Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Magic Words in the Comics

Don't miss Mark Engblom's fun list of two dozen magic words that transform or transport comic book characters:


Monday, March 30, 2009


"How many times can I emphasize that color is the magic word this season. Reds, Greens, Blues, Yellows. You name the color and it is in . . . as long as it's bright and bold."
Fashion Secrets

Color by COLOURlovers

Sunday, March 29, 2009


The "truly wondrous fantasmagorically splendiferously magickal word hooroo" (credited to someone's Uncle Wally) echoes two likely sources. It's a bit of a joyous exclamation, as in "Hooroo! hooroo! hooray!" (Darby O'Gill), and it's also something of an owl's hoot, as in "the proper hooroo, hooroo" (The Sword in the Stone).

Saturday, March 28, 2009


Adventurous diners will want to know the magic word omakase:
With omakase, you enter into a contract. The word, which means, more or less, 'entrusting', is your way of saying to the itamae (sushi chef) that you're prepared to abandon any kind of ownership of your dinner. Which, if you're as much of a control freak as I am, is a terrifying prospect. But by using the magic word, I've had real adventures in two of the world's major sushi capitals: Tokyo and Los Angeles.
For an explanation, see "Say the Magic Word at No Hana Sushi."

Friday, March 27, 2009

Top Hat

"Everything exists in the magician's top-hat. The challenge is to learn the magic words while you're still inside." —Gene5ive

Thursday, March 26, 2009


"One ... clearly said the magic word, but phrased as a question: 'Comet?'"
David Levy's Guide to Observing and Discovering Comets

[See large George Cruikshank illustration here. Thanks, William Keckler.)

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Make Your Own Magic Word

The Art of Shen Ku suggests taking the first two or three letters in your name, changing the first letter to Z, and adding an A at the end. For example, the name Gordon would become Zorda. Tamara would become "Zama."

Tuesday, March 24, 2009


"That magic word was 'RABBIT!'"
—Harriet Malone Hobson, Sis Within, 1913

Monday, March 23, 2009


"The past is a word to conjure with, it is a word to hypnotize with, but it is not a word to evoke reality."
—James Stephens, "The Outlook for Literature," The Century, Vol. CIV, 1922

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Abra-dee, Abra-do, with a Hay and a Ho and a Nonny Nonny No

Abra-dee, abra-do, with a hay and a ho and a nonny nonny no are magic words to grant a wish, featured in an episode of the television series Today’s Special (1982). Similar to hey diddle diddle and hey derry down, hey nonny nonny are nonsense words to English folk songs dating back to the Elizabethan era. Such songs were typically performed by dancing jesters. Nonsense phrases were often used by troubadours in Renaissance song lyrics as substitutes for words considered risqué (Bill Markwick, Classical 96 FM Music Dictionary, 2001).

Saturday, March 21, 2009


The magic is in you, and the mirrors reflect it.
—Uma Reed, Developing Your Intuition With Magic Mirrors (1998)
Mirror. There is a “shivery thrill” [1] to the word. “Mirrors have been used as special, magical devices for thousands of years. . . . It is not surprising that the magical words ‘Mirror, mirror on the wall’ play such an important part in the story of Snow White.” [2] As in Lewis Carroll’s famous novel Through the Looking Glass, mirrors entice us with the idea that they might show “alternative worlds or realities.” [3] Small wonder that mirrors have played such an important, historical part in the art of conjuring.

In Literature:

• “Mirror, mirror, mirror. The words reflected back and forth endlessly in his mind.” —Ian Irvine, A Shadow on the Glass (1998)

• “This is a magic mirror. I know. You’ve probably heard of a magic mirror before. There was a magic mirror in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Let me see if I can remember the magic words to say to the magic mirror. Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the fairest of them all? That’s right. Well, this isn’t the same mirror, it’s better. Here are the magic words to say to this mirror: Mirror, mirror in my hand, show me evil in the land.” —Lisa Bany-Winters, “The Snow Queen,” On Stage (1997)

[1] Ian Irvine, Dark is the Moon (1999)
[2] Richard Webster, Soul Mates (2001)
[3] Stephen R. Donaldson, Mirror of Her Dreams (1986)

Friday, March 20, 2009


"Honey. It is a good word to conjure with and any attempt to improve it with any qualifying word is liable to make it less attractive."
Gleanings in Bee Culture, Oct. 1921

