Word for Wednesday: Wizard

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Today is the birthday of one of the most successful authors in history. Her books have brought delight to children and parents around the world (myself included) and are now available in over 60 languages. The novels captivated audiences and took us to a world of fantasy parallel to our own everywhere. I’m of course talking about J. K. Rowling and her Harry Potter series.

Through the Harry Potter universe, J. K. Rowling innovated dozens of words or terms either borrowing from Latin or creating a new word entirely – some even making it into the dictionary as can be seen our recent blog!

Aside from this, Rowling refreshed many older words, bringing them into popular culture. These words have long been associated with fantasy and the supernatural and the Potter books only strengthen those connotations. Words like Wizard, Sorcerer, Witch, and Warlock date back as far as the 12 century!

Wizard comes from the 15th century for philosopher or sage and the Middle English for wise, wys. The online Etymology Dictionary suggests cross-references to the Lithuanian zinoti, meaning ‘to know’ a word from which the Lithuanian word for magic (zynyste) is derived.

In the Middle Ages, hysteria, superstition and violence led to the confusion between philosophy and witchcraft, magic and wizardry – hence the witch trials. The negative associations we have with practitioners of ‘magic’ come from this period. Interestingly the word Warlock seems to have consistently negative definitions from ‘liar’ to ‘enemy’ to ‘vow-breaker’ to ‘monster’ and ‘scoundrel’.

In Harry Potter the title Warlock is earned through skill or achievement – headmaster of Hogwarts, Albus Dumbledore is technically…. A Warlock.

As a final note, I’ll leave with some of the most famous wizards from literature, folklore and (supposedly) history.

  • Harry Potter (Harry Potter series)
  • Merlin (6th Century, supposedly an historical welsh clairvoyant named Myrddin)
  • Rincewind (Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series)
  • Edgar Cayce (an American Psychic with the uncanny ability to answer any question)
  • Gandalf (J. R. R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings series)

Hugh MacDermott

31 Jul 2013
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"This is a fantastic opportunity for our students!  I'm sure Spellzone will be invaluable in helping them to improve their spellings and therefore improve the quality of their writing in all subject areas!"

Teacher, High School, UK