Grades 6-8, High School

Spell-tymology: 20 Years of Magical Wordplay with Harry Potter

For 20 years (yes, 20!) muggles and those awaiting their Hogwarts acceptance letters have enjoyed the clever etymology of Harry Potter spell names and incantations.harry-potter-2301464_1920

As a wizard of cross-curricular integration, JK Rowling created  -borrowed, mashed up, tweaked – terms from muggle world languages to create an adroit yet accessible magical lexicon. (Well, ‘accessible’ if you’re not mucking up Wingardium Leviosa).

Spell-tymology:  The study of spell names &  incantations. Yet one more brilliantly seamless benefit of reading these richly layered books. It’s a pervasive charm, actually. It’s mere presence inspires both critical thinking and adoration throughout the fandom.

To fully understand the Wizarding World, readers must deliberate, for example, the Latin-inspired Accio and Cruciatus; trip their tongues over Avada Kedavra which hails from Aramaic; and infer the Greek mixology of  Petrificus Totalus. Fabulous phraseology abounds! Readers can’t help but undertake edu-taining etymological explorations.

Here are two concise, fun-to-read features on the construction of wizarding charms, curses, & incantations:

Here are some spell-tymology activities for students:

  1. Divide into teams. Collect spell names or incantations from a Harry Potter title (everyone uses the same book). Page numbers must be cited (to avoid students just listing them from memory). Winning team collects the most properly spelled and cited terms in the given time limit (suggested:  10 minutes).
    • Bonus points:  2 points for every term on one list that is NOT on any other list.
    • Decide ahead of time if POTION names count (or run a 2nd contest for them).
  2. Map the spell term elements to (muggle) world maps. Label a country/region with the spell term that hails from there. For example, Italy (as the home base for Latin) would be filled with Accio and Cruciatus while Confundus would be in the UK. Free printable outline maps are here.
  3. Charm vs Curse? Define the two categories. Do any spells ever fit both? Use the lists generated in item #1 or work from this fairly succinct list of spells & their incantations from Potterwords.
  4. The Wizarding World relies on ‘real’ words, too. Can you find 10 words that may be ‘real’ but seem rather odd/magical/other? See this slideshow from Dictionary.com to check (or add to) your list.
  5. Spell the Spell:  What are the rules for capitalizing and italicizing spell names and incantations? Are the rules very consistent? Are there any exceptions? Give examples for and explain both the rules and any exceptions.
    • Sidebar bonus:  Why is Quidditch always capitalized? Other sports are not; think cricket, tennis, football and soccer. Is it a wizard or book series thing? Or is there something else about Quidditch that requires capitalization? Are there any instances where the term is not capitalized?
    • Need help? Try the Harry Potter Lexicon.
    • Relaxed teacher bonus:  a no-prep, printable capitalization worksheet. Make it more challenging:  students must cite the book and page number for each correction (using any HP book).
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