Saturday, August 30, 2008


The words hot pad are at the heart of a mental magic effect (link to PDF), by the folks at The Journal of Recreational Linguistics.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Zorami Zaitux Elastot

These ancient Egyptian words for instant success were believed to call upon the assistance of “enough genii for the immediate achievement” of any undertaking.

Thursday, August 28, 2008


Even more than its cousin cadabra, the Aramaic magic word kedavra is shrouded by an ominous, dark aura of necromancy. As part of a killing curse, kedavra has gained worldwide popularity via the Harry Potter series.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Primal Amazement

What is the source of primal amazement? Language has the power to reawaken vestiges of humankind’s earliest communication—our ancient ancestors’ savage cries of anger or love. All such cries were commands, “originally bound up with the act” and indeed inseparable to the primitive mind. Much in the way that a small child learns to conjure up a parent from the unseen void of an adjoining room, simply by employing a magic word like “Mama,” we can reflect that “The savage called his friend’s name, and saw his friend turn and answer; what more natural to conclude than that the name itself in some way compelled an answer?” (Joy Davidman, Smoke on the Mountain, 1953).

Tuesday, August 26, 2008


This mumbled word is used to summon an invisible swordsman in the film ¡Three Amigos! (1986).

Monday, August 25, 2008

An Eye of Newt with 20/20 Vision

Our magician friend and tech wizard Gordon Meyer offers this handy eye chart for focusing on the upcoming publication of Magic Words: A Dictionary. Our new edition of the dictionary features Gordon's magic spell for bringing a snowman to life.

Sunday, August 24, 2008


Said to express everything because it means nothing, jitanjáfora is a playful appeal to fantasy. Common to Spanish Afro-Caribbean vanguard poetry, the term was coined by Mexican writer Alfonso Reyes in his book La Experiencia Literaria (1942).

Saturday, August 23, 2008


Exclaimed by a High Priestess at the end of a chant, the magic word harrahya could be likened to the shout of a martial artist delivering a karate chop, focusing power toward an amazing conclusion.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Jiggery Pokery

Jiggery pokery is action with astonishing results or a clever deception. It is the name of one of the plagues and misfortunes that was contained inside Pandora’s box of mythology.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Bessen Berithen Berio

Jungian scholar Marie-Louise von Franz notes that these words appear in the only creation myth in which the Godhead laughs, after which “light appeared and its splendor shone through the whole universe” [Creation Myths, 1972]. The myth dates from late antiquity, likely from Hellenized Egypt.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008


This magic word was coined by Charles Dickens for his novel David Copperfield. It refers to a grand deception.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Words as Containers of Magic

Jim Butcher, author of mystery novels set in a magic-enabled world, posits that words aren’t so much magical in themselves as they are containers that hold the magic. “They give [magic] a shape and a form, they make it useful, describe the images within.” One might imagine a magician’s enchanted silk as such a container, giving shape and form to the invisible magic force that animates it. Or one might picture the age-old cup-and-ball tumbler, or the magician’s signature top hat, as delineating a space within which marvels occur.

Monday, August 18, 2008


Desturi is a magic word “to unfold the inexplicable.” Of Swahili origin, the word refers to respected customs. In East Africa, customs are considered sacred and unquestionable.

Sunday, August 17, 2008


Delving through dusty old tomes in search of ancient expressions of enchantment, we noticed that one word in particular seems the very essence: Coldpot! With the purity of a singing bowl, this mystic word resonates alchemy and conjures images of a witch’s cauldron. Recalling the “cold pot” of metallurgy, this odd compound word fuses a rounded form (“pot”) with a degree of intensity (“cold”), suggesting alchemical coagulation.[1] The more we studied this unusual word coldpot, the more magic we discovered within it. Indeed, coldpot is brimming with expectations, unlikelihoods, fulfillments of high commands, and even a dollop of danger.

Like black holes bending the very fabric of space, cold pots are famous for disrupting the flow of time. Lest you forget, “Nothing makes time pass more slowly than waiting for a cold pot to boil.”[2] The quaint folk wisdom that a watched pot won’t boil actually speaks to the “observer effect” in physics, in which the act of witnessing changes the beheld phenomenon. It’s as if the cold pot is saying, “Don’t look at me—I’m merely the vehicle for the change you desire. Focus on what’s important, and take all the time you need.”

A cold pot calls for a spark, as the Sufi mystics have said. For “fire is put under the cold pot, not the pot which is boiling over.”[3] Ignition and expectation—both are at the heart of the magic word coldpot. Within the word itself is contained the possibility of highly-unlikely events coming to pass. Statistically speaking, “a cold pot of water could spontaneously come to a boil; it is simply not very likely. But unlikely events are quasi-certain to happen if we wait long enough.”[4] The sparkling occurrence of highly-unlikely events is the very heart of magic.

[1] For example, “a cold pot full of something congealed” is described in The Heirs by G. Y. Dryansky (1978)
[2] This old saying is recalled by Leon Uris in A God in Ruins (2000)
[3] Jalal al-Din Rumi, Tales from the Masnavi (1961)
[4] Herman Daly and Joshua Farley, Ecological Economics (2003)

For a full discussion of coldpot, see our Pentacle Magazine feature.

Saturday, August 16, 2008


When a mother tells her child a bedtime story from African folklore, she traditionally requires the child to say the protective magic word chosi. That’s the word that prevents evil fairies from giving one horns.

