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Chris -- 2018-04-11

#1 2008-08-13 00:58:10

From: California
Registered: 2005-10-25
Posts: 1665

"convent of witches" for "coven of witches"

“A convent of witches” sounds like a scurrilous bit of Reformation propaganda. But the etymological picture is actually kinda complex. “Convent” and “coven” both come from Latin conventum – “a coming together.” Originally, the spelling of “conventum” was mediated by Old French, and when the word first appears in Middle English in the early 13th C, it’s in the form of “covent.” And one of meanings of “covent” was a group of twelve religious – or 13, if the company included the group’s religious leader. This meaning obviously informed “coven,” a variant which first appears around 1500 and seems at first to be used in pretty much the same way as the original. But things get more complicated around 1550, when a strong classicizing impulse in English led to the spread of “convent” – a spelling based on the Latin etymon – to refer to the religious establishment. The presence of two fairly different forms seems to have allowed “coven” to develop along its own path, and by the mid 17th C it’s being used specifically for a group of witches – often 12 of them.

Today, “convent of witches” looks pretty darn strange. It may flunk the etymological rule, but I’m pretty sure most of the people below don’t know the relevant word history here. This is very rare; I’ve given you all the hits that look authentic:

do you think any white person is offended at masks that show white ugly witches with warts on their crooked noses (I used to actually own such a mask as a kid)? I mean look at Beavis ‘n Butthead, if they were of any other race, the show would have been cancelled and the producer fined for “racism” a long time ago.
I don’t care how the white people depict themselves. If a white person or a convent of witches finds it offensive, they have every right to voice their opinion. … -2152.html

Our leadership is on cruse control and some of the Stewards
are like a convent of witches or a pack of uncontrollable wolves on the

The family of Gypsy’s is actually a little known but highly skilled convent of witches. … aggia.html

The name’s worth an extra star, though. Alchemy, intoxication, lead into gold, mercuric oxide, evolution from witchcraft to modern chemistry, all that stuff. The cinnamon colored band in the window, though? Was hoping for a convent of witches but instead someone did the glass with a magic marker.
[From a review of a drinking establishment called “Cinnabar.” The use of “convent” may be a knowing one here; I couldn’t tell.]

[Edit: It wasn’t till I stepped into the shower that I realized I’d neglected the obvious: “witches’ convent.” A number of the hits for the latter are from works of fiction about witches that live together in convents, but there seem to be at least 2-3 authentic ones. But I’ll let you Google them yourselves—I’m on my way up the wooden stairs to Bedfordshire.]

Last edited by patschwieterman (2008-08-13 03:43:45)



#2 2008-08-13 09:12:15

From: Mexico
Registered: 2007-10-11
Posts: 2154

Re: "convent of witches" for "coven of witches"

Nice post—this issue of etymologies and whether they count against an eggcorn is a complex one, but I think you are right that in this case nobody knows they are the same, and this is very unlikely to be a survival. It’s eggcornish enough for me.

I liked “cruse control” in the context, too—limits on what you’re allowed to take away from the cauldron in your pocket jug?

(Enjoying Breffkisshire at the moment—)

*If the human mind were simple enough for us to understand,
we would be too simple-minded to understand it* .

(Possible Corollary: it is, and we are .)



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