I am seeking alternative terms for use as a revealing charm that can be used when a character does not understand something (e.g. the language of a different species) and is trying to change that. A statement like "I don't understand" would be useless and inappropriately disempowering for the setting.

The term should ideally be a new word (or few-word phrase) which has fragments which help indicate meaning. The term should not easily confused for valid words in modern Romance or Germanic languages, such as English (unless those words are quite rare).

Aparecium (used in Harry Potter) is a little too close to relevant forms of esp. Portugese & Spanish aparecer (to appear) and a command to appear fails to get at the concept of understanding [some communication which has already appeared] which is the goal here.

Answers can be novel or sourced from existing literature (if the latter, please credit a source!).

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Are you just looking for the mouthfeel of a fancy sounding ancient language, or do you have a particular set of ancient languages you want the spell to derive from? $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon Jul 6 '15 at 15:29
  • $\begingroup$ @CortAmmon I have a slight preference towards a Latin mouthfeel but am open to a broad range, including more modern languages if there's something that fits right. $\endgroup$ – WBT Jul 6 '15 at 16:52

Let me propose:

babelem (bɐbɛˈɫəm)3

An interpretation of the Tower of Babel story, as well as allusion to Douglas Adam's Babelfish; both references which will help indicate the meaning of the charm, without strongly referring to any sole language.

A useful addition might as well be:

babelem parse (bɐbɛˈɫəm pʰɑːsɛɛ)3

..although it'd be using the word parse in some form (again, meant to make intuitive understanding of the charm easier)

alternative (to make it look more outlandish; thanks Bobson):

babelem parze or babelem pa(h)ze

  • $\begingroup$ Maybe babelem parze to avoid the direct word parse? $\endgroup$ – Bobson Jul 6 '15 at 18:27
  • $\begingroup$ might be an idea. Although in the end I tried my best to add IPA to make clear that it wasn't intended to sound English at all $\endgroup$ – dot_Sp0T Jul 6 '15 at 18:29
  • $\begingroup$ I figured, but that's always the problem with literature - there's no way to make it clear how the author wants strange words pronounced. I'm currently reading a book with the "Varie", which is clearly supposed to be a derivation of "Faerie", but I keep reading it as if it were "Vare". $\endgroup$ – Bobson Jul 6 '15 at 18:33
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ yeah. Unless you throw some IPA or some footnotes at your readers. The latter being similar to what Jonathan Stroud did in his books $\endgroup$ – dot_Sp0T Jul 6 '15 at 18:35
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Nice answer! Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash comes to mind immediately as well as the biblical one you cited. In light of the literary settings, it almost seems like this would be the reverse charm - it's the act of splintering what was once unified language into many and adding misunderstanding where there was none before. So, while this might be better as the opposite (maybe the second word acts to negate?), it's a worthy answer! $\endgroup$ – WBT Jul 6 '15 at 19:08

How about interpretatum, interpretum, interpratus, or similar from the Latin interpretatus? It's the source of the word "interpret", which is a good fit for granting "understanding" of a language.

To address the comment about reading, you can do the same thing to the Latin recitatus, from which we get "recite". Recitatum, recitum, recititus.

The procedure I'm using is to search for the Latin translation of an relevant English word (translate, read), choose the one with the most relevant definition (linked in each answer), and play with the ending of the first person singular (-tus) form.

The three transforms I'm using are to apply -tum instead (which happens to be the future passive infinitive ending, although I didn't know that), apply -tum to the first t instead of the second, so you lose a syllable, and for something different, fiddling with the last vowel. Feel free to devise your own, if none of these work, and you can probably apply it consistently across all faux-Latin words you want to appropriate. Or just choose the best sounding variation for each word.

  • $\begingroup$ +1 for this answer! If you have other ideas that might help address a lower-level understanding (e.g. a character knows all or most of a language but can't parse the words in speech/handwriting into words s/he recognizes in that language) feel free to add :-). $\endgroup$ – WBT Jul 6 '15 at 17:02
  • $\begingroup$ @WBT - Does that help? $\endgroup$ – Bobson Jul 6 '15 at 18:26
  • $\begingroup$ Yep! I'm not sure if this strategy makes the meaning too transparently related to the relevant English word (English is a modern Germanic language) but it's a fine approach. $\endgroup$ – WBT Jul 6 '15 at 18:57
  • $\begingroup$ @WBT - It's a fine line. Just about everything in English is derived from either the Germanic or the Latin, so if you want to provide hints to the meaning you need to derive from there... but then you're close to actual words derived from there. If you want to not be close, then there aren't any hints that English-speakers will recognize. You can probably get closer to the line (without crossing it) than I do with my method here, but it's going to be an issue no matter what. $\endgroup$ – Bobson Jul 6 '15 at 19:30
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @Bobson- agreed. In this context, there's not a strong requirement that the average reader be able to figure out the meaning intuitively on the first read of the word. If a far- or middle- eastern word fit the bill, I'd be open to that even if the root wasn't Latin/Greek. Thanks for your answer! $\endgroup$ – WBT Jul 6 '15 at 19:54

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.