra' isn't a Latin word, it is very close to the word 'semper', which was known in the Latin phrase 'semper fidelis'. This becomes a particularly big deal once you realise what it means: ‘always loyal’. Pretty perfect, don't you think?