Where does the word “fascinate” come from and What does fascinate mean?

From earliest times, and even today among superstitious people, it has been believed that certain persons, if so inclined, have the power to injure or even kill other persons or animals or to destroy crops or commit other injury by no more than a malignant glance.

Such a person is held to possess the “evil eye.” In ancient Greece, the power of the evil eye was called baskania, in Rome fascinatio.

Because no one knew who that he might meet had the power and the wish to do him injury, it was an almost universal custom, in olden times, to wear an amulet of some kind which was believed to protect the wearer.

Even the cattle were sometimes so adorned. Children were thought to be especially susceptible to the power of the evil eye, and no Roman mother, in classical days, would permit a child of hers to leave the house without first suspending from its neck, under the robe, a certain amulet called fascinum.

Actually, therefore, our word fascinate, when first brought into English use, meant to cast the evil eye upon one, to put one under the spell of witchcraft.

We use the word “fascinate” rarely now in such a literal sense, but employ it rather to mean to hold one’s attention irresistibly or to occupy one’s thoughts exclusively by pleasing qualities.

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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