Mona Voelkel

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Conjuring “The Lost Words”

Macfarlane, Robert. The Lost Words: A Spell Book. House of Anansi Press, 2018.

“Once upon a time, words began to vanish from the language of children….You hold in your hands a spellbook for conjuring back these lost words.”

                                                    From The Lost Words: A Spell Book


 Once upon a time, someone noticed that words were disappearing from the Junior edition of the Oxford English Dictionary and those disappearing words are at the heart of this swoon-worthy over-sized book. With luscious illustrations and acrostic poems that make your heart sing, this book is pure joy. Teacher resources here.


 I was fascinated by the word conjuring on the opening page of the book. I imagined that the base jure might have something to do with magic, as in, you use magic to bring back the “lost words.” It was, with first confusion and then delight, then that I discovered that the root of conjuring goes back to the Latin ius with a sense of “a right” from the Old Latin ious, which according to the Online Etymological Dictionary, “perhaps literally meant ‘sacred formula’.


Now, I understand the sense of “a right, especially a legal right” embedded in words in the morphological family like jury, jurist and juror. I also can understand how the prefix in- gives a sense of “opposite of” to the “jure” base in “injury,” denoting “an opposite of (what is) right.


Upon further reading, OED noted that there is a magical sense of “conjuring” since about the 1500’s but thinking about “conjuring back these lost words” in the book above, I like to think that yes, “conjuring” has something to do with “command on oath” but maybe there also remains a deeper sense of what we are summoning forth is our right to summon. These words were lost but it is our right to call them back to us.


Maybe there is a nugget of this in anything we would hope to conjure for ourselves. Perhaps we need to believe that it is our right. All we need to do is to have the courage to summon it forth. 

Neil Ramsden, Mini-Matrix Maker

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