Latin Spells in Harry Potter: Translation, Meanings, and a Fun Quiz!
Table of Contents
A Wizarding Latin Dictionary
If you've read or seen Harry Potter, you know Latin!
On this page, I'll review the list of spells in Harry Potter and translate the Latin words for you. Some are real Latin, others are "fake Latin" — bits of pieces of real Latin and English mashed together into made-up words — and there are a few non-Latin spells I'll take a stab at.
This is a fun way to practice your Latin and learn about English, too, since so many English words come from Latin.
Before I start translating Harry Potter spells, however, let's have a mini-quiz, just to see how much Latin you know. I bet it's more than you think!
P.S. If you find my Latin translations useful, please LINK to this page; don't repost it. I have studied Latin for years, but it still took me half a day's work to do the research. And I can't promise I'm 100% correct on the words which are not classical Latin. Gratias tibi (thank you)!
Trivia Quiz: How Much Latin Did You Learn from Hogwarts?
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Harry Potter Spells List A-C
Important Note: "Pseudo-Latin" is what I call a word that appears to be a made-up word borrowing bits of Latin. In some cases, it may be medieval Latin, which mutated considerably from the classical Latin of ancient Rome. So if I've falsely accused a medieval word of being false Latin, I apologize— mea culpa!
Accio: Latin "I summon."
Aguamenti: Pseudo-Latin. Or possibly pseudo-Spanish. Aqua is Latin for "water," augmen the word for "growth." (Latin mens, metis is "mind," but I don't think Rowling had "water on the brain" in mind.) In Spanish, aqua became agua.
Anapneo: Greek for "I breathe, I breathe again, I catch my breath." In Harry Potter, it's used as a spell to make someone else breathe. Rowling often grabs a word straight from the dictionary without fixing the ending to fit the sentence (like someone saying "Me Tarzan" instead of "I am Tarzan").
Alohomora: Not Latin, but an interesting word; Rowling says it's a West African word she picked up from Geomancy (you can tell she's been studying various kinds of traditional magic to make hers sound believable). She translates it as "friendly to thieves."
Aparecium: Pseudo-Latin, or else it's late Latin and I don't know the word. It looks to me like appareo, apparere, "to appear" mashed together with species, "form, appearance," but that's a very raw guess.
Avada Kedavra: Rowling says this is the Aramaic form of Abracadabra, which originally meant "let the thing be destroyed" and was used as a spell to cure (destroy) illness... or so says Wikipedia, which keeps being "corrected" by Harry Potter enthusiasts!
In fact, the phrase's origins and meaning are hotly debated by scholars. The earliest example of it is Greek abracadabra in a De medicina praecepta saluberrima by Serenus Sammonicus, d. 212 CE, where it's a charm against sickness. You'll see some Potter enthusiasts trying to translate it as "what is said is done," but this may be wrong; that appears to be a mistranslation/misspelling introduced by the early 20th century occultist Aleister Crowley. On the other hand, that's closer to many scholars' educated guesses about the phrase's Aramaic origins and meanings (most of which express the common magical idea of creating something through the power of speech).
Avis: Latin "bird," singular. (Also plural in late Latin.) The grammar on oppugno avis ("I, a bird, attack") looks screwy: I'd be more inclined to use oppugno avibus "I attack with birds" or oppugnate av[e]s "birds, attack!"
Cave inimicum: Latin "beware of the enemy," like Roman cave canem mosaics, "Beware of the dog," found on doorsteps in ancient Pompeii. I wonder if Rowling really meant cave inimice: "enemy, beware."
Colloportus: Pseudo-Latin. Portus is a gateway or door; and the co- prefix has the meaning of "coming together," but the only collus, collo word I know means "neck." I'm guessing this is fake Latin for "a closed door."
Confringo: Latin "I break into pieces, I ruin."
Confundo: Latin "I mix up, jumble, confuse." It's a pity this word has almost dropped out of English; Gandalf's famous "Confound you, Samwise Gamgee!" probably confused a lot of movie viewers.
Conjuntivitis: A modern medical term rather than an ancient one. -itis is Greek for "swelling," and shows up in all kinds of medical jargon. I'm not quite sure why conjunctiva from Latin coniungo "to yoke, join together" is the scientific term for the membrane covering the eye.
Crucio: Latin "I torture." The resemblance to the word crucifixion is no accident: nailing someone to a cross, a crux, was a standard and nasty form of execution in ancient Rome.
Harry Potter Books Translated into Latin
Two of the Harry Potter books have been translated into Latin (and Greek, Gaelic, and just about every language you can imagine except Klingon and Neo-Sindarin). It's a fun way to practice, since you know the story.
Harry Potter Spells D-F
Defodio: Latin "I dig, bury." Now you'll remember what a fosse is when you have to study forts or castles: it's a trench or moat.