Friday, August 15, 2008


The four aces, so often coaxed from a magician’s deck of cards, spell out a mystical word discovered in the Greek magical papyri (second century BCE). Aaaa was a sacred, vibratory word of power, sometimes chanted in conjunction with the name of a deity (Hans Dieter Betz, The Greek Magical Papyri in Translation, 1986.)

Thursday, August 14, 2008


"I realized the meaning of the phrase, 'the magic word Chicago.'" —Stephen Graham, With Poor Immigrants to America (1914)
Magician and tech wizard Gordon Meyer has created a map of Chicago's magical history. As Gordon is an engineering guru who handles plenty of live wires, we dug up the following quotation in his honor:
"The magic name of Chicago, gentlemen, the sound of which is an inspiration to every live wire in the country." —Jules Girardin, Proceedings of the Annual Convention of the National Association of Life Underwriters (1910)

Wednesday, August 13, 2008


In the poem “Why!” [Konstantin Pavlov 1981], Perciphedron is a magic word written in white letters on the belly of a fish named “Kron-zhig,” who lies on the bottom of the ocean and emerges from the deep every century to shriek her own name.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008


Cei-u [pronounced ‘say you’] is the word that gives North American comic book character Johnny Thunder [Flash Comics, 1940] the power to summon The Thunderbolt (his magical partner who appears as a puff of pink smoke).

Monday, August 11, 2008


Found in 18th-century Kabbalistic treatises, matba is a spell for obtaining small coins. It literally means “bring forth” [S. Liddell MacGregor Mathers, The Sacred Magic of Abramelin the Mage, Book III, translated 1898]. As a talisman to be carried in one’s money purse, matba was to be written on a small square of paper.

Sunday, August 10, 2008


According to Egyptologists, the word heka means “magic.” Heka is derived from the Egyptian root hek, meaning to rule and to speak with authority.

Saturday, August 9, 2008


“By total submission to the aerial imagination, we will hear these two words pronounced as we breathe, before we even think about them: vie (life) and âme (soul) – vie as we breathe in; âme as we breathe out. Vie is a word that shows aspiration, âme expiration.” [Gaston Bachelard, Air and Dreams: An Essay on the Imagination of Movement, 1943].

Friday, August 8, 2008


Xatanitos is an antiquated word for use during card shuffling and for luck involving five cards. This word comes from an Egyptian book of magical talismans entitled Treasure of the Old Man of the Pyramids, “translated from the Language of the Magi” in the eighteenth century [Arthur Edward Waite, The Book of Ceremonial Magic, 1913].

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Turius und Shurius Inturius

This late sixteenth century phrase originated in the Netherlands and figured into the witchcraft trials of the 1700s. In Amsterdam “a crazy girl confessed that she could cause sterility in cattle, and bewitch pigs and poultry by merely repeating the magic words Turius und Shurius Inturius! She was hanged and burned”. [Charles Mackay, Memoirs of Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds, 1841].

Wednesday, August 6, 2008


This melodic name traces back to a writer of treatises on practical mysticism, the Jewish scholar Abraham Abulafia (1240-c.1292). Denounced and branded as a heretic, he is now recognized as one of the great Kabbalists. This passage from literature celebrates the euphonic quality of the name: “Even the sound of Abulafia’s name sets off music in her head. A-bu-la-fi-a. It’s magic, the open sesame that unblocked the path to her father and then to language itself” (Myla Goldberg, Bee Season, 2000).

Tuesday, August 5, 2008


The imp known as Mr.Mxyztplk [later changed to Mxyzptlk] first appeared in our dimension in DC comics Superman #30 [1st series, 1944] in a story by Jerry Siegel with art by John Sikela. He tells Superman that there is no way he can be tricked into saying the magic word “Klptzyxm” that will return him to his own dimension. Carelessly saying the word, Mxyztplk vanishes.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Any Word Can Be a Magic Word

If intoned in the proper spirit, any word can be a magic word. In The Re-enchantment of Everyday Life (1997), Thomas Moore notes that “we may evoke the magic in words by their placement, . . . rhyme, assonance, intonation, emphasis, and, as [mythologist James] Hillman suggests, historical context.” Even the mundane connotations of the words we use depend frequently on the many details of their packaging. The more essential the responsibilities we intend for a given word, the more we depend on the magic of its presentation. A “key” word should enjoy a flourish as it is revealed. We should draw it forth like a prestidigitator who, with great drama, produces an egg from his mouth.

Sunday, August 3, 2008


“Magus waved his hooves and spoke the ancient magic word, ‘Adarakadabara!’” [Clever Clover, “Magical Pony Girl Enchantment,” My Little Pony Monthly, 2002]. My Little Pony is a product line by the American toy and game company Hasbro.


In unrelated news, here's a blog post about the magic word "how."

Saturday, August 2, 2008


The Hebrew word Aemaeat appears in the biblical Psalm 25:10 and is usually translated as ‘truth.’ The word also appears written in smoke in the film The Golem [Der Golem, wie er in die Welt kam 1920] by German expressionist filmmakers Carl Boese and Paul Wegener, exploring the creation myth of the golem in the 16th century.

Friday, August 1, 2008


Likely derived from the old Greek word theos, meaning “to shine” with divine light, Syos was used by magicians in the 12th and 13th centuries to establish to cardinal directions. “Having reached the potter’s earth, he plants his heel upon it and turning successively to the East, South, and North, repeats the magic word ‘Syos’ to each of those cardinal points.” [Lynn Thorndike, History of Magic and Experimental Science, 8 vol., 1923–58].