LATIN LESSONS FROM
HARRY POTTER
by Don L. F. Nilsen
and Alleen Pace Nilsen
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THE IMPORTANCE OF LATIN
• In Medieval times, Latin was the universal language.
– Latin was the language of the Roman Catholic
church. This was truly a universal church at the
time.
– Writers who wanted their writing to be widely read
had to write in Latin.
– Not only was Latin a universal language in the
Middle Ages, but various dialects of Latin later
became the following languages:
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2
THE ROMANCE LANGUAGES
–Italian
–French
–Spanish
–Portuguese
–Romanian
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LATIN WORDS IN ENGLISH
• Many words were directly borrowed from Latin into English.
• And many other Latin words that had become Italian, French,
Spanish, or Portuguese also became English words on two
continents:
– In England from
• French during the 100 years of Norman rule
• French, Spanish, Italian, and Portuguese because of
contact with English speakers
– In America
• French from Canada and from New Orleans
• Spanish from Mexico, Puerto Rico, Central America, the
Caribbean, and Latin America
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LANGUAGE CHANGE AND
LANGUAGE PLAY
• But through time, Latin had to change to adapt to new
situations.
• The play of language allowed Latin to adapt to new social,
legal, religious, political and scientific realities.
• As new things were discovered or invented, Latin adapted to fit
the new discoveries or inventions…
• in exploration
• in law
• in medicine
• in religion
• and in science.
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THE NATURE OF LANGUAGE CHANGE
• The four most common kinds of
language change are:
• Connotation
– Amelioration
– Pejoration
• Denotation
– Generalization
– Specialization
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TWO WAYS OF STUDYING LANGUAGE CHANGE
• Top Down: (Analytic or figuring things out)
– This approach starts with today’s sophisticated concepts
and works backwords
– It is an analysis of complex ideas like LIFE IS A JOURNEY,
or LIFE IS A RIVER
– It is oriented more toward the past.
• Bottom up (Synthetic or Generative):
– This is a process approach
– Concepts start out as simple and become more and more
complex.
– This is the way language actually works through time.
– It is oriented more toward the present and the future.
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LATIN AND
THE HARRY POTTER BOOKS
• J. K. Rowling uses Latin for the names of characters,
places, charms and spells.
• This makes her books easy to translate because
these characters, places, charms and spells don’t
have to be changed.
• The Harry Potter books have been translated into
more than thirty languages.
• Reading the Harry Potter books (in any language)
therefore has a side benefit of being a lesson in
Latin.
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Expelliarmus!
• When people wanted to disarm a person,
they would say, “Expelliarmus!”
• When Draco Malfoy bursts through the door
at the top of the Astronomy Tower at the end
of The Half-Blood Prince (book 6), he shouts
“Expelliarmus!” at Professor Dumbledore.
• Dumbledore’s wand flies away and arcs over
the ramparts to fall to the ground below.
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To Expell
• Students will know what it means to be
expelled from school.
• Expelled students have been sent away from
school.
• In the same way, Dumbledore’s weapons
(arms) have been sent away from
Dumbledore.
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To arm
• Latin “armus, armi” refers to the “shoulder.”
• In English the word “arm” has been extended
in three ways:
– To things that are shaped like arms (“arm
of a chair,” “armature” of a motor, “yard
arm” of a ship)
– To things associated with arms (“arm
band,” “arm rest”)
– To extensions of our reach (“fire arms,”
“small arms,” “army”)
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Alarm, Armada, Armadillos, Armistice
Day, Armoires, Coat of Arms
Choose from the above words to complete the
following sentences:
1. _____, now called Veterans’ Day in the
United States, originally celebrated the end
of World War I when everyone agreed to
“stand up” their arms.
2. European families used a _____ to identify
or symbolize their families.
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3. The word _____ came into English through the
French word “alarme” and the Italian call to arms,
“all’arme.”
4. _____, which today are large chests used mostly
to hide television sets, were originally designed to
store arms such as guns and swords.
