13

One might expect that as each spell was created, it would be created in the language of the person who created it (or in some older language, perhaps), and that the wording of spells would therefore comprise a mixture of old and very-old languages.

The fact that this doesn't appear to be the case (at least in the English speaking world) could suggest that there was a systematic re-wording of all known spells at some point in wizarding history. Is there any evidence for this in the written work?

Else, is there some other in-universe explanation?

  • 10
    Maybe latin is based on magic spells? – Daft Mar 23 '17 at 15:28
  • 4
    see very similar question here – Torsten Link Mar 23 '17 at 15:40
  • @TorstenLink Thanks, but I've seen that question. I didn't think any of the answers to it give a satisfactory answer to my question. The questions are clearly related, I agree, but nonetheless distinct (my question relates mainly to history rather than geography). – TheTermiteSociety Mar 23 '17 at 15:50
  • That's why I didnt vote to close. Just wanted to link to that question, don't think that it's a duplicate though. – Torsten Link Mar 23 '17 at 16:02
  • Perhaps a new school/tradition of magic arose using Latin. – Broklynite Mar 23 '17 at 16:27
7

I think "Avada Kedavra" is a bit of evidence in favor of your theory. Rowling has said that it's based on the old Aramaic spell "abracadabra," and then bastardized with the Latin-based "cadaver." It seems plausible that other spells were also converted to match the Latin words. If it was an organized effort, it wasn't completely successful though. Episkey seems to come from the Greek "episkeu" for repair or restore. And the latinizing effort must have petered out at some point, since Hermione's compass spell was just "Point Me."

As appealing as Daft's theory is, I don't think it's likely. On the one hand, if you said "avis" and a bunch of birds erupted out of your wand, it would suggest that, magically speaking, "avis" meant bird, but if you then also made it the common word for bird, you'd have accidental flocks of birds appearing all the time, which would get old. To avoid accidental casting, using a dead language to control your magic seems ideal.

4

So, I've actually done a bit of research into the etymology of a few of the spells in Harry Potter due to a fanfiction I'm writing. Several of the spells are Latin, yes, but there are also spells (such as Episkey, referenced above) that are Greek or other ancient languages in origin. A few that I've read about included Colloportus, which is a compound word that could have been derived from either the Greek collo or the Latin colligo, and the the Latin portus. There's another example of this in the Levitation Charm, Wingardium Leviosa where we have wing an English word, arduus or arduum, Latin, with the -ium Latin ending, and levo and levis in Latin all forming parts of this composite word. Then you have the Muffliato charm which is a derivative of English, "muffle". There are also much, much simpler spells. For example, pack.

I think it's worth mentioning that most of the Latin/Greek spells were invented around the 1600s. This makes sense as the Renaissance in Europe was between 1300 and 1700, and if the Muggles were being enlightened, of course the Wizarding population would be reaching new heights as well. It also bears mentioning that this is the time period when the Statute of Secrecy was implemented because of all the attention the Wizarding population was accruing. During this era Latin was commonly used in Europe by scholars and in the Church. Because of this, it was one of the languages used most probably because in order to form an opinion and contribute anything back into your field of study, you needed to use the language that group of people on the wider spectrum used; if they had used Middle or Old English, the spell would likely only be understood in England. Using Latin or Greek in that time period allows people in France, Germany, Italy, and in fact most of Europe to not only understand their work, but use it and ultimately give feedback on it. This same principle is applied even to this day; we use English in this forum because it is the most widely understood language in which to compare ideas.

Latin was the English of their era.

  • 1
    Welcome to the site! =) Thanks for this because much of it is very interesting, but it's worth mentioning that our site here is very much a Q&A site. This is an interesting post indeed, but most of the first paragraph has very little to do with answering the question "why do most spells that we see appear to based on Latin" The second paragraph is a lot more relevant but it's not clear to me whether you have an actual source for the statement that they were invented around the 1600s (please provide it if you do) or whether you've just reasoned that this is likely? – Au101 Apr 6 '17 at 23:41
  • @Au101: the first paragraph is relevant to the question because it disputes its basic premise, namely that most/all spells are Latin. – Martha Jun 21 '17 at 3:49

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