So I’ve been reading this manga series called “Antimagia“, which is a cute little series (just started), about a little boy prince who’s been to hell and back, and in the process acquired this fantastic magical power called ‘antimagia’. …except that he’s literally performing magic. And that magic is called ‘anti-magic’. But it’s not the sort of magic-nullifier kind of magic. I don’t know about you, but that doesn’t really compute for me.

I mean, sure, if it were just the title of the series, it MIGHT be a reference to the “true” nature of magic, or how the magic in this series is different from conventional magic of fantasy-genre manga, or even about how in this manga’s universe, magic is something to be shunned. But the magic that he has is actually called “antimagia”. How does that make sense?

Thanks to my ability to process Japanese, I found that the ‘intended’ original term was 古魔法, which has also been glossed in the sub-title as 古代の魔法。 In other words, “ancient magic”. So how does a monolingual Japanese dictionary sleuth go from the japanese for “ancient magic” to the quasi-latinate translation of “against magic”? Well, before we go there, we should also look at the phonetic guide that the original Japanese has for the intended pronunciation: アンテイマギア (anteimagia).

Perhaps now, the intent was clear: the goal was antEmagia (ie, pre-magic). This is, I suppose, a combination of the author’s unfortunate illiteracy in other languages, and our own conventional spellings to a long-dead language that never had standardized spellings.

…For those who are still in the dark, anti- is a latinate prefix meaning “against”, found in such words as “antidote” (ie, ‘given AGAINST [poison]’) and “antidisestablishmentarianism” (self-explanatory). On the other hand, we also have a very similar-sounding, and similarly spelt latinate prefix, ante-, meaning “before,” found in such words as “antechamber” (ie, “the room before [the main room]”), “ante meridiem” (where the time stamp “am” comes from – “before noon”), and “antepenultimate” (lit. “before second-last”, ie “third-last”).

Now we know what the intent was. But still, there’s a small disconnect between “ancient” and “before”. After all, “ancient” is a relatively fixed period of time, while “before” is eternally shifting with the speakers local references. Maybe our current English understanding of “ante” is flawed, and the original Latin was more polysemous. Unfortunately, all the Latin dictionaries I consulted list “before; preceeding” as the only possible definitions for “ante”.

While this mini-linguistic sleuthing is marginally rewarding (at least for my own sake of mind — I hate reading something, while perpetually plagued by doubt as to its relevance), it’s a little too late in this case. Even if I were to write the most polite and well-worded letter to the editor of this series, there’s no way they’d consider revising the English title to “antemagia,” or even more appropriately, “archmagia” or “archanomagia”. That last one would probably be most transparent in meaning, but it seems that “arch-” by itself, while meaning “chief; principal,” also means “primitive; first”. So take your pick, I suppose. As for me, I’ll continue to enjoy my little comic book about a boy prince and his gene-bending wiles, while subconsciously griping about yet another casualty of blind dictionary-skimming, and less-than-thorough editors.

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