Pop Culture Quest: Harry Potter (Part 2- Spells)

I couldn’t let a Harry Potter post stand alone… I had to have a sequel!

The words and names that I explored in the last post are not the end (or even the very beginning) of the wordsmithing that JK Rowling did for the seven novel series. Her magic system included the use of wands and incantations for magical spells, all of which she had to make up as well. Just for fun (because this is what I consider fun), I put together a list of some of the spell names that she came up with, and their most likely etymologies.

This only scratches the surface of the full list, but the following are a few of the easier spell words to guess how Rowling put them together. Let’s begin!


1. Accio – summoning charm; Causes an object to fly to the caster, even over quite some distance

Latin: “Accio” is “to call to, summon.”

2. Aguamenti – Charm that conjures a fountain or jet of clear water from the caster’s wand

“Agua” is Spanish for “water” + augment (to increase).

3. Aparecium – revealing charm; used to make invisible ink visible

“Appareo” is Latin for “to become visible.” (also goes for “Apparate”, a spell to appear in any location)

4. Avada Kedavra – Causes instant death in a flash of green light, usually leaving no sign of physical damage or of the cause of death that would be detectable to a Muggle autopsy. Unblockable with no counter-curse

“Avada kedavra” is an Aramaic phrase (adhadda kedhabhra) that means “may the thing be destroyed.”

5. Colloportus – Seals a door, making an odd squelching noise.

From the Latin “colligo” meaning “to bind” and French “porte” (door).

6. Crucio – One of the “Unforgivable Curses,” this spell causes the victim to suffer almost intolerable pain. Some victims of prolonged use of this curse have been driven insane

“Crucio”, which is the spell word, is Latin for “to torture”.

7. Densaugeo – Curse to make your victim’s front teeth grow

“Dens” is Latin for “teeth”. “Augeo” is Latin for “to enlarge”.

8. Episkey – Heals/repairs damage that has been inflicted on the target

“Episkeuo” is Greek for “to repair”

9. Evanesco – Makes something vanish (not just become invisible, but go away completely)

“Evanesco” is Latin for “to disappear”

10. Expecto Patronum – Conjures a Patronus, a silvery phantom shape, usually that of an animal, which is the embodiment of the positive thoughts of the caster. A Patronus will drive away Dementors

Patronus means “protector”, so “expecto patronum” means “to expect or look for a protector”.

11. Expelliarmus – Disarming charm; Causes opponent’s weapon to fly out of his or her hand

Combination of “expel” (to force or drive out; eject forcefully) and “arma” which means “weapons” in Latin

12. Finite Incantatem – Stops currently operating spell effects

Combination of “fini” (stop, end) and “incantation”, which is a ritual recitation of verbal charms or spells to produce a magic effect

13. Flagrate – Causes the target object to burn anyone who touches it

From the Latin word “flagro”, which means to blaze or burn

14. Impedimenta – Stops an object or slows it down

“Impedio” is Latin for “to hinder”or “hindrance”.

15. Imperio – One of the Unforgivable Curses, this spell causes the victim to be completely under the command of the caster, who can make the victim do anything the caster wishes.

“Impero” is Latin for “to command”, and “imperium” is Latin for “absolute rule”.

16. Impervious -Makes something waterproof or water repellent

The prefix “im-” means “not” and “pervius” is Latin for “letting things through, allowing something to penetrate”

17 and 18. Levicorpus – spell used to suspend one’s victim by the ankle and Liberacorpus – counteracts levicorpus spell

Levitate meaning “to float” + “corpus” which is Latin for “body” and Liberate (to set free) + “corpus” (Latin, “body”).

19 and 20. Mobiliarbus – Spell used by Hermione to move a tree in Three Broomsticks and Mobilicorpus – Spell used by Black to move Snape when he was unconscious.

Mobile (capable of movement) + “arbor” which is Latin for “tree” and Mobile (capable of movement) + corpus (Latin, “body”). As The Harry Potter Lexicon explains, “The basic spell for moving something starts with the “Mobili-” prefix. It is up to the caster to be able to tack on the correct Latinate word for the object to be moved, in this case a tree. It seems unlikely that there is a “standard” spell for moving a tree to one side!”

21. Muffliato – Fills the ears of target persons near the caster with an unidentifiable buzzing, so that the caster can hold lengthy conversations without being overheard

Derived from muffle meaning “to repress; stifle” or “to make vague or obscure”.

22 and 23. Lumos– Causes a small beam of light to shine from the end of the caster’s wand and Nox – turns the light off

“Lumen” is Latin for “light”, and “luminous” means “giving off light”. “Nox” is Latin for “darkness” or “night”.

24. Obliviate – Modifies or erases portions of a person’s memory

“Oblivio” is Latin for “forgetfulness”. Oblivious can mean “lacking all memory”.

25. Oppugno – Causes conjured creatures under the control of the caster to attack the target

Latin for “to fight against, attack, assault”.

26. Portus – used to transform an object into a Portkey

Latin for “to carry”, or from “porta” meaning “gate or entrance”

27. Reducio – counteracts an enlargement charm

“Reduce” means “to bring down in extent, amount or degree; diminish”, and comes from Latin “reducere”, which means “to bring back; return”.

28. Reparo – repairs broken or damaged objects

“Reparo” is Latin for “to restore, renew, make good”

29. Scourgify – cleaning charm

From “scour”, to vigorously remove grime and dirt. Also could be from the Latin word “excoriata” meaning “to be stripped of [dirt]”

30. Serpensortia – Causes a large serpent to burst from the end of the caster’s wand

“Serpens” is “snake” in Latin + “ortus” is “to create” in Latin

31. Shield Charm (Protego) – This spell creates a magical barrier that will deflect hexes thrown at the caster

“Protego,” comes from the Latin protegere, “to protect or defend.”

32. Sonorus – Makes the caster’s voice carry over long distances

“Sono” is Latin for “to make a sound” and “sonorus” means “loud”

33. Stupefy – Renders the target of the spell unconscious

“Stupere” is Latin for “to be stunned”. “Stupefy” in English means “to dull the senses of; daze”.

34. Wingardium Leviosa – Spell used to lift objects

Wingardium: “Wing” + “arduum” is Latin for “steep, high”. Leviosa: To “levitate” is to rise into the air.

(Resources: The Nine Muses for the possible etymologies and The Harry Potter Lexicon for the more concise definitions)


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