Wordwatch Towers

A plain language guide to punctuation, grammar and writing well.

This is just to say…

with 12 comments

Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom

… that ‘ensorcelled’ means ‘enchanted’ or ‘fascinated’. See Oxford Dictionaries. You can see from the word that its derivation is linked to the word ‘sorcerer’ (which I just had to check how to spell). I kind of like all of that, but is it a good choice in this article in the Guardian? The first paragraph includes the following sentence:

I was immediately ensorcelled by the singularity of the Shrigley worldview: here were pictures that had a bewilderingly complex naivete about them – it was as if a preternaturally intelligent child were rendering the attempts of a smart-aleck adult to draw like a kid.

Ensorcelled? Really? Why send your readers away (probably never to return) to consult a dictionary when ‘enchanted’ or ‘fascinated’ would work just as well (probably better) there? Yes, I learnt a new word, no, I didn’t go back to read the rest of the article (I wrote this post instead). And is the writer just showing off? Oh, I don’t know. Sunday morning tea and toast calls.


12 Responses

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  1. Ah, but I see it’s Will Self! I happen to know that word, and “preternaturally”, although I would never use them (I’m a common-or-garden journalist). But Will Self? Well, his writing voice is always rather “smart-aleck” and most of the art world is a bit pseudy, isn’t it?
    Hope you enjoyed your tea and toast 🙂


    20/10/2013 at 10:42 am

    • Hi! How lovely to see you here. Yes, I agree with you. I just scanned a bit more of the article and found the word ‘divagated’. I’ll look that up some other time. 🙂 Tea and toast is lovely. Butter on keyboard, not so much.


      20/10/2013 at 10:48 am

  2. Will Self is a pretentious oik at the best of times, but that sentence, quoted above, is inexcusable from anyone turned 16. Execrable, schoolboy, scribbling – can’t really dignify it by calling it journalism.


    20/10/2013 at 11:00 am

    • Hi, Ron – it’s really nice to see you here. Thanks for dropping by. I’m glad someone round here can make up their mind about these things. 🙂 *eats more toast*


      20/10/2013 at 11:04 am

  3. The article read as if the author had a copy of Word Power Made Easy in his lap. Only “banjaxed” stumped me, however. But generally I find art criticism opaque. It’s hard to convey in words what’s going on in a painting, and the simpler the language used the better. Too often critics take the opportunity to show off their graduate vocabularies rather than inform the reader who is left with a plateful of airy abstractions to digest. And if the reader can’t understand the critic’s “brilliant explication,” he or she must be lacking intelligence.

    Monroe Thomas Clewis

    20/10/2013 at 3:34 pm

    • Hi, and welcome to Wordwatch Towers. Yes, I agree that much art criticism is opaque. It’s interesting that Tate Britain recently removed explanatory texts as part of a recent reorganisation of its collection. To what extent the texts were actually ‘explanatory’ is open to debate! I do agree with your final point; it’s a shame that some people might be put off as a result. Much the same can be said of a lot of poetry criticism, imho.


      20/10/2013 at 4:47 pm

  4. I do enjoy reading obscure word zeppelins in poetry, and a spelle of magick wouldn’t be properly impressive without some. But in the context of a novel I would be one of the readers driven away. Ensorcelled sounds alternatively like “encircled” or “sozzled”.

    Invisible Mikey

    20/10/2013 at 8:23 pm

    • Hi, Mikey — Hope you’re well. Good to hear from you. I just love the idea of ensorcelled meaning sozzled. I’ve adopted that for future use. 🙂


      21/10/2013 at 9:55 am

      • I think likely that sozzled is more closed linked with the modern German “angesäuselt” (tipsy) – though as I am ignorant of German derivations, it may of course turn out that both these words come from a more ancient root shared with “ensorcelled”. I await enlightenment with interest,,,,,


        01/04/2014 at 7:34 pm

        • Hi! The possibility that ‘sozzled’ is derived from angesäuselt is very interesting, especially when compared to this Oxford Dictionaries explanation of the word’s origin:

          late 19th century: past participle of dialect sozzle ‘mix sloppily’, probably of imitative origin.

          The plot thickens! Thanks very much for sharing this here. 🙂


          01/04/2014 at 8:04 pm

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