5. Spanish explorers called their armed ships an
_____.
6. In the New World when explorers saw animals with
shells scurrying across the desert, they named
them ____, Spanish for “little armored ships.”
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New Charms Created by Alleen’s
Class:
• Ablegatio! (A banishing spell)
• Distortio! (Charm to change the shape of something)
• Kissamous Amoré! (a love charm)
• Lipporiddius! (Charm to lose weight)
• Lostis Returnus! (Charm to find something you lost)
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New Inventions Invented by Alleen’s
Class
• Geriatric Gobbler: A giant turkey that eats
snowbirds
• Luftreise: A better broom with German
engineering. It has a seat more like a
bicycle, and optional handlebars to hold onto
• Swiffoffator: A new broom that will pick up
owl dander. It’s named for those new Swiffer
products.
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TEACHER MODELING FOR
GENERATING NEW STUDENT SENTENCES
• TEACHER:
– In nearly all countries, taxpayers support
some kind of an army.
– Armor is heavy protection worn on the
body or put on a vehicle.
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• STUDENTS: Use the following words in sentences:
• “armed forces”
• “to arm a bomb”
• “up in arms”
• “to disarm the enemy”
• “armor”
• “firearms”
• Relate “armadillo” to “peccadillo.”
• Relate “armistice” to “summer solstice” and “winter
solstice.”
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Densaugeo!
• Explain to students that “Densaugeo!” causes the
teeth to grow uncontrollably.
• Explain that Draco Malfoy once aimed this curse at
Harry Potter, but it bounced off and hit Hermione.
• Then break the word down into its two parts, “dens”
and “augeo,” and explain:
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Latin “dens, dentis” means
“tooth.”
And explain how the following English words relate to
the concept of “tooth.”
•
•
•
•
•
•
•
Indented paragraph
Dented fender
Rodents
“al dente” (vegetables that need chewing)
dentifrice
dentate edges on leaves
dentures
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Latin “augeo, augere, auctus” means
“increase.”
Have students comment on the following:
•
•
•
•
•
Caesar Augustus
Auctioneer
Auxiliary Organizations
To Augment your Income
Augmentative in grammar (the opposite of a
diminutive)
• Auxiliary Verb (Helping verb like “be,” “have,” or
“do”
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AN ALPHABETICAL
LISTING OF LATIN
PERSONS, PLACES AND
THINGS IN HARRY
POTTER:
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Aparecium!
• from Latin “appareo, apparere” meaning “to
come into sight”
• “Aparacium!” is the spell used to make
invisible ink visible.
• Related English words include:
– apparent, apparently
– apparition
– appear and appearance
– disappear and disappearance
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Cruciatus! (See also
“Horcrux”)
• from Latin “crux, crucis” meaning “cross”
• “Cruciatus!” is an unforgivable curse.
• Other English words include:
–
–
–
–
–
–
–
–
crucial
crucible
crucifix and crucifixion
the crusades
crutch
the crux of the matter
to crucify someone
to double-cross someone
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Dementors
• from Latin “mens, mentis” meaning “mind”
• “Dementors” are creatures who suck out
human minds and souls.
• Related words in English include:
–
–
–
–
–
demented and dementia
Mensa (organization of smart people)
mental and mentality
mentally retarded
“non compos mentis” (legal term for “not of
sound mind”)
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Expecto Patronum!
• from Latin “patronus, patroni” meaning “patron” or “father.”
English “father” is etymologically related to “patronus”
• “Expecto Patronum!” is a charm which brings one’s protector.
Harry’s patronus is his father, an animagus who takes the form
of a stag.
• Related words in English include:
– patron and patron of the arts
– patronage
– patronym
– to patronize someone
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Felix Felices
• from Latin “Felix, Felicis” meaning
“fruitful”
• “Felix Felices” is a good luck potion.
• Related English words include:
– Felicitous
– Felix (the name)
– Felicitations (the greeting)
– Felicity (happiness)
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Horcrux
• from Old English “horreum, horri” meaning “Storehouse”
• and from Latin “crux” meaning “cross”
• Horcruxes are “sacred” objects in which Lord Voldimort has
stored parts of his soul to give himself immortality
• Related English words include:
– to hoard or a hoard of people
– the crucifixion or to crucify
– a crutch
– something crucial
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Impedimenta!
