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Pronounced /ɛnˈsɔːsəld/Help with pronunciation

It’s not too hard to guess this one, since its middle has echoes of sorcerer. That’s the origin, because it comes via the Old French verb ensorceler from sorcier, a sorcerer. Both go back to Latin sors, the destiny, fate or fortune of an individual.

Despite the ancient pedigree of the words from which it comes, the verb ensorcell — to bewitch or enchant — appears in English only in the sixteenth century, and that briefly. It began to be popular in the nineteenth century, the classic examples being in the Arabian Nights stories translated by Sir Richard Burton, which included The Tale of the Ensorcelled Prince among those told by Scheherazade. “She came forward swaying from side to side and coquettishly moving and indeed she ravished wits and hearts and ensorcelled all eyes with her glances.”

It has become more common since, though it’s hardly a word you will expect to find in your daily newspaper. It’s usually regarded as literary or poetic but is most frequently to be found in sword-and-sorcery fantasy novels: “The lock was ensorcelled, protected as if by some invisible, unbreakable glass” (Lois McMaster Bujold, The Spirit Ring, 1992); “She was an ensorcelled princess, and only the evil witches might waken her” (Vernor Vinge, A Deepness in the Sky, 1999); “The colossal hammer of the Berserker Khorixas was forged of the same sky metal as Etjole Ehomba’s ensorcelled sword” (Alan Dean Foster, A Triumph of Souls, 2000).

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Copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.

Page created 03 Jun 2006