Deletrius: Pseudo-Latin, obviously from Latin deleo, "I efface, kill, destoy, delete," and perhaps prius, "earlier," since the Harry Potter spell basically means wiping out earlier traces like footprints.
Desaugeo: Is this Pseudo-Latin, or am I having a brain fart? In Harry Potter, it's a spell to make teeth grow. In which case, it may be a made-up shortening of dentes augeo, "I grow/increase/augment the teeth."
Deprimo: Latin "I press down, push down, sink," which could make sense for any sort of downward force (such as Hermione punching a hole in the floor).
Descendo: Latin "I descend, climb down, fall." There's a few instances in the books where this spell is used to cause something to fall. For those, I might instead say, demitto to mean "I let down, I make something descend."
Diffindo: Latin "I split, break off." This works, but I'm surprised she didn't use the more common word scindo, "I rip, tear apart, cut open," the root word of "scissors."
Duro: "I harden, make hard." An interesting Latin word: it can either mean that you make something else hard, or that you harden yourself, which is why it also means, "I endure."
Erecto: Now, now! Probably medieval Latin; the classical Latin form is erigo, "I raise, stand up, make upright," with the past participle erectus, "set up, in a standing position."
Evanesco: Latin "I disappear, I die out, I pass away." Yet another case where the Harry Potter spell is a little confused about who or what is doing the action. Evanescite! (the command form, "vanish!") might be better.
Expecto Patronum: Latin "I await a guardian." (Note: I've written a short article on the meaning of expecto patronum, since a patronus is something rather particular in ancient Rome.)
Expelliarmus: Pseudo-Latin: expello "I drive away, banish" + arma "weapons" (arms in the older sense of "arms race.")
Expulso: Latin ex- "out, away" + pulso "strike, beat, hit." As usual, the -o ending of a verb is the first person "I..." form, which is the verb-form listed in most Latin dictionaries.
Ferula: A staff, stick, rod (or, in botany, a stalk of fennel). I'm assuming this must be medical terminology for "splint," since Lupin uses it to splint a broken bone.
Fidelius: "Very faithful, more faithful," the comparative form of fidelis, "trusty, faithful, trustworthy."
Finite Incantatem: "End the spell." The -ite form a verb is the command form, as in, "Hey you! Do this!"
Flagrante: from Latin adjective flagrans, flagrantis, "burning, on fire"
Flagrate: "burn, ignite," the imperative (command) plural form of the verb, as in "Burn, bab(ies), burn!"
Furnunculus: Medical jargon. I believe this is from furuncles, "boils," which ultimately derives from Latin furnus, a stove, oven.
Harry Potter Spells G-L
Geminio: From Latin gemino, "I double, repeat, make a copy, reinforce." If my memory hasn't completely rusted, I think Medieval Latin sometimes sticks an -i- in front of the -o- to mean "cause it to happen."
Glisseo: Well, I'll be. It looks like Latin, but it isn't Latin! There's a French word, glissade, which means to ski down on the soles of your feet, but it's from German. (In fact, glis, gliris is Latin for "dormouse.")
Homenem revilio: Ecce typo! Ahem. In proper Latin, it's hominem revelo, "I unveil the man," a logical thing to say when outing someone hiding under an invisibility cloak.
Homorphus: Pseudo-Latin: Latin homo "man" + Greek morphe, "shape of."
Impedimenta: Latin "burden, obstacle, luggage, baggage," literally "something underfoot." Caesar's legions are always schlepping their impedimenta around, poor chaps.
Imperio: "I command." The words "empire, imperial" and so on derive from this very common Latin word.
Impervius: Latin for "impassable." A rather elegant Latin word: in "not" + per "through" + via "road, street, path."
Incarcerous: Peudo-Latin from in "in" (yes, I'm afraid in has two entirely different meanings) + carcer, "prison, jail" and by extension, any sort of bonds, fetters, chains or imprisonment.
Incendio: From Latin incendo, "I set fire to, I kindle."
Legilimens: Pseudo-Latin from lego, "I read," + mens, "mind." If it were me, I would've written it legementem.
Levicorpus: Pseudo-Latin from levis, "light[weight]" or levo "I lift" + corpus, "body."
Liberacorpus: Slightly muddled pseudo-Latin: liber, libera, liberum is "free" while liber, librum is both "book" and a unit of weight. (Libro is the verb for weighing something.) I feel like Neville's toad for second-guessing the books, but I can't help suggesting something like gravicorpus, "weigh down the body."
Locomotor: From Latin locus, "place," plus motus, "motion, movement." I'm guessing locomotor is medieval Latin, since it shows up in English words like locomotive.
lumos: From Latin lumen is a light, lamp. I'm surprised Rowling didn't use lux to pair off nicely with nox.
Harry Potter Spells M-P
Meteolojinx Recanto: Pseudo-Latin. From Greek meteoros, "raised, on high" and by extension "heavenly, having to do with the sky," which science borrowed for weather, plus jinx, plus Latin recanto, "charm away, withdraw."
