In So Many Words

Info-Comics by Larry Paros

A More Enchanting You

Sound the alarms! Batten down the hatches! Sirens over the starboard bow! A bevy of bewitching Greek creatures, part woman, part bird, are busily luring sailors to death on the rocks with their seductive melodies.

What makes them so enchanting is the Latin incantare, from in, "over," and cantare, "to sing;" or "chant" — crafting their every effort to "lure them over" to their side.

Goings-on such as these initially established the enchantress' reputation as a practitioner of the black arts. Over the years, however, her powers waned and her status declined. By the 14th century, her ability to enchant was reduced to "winning someone over," ultimately leaving her "bewitching" and "fascinating," but only in a somewhat benign fashion.

Many, however, continued to think of her as charming, from the French charme, from the Latin carmen, a "song," or "magical incantation." That was short-lived however. Charming also lost its magical prowess. In 14th-century England, a woman deemed charming was probably a witch, headed for trial by fire or water. But by Shakespeare's time, she too was bereft of evil connotation and power.

The magic having left both the enchantress and the charmer, many turned their attention elsewhere — to the girl next door — who was anything but enchanting or charming. What she also wasn't, was a tomboy, valley girl, femme fatale, girly girl, or slut either — just a cute, unassuming archetype from our nation's past. The boy next door soon joined her, popularized by Judy Garland who sang his praises in the 1947 film, Meet Me in Saint Louis.

As for Prince Charming, well, that's another story altogether.