There really is a “knee-reversal hex” in Harry Potter; it causes the victim’s knees to appear on the opposite side of his or her legs. Sadly, knee-reversal is mentioned rarely, if ever, on the GRE.
The Confundo spell confuses the victim, causing him to become confounded.
The spells levicorpus, liberacorpus, and mobilicorpus have to do with lifting, freeing, and moving bodies, respectively. From the same root, we get corpse, incorporate, corporeal, corporal (as in corporal punishment), corpulent, corps (as in Marine Corps), and esprit de corps.
The one-word spells Impervius, Sonorus, Stupefy, and Enervate are basically GRE vocab words on their own (or, in some cases, misspellings of GRE words).
The Impervius spell allows one to repel (that is, become impervious to) outside forces; in Prisoner of Azkaban, Hermione uses the spell on Harry’s glasses during a Quidditch match to allow him to see in the rain.
The Sonorus spell makes the speaker louder; sonorous adds the idea of deep, pleasing, resonant sound.
Stupefy (in both the spell and the word) means to confuse, stun, overwhelm.
However, J. K. Rowling uses the spell Enervate to bring a person back to consciousness. Did the erudite Rowling finally get one wrong? It is a common misconception that enervate has something to do with giving energy — actually, it is the opposite! To enervate is to sap of energy, to weaken.
Of course, not all of the Harry Potter spells are fancy-shmancy Latin: to knock an object backwards, you use the spell Flipendo! That’s almost as silly as knee reversal.
The Harry Potter series mentions sundry magic spells to perform such multifarious tasks as disarming one’s opponent, enlarging teeth, splitting seams, and turning small objects into birds. These spells also contain Latin roots that are reminiscent of myriad GRE vocabulary words!
Evanesco is a vanishing spell. Something that is evanescent doesn’t last long.
Incendio produces fire. Incendiary can be a noun (something that causes fire, such as a stick of dynamite or the person using it) or an adjective, and as an adjective it can mean either literally causing fire or metaphorically heating things up, as in, “Thomas Paine’s pamphlet Common Sense was viewed as incendiary by British Loyalists.”
Although there is undoubtedly more esoterica to unearth, this will be our final post on characters from Harry Potter. (Although we do have another post coming on magic spells in Harry Potter).
Hermes the Owl is, of course, named after the Greek god Hermes, who gives us the word hermetic, as in “hermetically sealed.” This might seem a bit weird until you realize that Hermes was not only the god of commerce, invention, cunning, and theft, but also the god of alchemy, which undoubtedly required sealing things in jars. Hermes was called Mercury by the Romans, hence the word mercurial.
Apollyon Pringle (“caretaker at Hogwarts before Argus Filch”) takes his name from the Greek god Apollo, who gives us apollonian — “calm, ordered, rational, balanced.”
Of course, that word might remind you of Apollonia from Prince’s Purple Rain; interestingly, the name Apollonia was suggested by Prince for the actress based on the character Apollonia Vitelli-Corleone from The Godfather. And somehow, we can trace all that back to Apollo.
Wikipedia’s list of Harry Potter characters is a veritable trove of names based on Latin and Greek roots.
The girl pictured at right is Luna Lovegood. Luna’s name comes from the root for the moon, which also gives us lunar and lunacy, which was originally thought to be associated with the changing states of the moon. (This is not a likely GRE word, but you might also be interested to know that lunambulism is “sleepwalking only in the moonlight”).
But even more fun than that is Sanguini the Vampire (the tall guy on the left!)
If you speak French, Spanish, or another Romance language, Sanguini’s name might remind you of that language’s word for “blood.” There are at least two important GRE words related to this root:
Sanguine means “cheerful; reddish, ruddy.” The Ancient Greeks thought the body was ruled by the “Four Humors”: blood, phlegm, yellow bile, and black bile (this idea also gives us the words bilious and phlegmatic). To be sanguine was to be ruled by the blood — that is, having a reddish, healthy complexion, which it was thought would also make one cheerful.
However, the “blood” idea leads much more directly to the word sanguinary, which means “bloodthirsty” — just like Sanguini.
Incidentally, consanguineous means “related by blood,” and “sangria,” the alcoholic beverage, also comes from the same Latin root (via Spanish).
Here’s a rundown of several more characters from the Harry Potter series — while many of these characters didn’t make it from the books to the films, their names are nevertheless replete with lexical references!
The Gaunt family (Marvolo, Merope, and Morfin) bears a surname meaning “thin, bony, grim.”
Inigo Imago (“author of The Dream Oracle“) has a surname with two interesting meanings: an imago is either an adult insect, or an “idealized version of a loved one” (if you’re an adult still thinking of your mother the way you did when you were two — well, that’s pretty weird, and that’s an imago).
Mnemone Radford (who “developed memory modifying charms”) quite appropriately has a first name derived from mnemonic.
An employee at Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes has the name Verity (what a trustworthy person to have working in your shop!)
Hogwarts Professor of Astronomy Aurora Sinistra might sound a bit dangerous: she has a last name deriving from the same root as sinistral and sinister. Both of these words simply come from the root for “left” (as opposed to right), but sadly, in virtually all cultures, left-handed people have been regarded with some derision and suspicion, and the word “sinister” now means “evil.”
J. K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter series, knows a profusion of Latin. When the first book came out in 1997, I noticed that villain Draco Malfoy‘s name was no accident. Sounds pretty evil, right?
But “Draco” is even more interesting. The first Draco was a legislator in Athens in the 7th century B.C. His legal code forced people into slavery for their debts and specified the death penalty for even minor offenses; this barbarous code has given us the English word draconian, which means unusually harsh or cruel, especially in relation to laws and government.
There are plenty of other Harry Potter names related to GRE vocabulary words. The heroine of the series, Hermione Granger, is “Muggle-born” (that is, born to non-magical parents) — and, appropriately, a “granger” is a farmer. (Interestingly, many words about farming, such as provincial and yeoman, have come to take on the meaning or connotation of “ordinary”).
Of course, some of the names in the Harry Potter series, such as “Andreyius Snicklepitch,” are just meant to be ridiculous.