or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Wednesday, September 24, 2008


In response to my considerable annoyance at the misuse of the word "enervate", an anonymous reader had this to say:

Not that I'm excusing the use of the word "enervate", but I can think of one very famous source that uses the word in precisely the way it is meant in the excerpt.

It's used as a spell in a Harry Potter book, to resuscitate someone who has been Stunned.

I read the first Harry Potter book and thought it was good enough to read the second, got through that and thought it was a lot like the first, started the third and decided it was pretty much just like the first and second, and threw in the towel. So, not a fan, then.

I'm going to defend J.K. Rowling a little, though, and note that the names of many of her magic spells have Latin, or Latin-ish, names: "Liberacorpus", for instance, or "Impervius", or "Incarcerous" (all drawn from this Wiki page). Therefore, I'm going to assume that the spell "Enervate" isn't meant to be pronounced in the English manner, but rather as a sort of Latin, which would give "enervate" four syllables rather than three (one per vowel), and therefore might not be expected to have exactly the same meaning as its English analogue.

It's not much of an excuse, though, because the etymology still doesn't work: the root of "enervate" is still "ex-" plus "nervus", literally "to take the sinews out of", which would obviously weaken someone, and "enervate" has never, ever meant anything except what it self-evidently does mean. I couldn't say what Rowling was thinking when she named that particular spell, but it's not as if it's the only mistake in the series.


Speaking of possible mistakes, here's a headline from a recent posting in the cruelly amusing gossip website Dlisted:

Dita Von Teese Would Like To Sell You A Brasserie

and here's the first sentence:

Dita Von Teese launched her new line of brasseries (I bet she totally calls them that) and other lingerie items for Wonderbra in London today.

I can't tell if the writer meant what he said or if it's a mistake, or what, which means that, for me, at least, the joke, if it was one, fell flat. (Did he actually mean to say "brassiere" and is saying that Von Teese calls them that because it's longer and more pretentious than "bra", or is he saying that she calls them "brasseries" because she's too dumb to know the difference between the two words?)

What Dita Von Teese (a modern-day burlesque dancer) is trying to sell is a line of Wonderbra brassieres. (Maybe I'm pretentious, but I usually call one, when I have to refer to one, a "brassiere", too; I think it sounds prettier than "bra".) "Brassiere" is from the French "bras", "arm", a word which is related to English "brachial", "of the arm", the name of an artery in the upper arm, and also to "brace". A brassiere was originally French "braciere" and was, as the name suggests, a sort of armour for the upper arms.

A brasserie, on the other hand, is a small tavern/restaurant; the name comes from Middle French "brasser", "to brew", which means the word is more or less analogous to "brewery".


Anonymous Anonymous said...

It should be noted that the spell in the Harry Potter books is actually "Ennervate"- by chance does the geminated N create a non-sensical etymology, or something substantially more interesting?

Saturday, September 27, 2008 5:12:00 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home