Fun Etymology Tuesday – Wizengamot

Salvete, amici!

It’s Tuesday, and you know what that means: Fun Etymology time!

This week, we’re getting a little literary. J. K. Rowling snuck a lot of clever things into the Harry Potter books. One of those is the word “Wizengamot.” In the books, the Wizengamot is the wizards’ highest court of law and parliament. The name is a blending of “wizard” and the Old English word “witenagemot,” meaning “meeting of the wise men.” Like the wizarding equivalent, the Anglo-Saxon Witenagemot was a governing council that advised the king.

“Witenagemot” breaks down into two words. “Witena” comes from “wita,” meaning “wise man.” “Gemot” means “meeting or council.” It also appeared without the prefix as “mot,” which is the source of our Modern English word “moot” (meaning “debatable or irrelevant”). The modern sense of the word comes from a Renaissance usage by law students to refer to a discussion of hypothetical law cases, hence “debatable.” (Anyone who’s sat through a pointless meeting or a discussion that’s gone on way too long and circled back around can guess how that morphed into “irrelevant.”)

Speaking of literature, Old English “mot” is also the source of Tolkien’s Entmoot, literally “meeting of the Ents.”

Books, am I right?

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