• from Latin “pes, pedis” meaning “foot”
• “Impedimenta!” is a spell used to slow down or stop an
attacker.
• Related words in English include:
– centipede
– expedite and expedition
– impede and impediment
– peddler
– pedometer
– pedestal
– pedestrian
– pedicure and pedicurist
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Incarcerous!
• from Latin “carcer” “carceris” meaning
“prison or jail cell”
• “Incarcerous!” is a charm which binds
people with rope.
• Related English words include:
– incarceration
– to incarcerate
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Incendio!
• from Latin “incendium, incendii”
meaning “fire”
• “Incendio!” is a spell for lighting a fire.
• Related words in English include:
– incense and to incense someone
– incendendiary bullets (tracer bullets so the
rifleman can see where the bullets are
hitting)
– incendiary bomb and incendiary comment
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Lumos!
• Harry Potter said, “Lumos!” when he
wanted light.
• This is from Latin “lumen, luminis”
meaning “light.”
• Compare Italian words like “luminoso”
meaning “bright.”
• Compare French words like
“lumineux.”
• Compare English words
like
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“luminous.”
Levicorpus!
• from Latin “levis, levies” meaning “light or not heavy”
• “Levicorpus!” is a curse which lifts the victims’ bodies up and
hangs them upside down.
• The counter charm is “Liberacorpus!”
• Related English words include:
– to levitate
– to elevate or elevation
– an elevator
– a levee
– unleavened bread
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Levicorpus! (second part)
• “Levicorpus!” is also related to Latin “corpus, corporis”
meaning “body.”
• Related English words include:
– corporation
– corpse
– corpsman (in the military)
– corpulent (overweight)
– incorporated
– Marine Corps
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Lord Voldemort (See also
“Morsmordre!”)
• from Latin “mors, mortis” meaning “death”
• “Voldemort” is French for “flight from death” (cf. English
“volleyball.”
• Related English words include:
– martyr
– morbid
– mortal, immortal and mortality
– mortgage, and to amortize a debt
– mortified
– mortuary, morgue
– murder
– postmortem
– rigor mortis
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Malfoy
• from Latin “malum, mali” meaning “evil or harm”
• “Malfoy” in Old French means “bad faith” and this is
the surname of Lucius, Narcissus and Draco.
• Related words in English include:
– malady
malaria
– malcontent
malevolent
– malice aforethought
malicious
– malignant
malnourished
– malodorous
malpractice
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Mer• from Latin “mare, maris” meaning “sea”
• The prefix “mer-” is used for anything related to the
“merpeople” who live underwater. Their behavior is “mermish”
and their songs are “mersongs,” etc.
• Related words in English include:
– marina
– marinara sauce
– marine biologist
– Marine Corps
– mariner’s compass
– mermaid
– to emerse something as in “baptism by emersion”
– to marinate something
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Morsmordre! (See “Lord Voldemort”)
• “Morsmordre!” is the command that
makes the Dark Mark appear.
• The Dark Mark is the sign of death.
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Occlumency
• from Latin “Excludo, Excludere”
meaning “to exclude”
• “Occlumency” is a spell which skilled
magicians use to keep others from
reading their minds.
• Related English words include:
– exclusion or to exclude
– occlusion
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Occlumency (second part)
• “Occlumency” also comes from Latin
“mens, mentis” meaning “the mind,
understanding, reason, intellect,
judgement”
• Related English words include:
– mental
– demented
– mentality
– mentally ill
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Omnioculars
• from Latin “omnis” meaning “all”
• “Omnioculars” are better than binoculars as
they allow viewers to see everything in slow
motion through instant replay.
• Related words in English include:
– omnibus (later shortened to “bus”)
– omnipotent (all powerful)
– omnipresent (ubiquitous)
– omniscient (all knowing)
– omnivore (eats everything)
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Oppugno!
