10 Latin Language References Hidden in Harry Potter

istock (background) / Warner Bros (Harry Potter)
istock (background) / Warner Bros (Harry Potter)

"I cannot remember telling my parents that I was studying Classics," J.K. Rowling said in a 2011 commencement speech at Harvard. "They might well have found out for the first time on graduation day." Before the future Harry Potter creator arrived at the University of Exeter in 1983, Rowling’s mother and father had dissuaded her from focusing on English literature. Eventually, she agreed to set her sights on modern languages instead.

In the end, Rowling studied French, which she has since called "a mistake." But her chosen minor would pay off big-time. As a Classics student, Rowling’s coursework later helped flesh out Harry Potter’s magical world, for at Hogwarts, the tongue of ancient Rome is alive and well. Every other page in the series is loaded with Latin—here are some of our favorite nods.

1. Accio

When Harry and the gang use this helpful charm, desired objects (like broomsticks) come flying over. Originally, the word meant—among other things—"send (for)," "summon (forth)," or 'fetch."

2. Expecto Patronum

According to Rowling, non-muggle Latin had been evolving for thousands of years by the time her books take place. Hence, a few definitions got tweaked. As she said in 2000, "It just amused me, the idea that wizards would still be using Latin as a living language, although it is, as scholars of Latin will know … I take great liberties with the language for spells. I see it as a kind of mutation that the wizards are using."

Case in point: Expecto patronum means "I await a patron." In classical Rome, a patronus was a rich citizen who would pay and offer legal protection to some of his poorer associates who’d show their gratitude by providing various services—an awfully far cry from those animal-shaped, dementor-fighting guardians Rowling came up with.

3. Evanesco

Here’s a disappearing spell—which Neville Longbottom casts on his own desk—that literally means "to vanish." Sounds about right.

4. Incendio

Who’s up for another no-brainer? Shouting "Incendio!" helps Mr. Weasley light the Dursley’s fireplace. Oh, and by the way, incendiarius is Latin for "fire-raising."

5. Expelliarmus

When you’ve gotten this one down pat, disarming an opponent becomes child’s play. The incantation loosely combines expellere ("drive out" or "expel") and arma ("weapon").

6. Nox

Whispering the Latin word for "night" is basically the astute young wizard’s answer to those trendy "clap-off" lamps—it extinguishes the glow at the end of your wand.

7. Crucio, the Cruciatus Curse

One of the three unforgivable curses in Harry’s world, this spell inflicts unbearable, agonizing pain upon its target. Naturally, Voldemort loves it. Cruciare means "torment/torture" and is related to the English term "crucifixion."

8. Severus Snape

Severus is how Latin-speakers say "severe" or "serious." That about sums up Snape’s chilly personality.

9. Draco Malfoy

Linguistically, there’s a connection between this obnoxious bully and Disney’s scariest villain. Like Sleeping Beauty’s devil-horned Maleficent, Malfoy can be traced back to malus, which means "bad," "evil," or "wicked." As for his first name, Draco translates to "dragon"—a Latinization of the ancient Greek word drakōn. Be that as it may, just about every fire-breathing reptile in the series is a good deal nicer than Malfoy...

10. Professor Lupin

No wonder this guy got himself bitten by a werewolf! With a name like Lupin, Harry’s third Defense Against the Dark Arts professor had it coming—after all, not only does lupus mean "wolf," but the extant gray wolf is scientifically known as Canis lupus.

BONUS: HOGWARTS’ SCHOOL MOTTO

While it isn’t exactly "hidden," this deserves a quick mention. Like a number of real schools and universities, Hogwarts pours on the prestige with a Latin slogan: Draco Dormiens Numquam Titillandus or "Never Tickle a Sleeping Dragon." Eat your heart out, Yale.

Mental Floss's Three-Day Sale Includes Deals on Apple AirPods, Sony Wireless Headphones, and More

Apple
Apple

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Absentee Ballot vs. Mail-In Ballot: What’s the Difference?

Liliboas/iStock via Getty Images
Liliboas/iStock via Getty Images

Since you mail in an absentee ballot, it seems like mail-in ballot is just a convenient alternative for people who always forget the word absentee. And though the terms are often used interchangeably, there is technically a difference.

Up until the Civil War, American voters were generally required to vote at their local polling stations in person. But when states realized this would prevent hundreds of thousands of soldiers from voting in the 1864 presidential election, they started passing laws to let them send in their ballots instead. As The Washington Post explains, state legislatures have since broadened these laws to include other citizens who can’t make it to the polls on Election Day: people who are traveling, people who have disabilities, people attending college away from home, etc. Because these voters are all physically absent from the polls for one reason or another, their ballots are known as absentee ballots.

Some states require you to meet certain criteria in order to qualify for an absentee ballot, while others don’t ask you to give a reason at all (which is known as “no-excuse absentee voting”). Since this year’s general election is happening during a pandemic, many states have temporarily adopted a no-excuse policy to encourage everyone to vote from home. But even if you don’t need to provide an excuse, you do usually need to request an absentee ballot.

According to Dictionary.com, mail-in ballot is a more general term that can refer to any ballot you send in. It’s often used when talking about all-mail voting, when states send a ballot to every registered voter—no request necessary. Oregon and a few other states actually conduct all elections like this, and several other states have decided to do it for the upcoming presidential election. But even though you don’t have to send in an application requesting a mail-in ballot in these situations, you do still have to be registered to vote.

Because voting processes are mostly left up to the states, there’s quite a bit of variation when it comes to what officials call ballots that you don’t cast in person. You could see the term mail-in ballot—or vote-by-mail ballot, or advanced ballot, or something similar—on an application for an absentee ballot, and you could hear absentee ballot used in a conversation about all-mail voting.

No matter what you call it, you should definitely mail one in for this election—here’s how to do that in your state.