Rowling has piqued my curiosity: she inspired me to ferret out the etymology of jinx. It appears to be from Greek iynx, a bird known in English as a "wryneck," which has been used since ancient times in spells and folk magic perhaps because of its disturbing ability to turn its head 180°.
Mobiliarbus: Pseudo-Latin from mobilis, "quick, active, changeable" + arbor, "tree."
Mobilicorpus: Pseudo-Latin from mobilis (which really has more of an idea of "rapid movement" than mere "movement") + corpus, "body."
Morsmordre: Pseudo-Latin from mors, mortis, "death." mordeo actually means "I bite, sting, hurt, nip," but I think Rowling was just riffing on mors, and possibly thinking of Tolkien's Mordor (mor- in Tolkien's Elvish means "dark, black" and tens to refer to nasty things).
Muffliato: Pseudo-Latin, built on English muff which can be traced back through French (which Rowling has taught) to an obscure Medieval Latin word, muffula, a "muff" (furry scarf or wrap).
Nox: Latin for "night."
Obliviate: Medieval Latin, I'm guessing, from obliviscor, "I forget." (Classical Latin form of the command: obliviscimini).
Obscuro: Latin "I darken, hide, conceal, cause to be forgotten."
Oppugno: Latin "I fight, attack, assail."
Orchideous: Pseudo-Latin from Latin (and Greek) orchis, "orchid."
Petrificus Totalus: Medieval Latin. Greek petros "rock, stone" + Latin facio "make, do, cause to happen" + Medieval Latin totalis < classical Latin totus "whole, entire."
Portus: Medieval Latin: "gate, portal, doorway." (Porta in classical Latin, when portus was more properly a harbor.)
Prior Incantato: Erm...is this medieval Latin again? My classical training says it's incantatum prius, "the earlier/former incantation."
Protego: Latin "I cover, protect, shield, defend." A tectum is a covering or roof.
Protego Horribilis: Oopsie. That's "I, a horrible person, cast a protection spell." Probably should be protego ad horribilem or some other "against" preposition.
Protego Totalum: Roughly, "I protect the whole thing."
Harry Potter Spells Q-Z
Quietus: Latin adjective for "calm, quiet, peaceful." (quies is the noun "quiet, silence, stillness.")
Reducio: Medieval Latin. Reduco in classical Latin means to "lead back, bring back, withdraw" and, rarely, "restore, replace, bring back to an earlier form." In the Renaissance it came to be used more in the sense of "shrink, lessen."
Reducto: In classical Latin, a past-tense form of reduco, "brought back, withdrawn, restored." Harry Potter seems to use this word in its more modern sense of "reduce to its constituent elements" i.e. pulverize.
Relashio: Pseudo-Latin, evidently from English "release." (sh doesn't appear in Latin.)
Rennervate: Pseudo-Latin from enervo, "to remove the sinews or nerves, to weaken."
Reparo: From Latin reparo, "I restore, renew, revive."
Rictusempra: Pseudo-Latin from rictus, "the open mouth or jaws" (and by extension, "laughter") + semper "always."
Riddikulus: Misspelling of Latin ridiculus, which means exactly the same thing as the English word (ultimately from Latin rideo, "I laugh, I smile, I laugh at.")
Salvio Hexia: What's with all these random i's getting thrown in? Pseudo-Latin from salvo, salvus, "safe and sound" + German hexe, "witch." (Latin salvia is the herb "sage".)
Sectumsempra: Pseudo-Latin from seco, sectus, "cut up, make an incision" + semper "always."
Serpensortia: Pseudo-Latin. Serpens is a snake, of course, but I can't quite work out how sortior "to draw lots, choose a fate, cast dice" fits in, unless Rowling thought it meant "cast" as in "to throw."
Silencio: In classical Latin, silentium "silence" or sileo "be silent." Probably this is medieval Latin.
Sonorus: Latin "noisy, resounding, thunderous."
Stupefy: It's ordinary English, but it comes from Latin stupeo "to be stunned, numbed, astonished" + fio "make, do, cause to happen."
Tarantallegra: Pseudo-Italian from tarantella, a kind of vigorous folk-dance that originated in the Italian town Taranto.
Tergeo: Latin "rub clean, polish." Related to Latin tergum, "skin, hide, protective surface," since hides had to have their bristles polished away to be useful as parchment or leather.
Wingardium Leviosa: Pseudo-Latin and definitely not medieval; it's got the English word "wing" in it. I've seen a lot of people trying to make sense of this, but it doesn't: arduus, arduum is an all-purpose Latin adjective meaning "steep, high, difficult, challenging," but it's in the sense of a steep grade that must be climbed, not in the sense of height, loftiness, or an upwards direction. Leviosa is a made-up word from Latin levis, meaning "light[weight]." I think this word was invented before Rowling settled down and became a bit more methodical in her Latin.