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Lo and behold! (But cave canem.)

One of my students recently asked me about the word “lo,” as in “lo and behold,” because he’d heard that it derived from a magical spell in Latin. Upon doing some research, I discovered that “lo” has indeed been cited in at least one source, Alexander Souter’s A Glossary of Later Latin to 600 A.D. (1949), with the definition “magic word to cure bite of mad dog.” However, the usually reliable website Phrase Finder says that the English word “lo” is a shortening of the word “look” (roughly a synonym of “behold”) and was partnered with “behold” as far back as the King James Bible, which renders Genesis 15:3 as follows: “And Abram said, Behold, to me thou hast given no seed: and, lo, one born in my house is mine heir.” More surprisingly, the Phrase Finder says that the first known appearance of the compact phrase “lo and behold” was in 1808, far later than I would have expected for such an archaic-sounding phrase. So although many a stage magician might say “lo and behold” to highlight an act of legerdemain, the similarity to an obscure Latin spell appears to be a coincidence, not surprising given that the same digraph is likely to be a word in many languages.