• from Latin “pugno, pugnare” meaning “to
fight, or to give battle”
• “Oppugno!” is an attack command.
Hermione gives it to a flock of little birds that
she has conjured when she is angry at Ron
for making out with Lavender Brown.
• Related English words include:
– pugilist
– pugnacious
– pug nosed
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Petrificus Totalus!
• from Latin “petra, petrae” meaning
“rock or stone”
• “Petrificus Totalus!” is a charm used to
freeze or stop someone.
• Related words in English include:
– Pedro, Peter, Pierre, Piero
– petrified and the Petrified Forest
– When Christ said “upon this rock I shall
build my church,” he was talking to
“Peter.”
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Portkey
• from Latin “porta, portae” meaning “gate or door”
• Whoever touches a “portkey” is transported to the
portkey’s place.
• Related English words include:
– airports
passports
– port hole (on a ship)
portable
– seaports
portfolio
– Portland
Portsmouth
– to import, to export, to deport
– to portage a canoe
transportation
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Prior Incanto!
• from Latin “canto, cantare” meaning “to sing
or chant”
• “Prior Incanto!” is a charm that reveals the
most recent spell performed by a wand.
• Related English words include:
–
–
–
–
–
–
–
cantata
Cantor (a Jewish name)
chants
Encanto Park (enchanted)
enchantment
incantations
to recant something 56
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Renervate!
• from Latin “renovo, renovare” meaning “to
renew, renovate, or repair”
• “Renervate!” is a charm to restore a person’s
health or energy.
• Related English words include:
– renovate and renovation
– renew and renewal
– nova and supernova
– novel
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Sectumsempra!
• from Latin “seco, secare, secui, sectum”
meaning “to cut”
• “Sectumsempra!” is a curse that wounds or
cuts someone.
• Related English words include:
– a religious sect
– a sectional couch
– an intersection and to intersect two lines
– an appendectomy
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Sectumsempra! (second part)
• from Latin “sempra” meaning always
• “Sectumsempra” curses are not supposed to
heal. Nevertheless, Severus Snape was able
to make a counter charm when Harry used
the curse on Draco Malfoy.
• Related English words include:
– Semper Fidelis (always faithful): the
Marine Corps motto
– Semper Fi (see above)
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Sonorus!
• from Latin “sono, sonare” meaning “to make a
sound”
• “Sonorus!” is a charm to magnify one’s own voice.
• Related English words include:
– sonata and sonatina
– sonic boom
– sonnet
– sonorant and sonorous
– sound health
– sounding board
– supersonic
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Veritaserum
• from Latin “verus” meaning “true”
• “Veritaserum” is “truth serum.”
• Related English words include:
– to verify something
– veracity
– verdict (in court)
– verification
– verisimilitude
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HARRY POTTER WEB SITES
INFORMATION FOR MUGGLES:
www.Mugglenet.com
J. K. ROWLING:
http://www.jkrowling.com/
STEVE VANDER ARK & MICHELLE WORLEY: The
Harry Potter Lexicon
http://www.hp-lexicon.org/index-2.html
TERMINUS:
www.terminus2008.org
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References
Nilsen, Alleen Pace, and Don L. F. Nilsen. “Latin Revived: Source-Based
Vocabulary Lessons Courtesy of Harry Potter.” Journal of Adolescent
and Adult Literacy. 50.2 (2006): 128-134.
Nilsen, Alleen Pace, and Don L. F. Nilsen. Names and Naming Processes
in Young Adult Literature. New York, NY: Scarecrow Press, 2007 (to
appear).
Rowling, J. K. Book 1: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. New York:
Scholastic, 1998.
Rowling, J. K. Book 2: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. New
York: Scholastic, 1999.
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Rowling, J. K. Book 3: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. New
York: Scholastic, 1999.
Rowling, J. K. Book 4: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. New York:
Scholastic, 2000.
Rowling, J. K. Book 5: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. New
York: Scholastic, 2003.
Rowling, J. K. Book 6: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. New York:
Scholastic, 2005.
Rowling, J. K. Book 7: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. New York:
Scholastic, 2007.
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