Where does the word “enchant” (incantation) come from and What does enchant mean?

From earliest times and among all primitive people the solemn chanting of songs has been supposed to have magical properties, to influence the gods, to avert evil, to cast spells, to bring sunshine or rain, to cause or remove disease, to foster the growth of crops or to ruin them, or to bring success in love or war.

In fact, every mortal function, it was believed, could be favorably or adversely affected by the repetition of some poetic formula. Traces of these ancient superstitions still linger among civilized people, as when children chant over and over, “Rain, rain, go away. Come again some other day.”

For ordinary singing, among the Romans, the verb canto, was used, but when the song was intended to work magic against another, they used incanto, literally “to sing against.”

This verb, through French, became our term enchant. The song, such as attributed to sirens in luring men to harm, or in averting or bringing about evil, thus became an incantatio, from which comes our word incantation.

We now use the word “Enchant” chiefly in a pleasant sense, as of rapture, though we no longer associate the term with song. But incantation still carries a suggestion of muttered rhythm and is usually associated with witchcraft and evil.

About Karen Hill

Karen Hill is a freelance writer, editor, and columnist. Born in New York, her work has appeared in the Examiner, Yahoo News, Buzzfeed, among others.

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