Daily Archives: December 16, 2008


The sound of this word is like a swooping followed by a clap – caped arms swinging up to clap hands over the head; bat wings; a thunder clap in reverse. And look at that w – in this word it may seem like fangs. And such negative overtones: war – fighting – and lock – closure, grip. A person dedicated to incessant conflict? Well, perhaps, but the word doesn’t come from its ostensible components. It is sprung from Old English wær-loga. The wær is from a word meaning “truth” (compare German wahr and Latin verum); the loga is related to Old English leogan, from which we get lie (i.e., not tell truth). Put together they made a denier of truth – and often, even from the beginning, that ultimate denier of truth, the Devil. From that, we move on to Satan’s little helpers. So it’s not just bad phonaesthetics that keep this word in the darker side of the ledger. And, indeed, positive tones are hard to find, other than in the work of the composer Peter Warlock (a pseudonym for Philip Heseltine), whose Capriol suite is quite pleasant and often played. Past that, we get the sonic and thematic resemblance to werewolf and the rhymes with Morlock (man’s chthonic descendant in H.G. Wells’s Time Machine) and the man from Porlock (who disrupted Coleridge in the writing of his “Kubla Khan”). So warlock is avoided. In the world of Harry Potter, male witches are wizards, not warlocks. Among Wiccans, males and females alike are witches, and emphatically not warlocks. Oh, one can still find warlocks, though – in the darker kinds of fiction, of course.