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[ kahn-trip ] [ ˈkɑn trɪp ] Show IPA Phonetic Respelling


a magic spell; trick by sorcery.

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More about cantrip

Cantrip, “a magic spell,” may not be related to the English verbs can and trip, but that doesn’t mean that its origin is any clearer. One possibility is that cantrip is a variant of Old English calcatrippe, “caltrop,” with the shift from l to n resulting from dissimilation, as we learned about from ensorcell. Calcatrippe is equivalent to Latin calx, “spur, heel” (as in calcaneus, a bone of the heel), plus Old English træppe, “step” (compare modern English trap). Another possibility is that the can- element comes from Latin cantāre, “to sing,” (as in enchant, incantation, and past Word of the Day descant), while -trip element is related not to trap but rather to rope because ropelike objects are a common element in sorcery. Cantrip was first recorded in English in the 1710s.

how is cantrip used?

And that old witch, Eliza—I little guessed she’d play this cantrip on me: But what a jest—Jerusalem, what a jest!

Wilfrid Gibson, Krindlesyke, 1922

I murmured a cantrip—a quick, common form of magic—and a ball of butterscotch light manifested above my head. I sent it up a flight of rickety stairs…

K. D. Edwards, The Hanged Man, 2019
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[ en-sawr-suhl ] [ ɛnˈsɔr səl ] Show IPA Phonetic Respelling

verb (used with object)

to bewitch.

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More about ensorcell

Ensorcell, “to bewitch,” comes from Middle French ensorceler, of the same meaning, which is a dissimilated variant of ensorcerer. Dissimilation refers to when one of two identical sounds in a word happens to change, such as how colonel is pronounced “kur-nl” in US English and February often becomes “feb-yoo-er-ee”; without dissimilation, the two l’s in colonel and the two r’s in February would be preserved in speech. Learn more about dissimilation from the Word of the Day porphyry. Ensorcerer ultimately derives from Latin sors (stem sort-), “lot, fate.” Another descendant of sors today is French sortir, “to exit,” which comes via Latin sortīrī, “to cast lots,” perhaps with the influence of surgere (stem surrēct-), “to spring up, arise, stand up.” Ensorcell was first recorded in English circa 1540.

how is ensorcell used?

He was a hoarder who had all the most beautiful crystal and linens—not to mention Truman Capote’s old sofa—but he never entertained. He sometimes wondered why he could ensorcell so many with his wit and style but not have a lover.

Maureen Dowd, “Farewell, André the Glorious,” The New York Times, January 22, 2022
[Shopping] encompasses exploration and frivolity, not just necessity. It can be immersive, too. While computer screens can bewitch the eye, a good shop has four more senses to ensorcell.

“The emporium strikes back,” The Economist, Jul 13, 2013
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[ sel-kooth ] [ ˈsɛlˌkuθ ] Show IPA Phonetic Respelling


strange; uncommon.

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More about selcouth

Selcouth, “strange, uncommon,” comes from Old English seldcūth, which is equivalent to seldan, “seldom,” and cūth, “couth, known, acquainted with.” Seldan has a number of relatives in other Germanic languages, including Dutch zelden, German selten, and Norwegian sjelden, but no known cognates outside the Germanic branch of the Indo-European language family. Cūth was the original past participle of can (Old English cunnan) before it evolved into Middle English coud, gained an l by analogy with should and would, and became could. Selcouth, as a word of Old English origin, was first recorded in English before 900 CE.

how is selcouth used?

From among them one could gather out a whole menagerie of the ‘selcouth‘ beasts and birds and creeping things that have been banished from solid earth into the limbo of Faëry and Romance.

John Geddie, The Balladists, 1896

“But during his convalescence he had a selcouth experience.”
Selcouth? What does that mean?” I said.
“It’s an archaic English word meaning unusual or strange, my unlearned colleague.”

Jonathan Swift Somers III (Philip José Farmer), “The Doge Whose Barque Was Worse Than His Bight,” 1976
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