Thursday, March 19, 2009


"'You are standing at a doorway through which you are about to pass, into a world where you must make your own way, must accomplish things that will establish the basis for your future lives. I’m going to help you in this by telling you a magic word. This word, if you use it properly, will allow you to go anywhere, do anything, accomplish whatever you want. . . . I know that by now you are all wondering what this magic word is,' he said. 'I will show it to you now. If you will all just turn around and look toward the back of the room, you will find that my magic word is inscribed in large letters on the rear doors of this auditorium.' The students did as the admiral suggested and turned around. Then they broke into gales of laughter. At the rear auditorium, written in very large letters on each door, was the word 'Pull.'" —John Cramer, Einstein's Bridge (1997)

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The Magic of Accepting a Plea

In this court case, the acceptance of a guilty plea is considered magical:

"Short of uttering the magic words, 'I accept your plea of guilty,' the district court could have done nothing more to make it clear that it was accepting the defendant’s plea."
--United States v. Arami, 536 F.3d 479, 482
(5th Cir. Tex. 2008)

(From the book Sleight of (Learned) Hand.)

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Sea Turtles

"He would lure me out of the house with magic words like coral reefs and submerged caves and sea turtles."
—Stephenie Meyer, Breaking Dawn, 2008

Monday, March 16, 2009

The Magic Word that Winged Wonder Starts

At the Brooklyn Public Library:

"Here are enshrined the longing of great hearts, and noble things that tower above the tide, the magic word that winged wonder starts, the garnered wisdom that has never died."

Sunday, March 15, 2009

The Language of Poetry as a Minor Magic

"To write a poem is to practice a minor magic. The instrument of that magic, language, is quite mysterious. We know nothing of its origin. We only know that it branches into different languages and that each one of them has an indefinite and changing vocabulary and an indefinite cipher of syntactic possibilities."
—Jorge Luis Borges, quoted in The Critical Poem by Thorpe Running

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Ala-kazam one, Ala-kazam two, Ala-kazam three, and POOF

"Ala-kazam one, Ala-kazam two, Ala-kazam three, and POOF!" were the trademark magic words of children's television presenter Al Lewis ("The Uncle Al Show," 1950-1985). The words conjured a commercial break.

Friday, March 13, 2009

The Search for the Logological Holy Grail

"All words, no matter how common or obscure, are interesting, but some are more interesting than others. And out of the some, a few are interesting in more than one way. And out of the few, one word is more interesting in more ways than any other word in the language. It is packed with properties that range from common to unique. It stands out from the outstanding. What is that word? The quest to find it is the ultimate exercise in wordplay--the search for the Logological Holy Grail.

"Ironically, the search will never end. There are too many words in English and too many forms of wordplay to consider. There never will be complete agreement on the best of all possible words. The inhabitants of the world of wordplay are too creative and too diverse. Still, the search for the forbidden fruit on the tree of linguistic knowledge can reap magnificent results."
—Dave Morice "Peppertree: The Logological Holy Grail," Word Ways (Feb. 2003)

Thursday, March 12, 2009


Pathiel, also known as "The Opener," is an angel "invoked in magic against forgetfulness and stupidity" (Julia Cresswell, The Watkins Dictionary of Angels, 2006).

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Magic Mirrors of Ink

While painting magic words onto a talisman, a magician of old spilled a puddle of ink and discovered something marvelous. Reflecting and absorbing light at one and the same time, an inkblot is a magic mirror.

Egyptian magicians use magic mirrors of ink to open one's eyes "in a supernatural manner," to make one's sight pierce into "the invisible world." Magic mirrors of ink are poured onto parchment and empowered by beseeching two genii whose names are Tarshun and Taryooshun. Traditionally, the persons best equipped to gaze into a magic mirror of ink are prepubescent boys, virgins, pregnant women, and dark-skinned bondswomen. For a detailed account of the preparation of a magic mirror of ink and the visions it granted, see Jorge Luis Borges' The Mirror of Ink (1998), pages 1-5, or An Account of the Manners and Customs of the Modern Egyptians (1890), pages 247-252.

Here's a link to artist Teresita Fernandez's "Ink Mirror (Landscape)," a slab of highly-polished black fiberglass.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009


Glamour refers to an almost hallucinatory fascination. It's a glittering, bewitching charm that beguiles in a thrilling way. How? By conjuring an "illusion of the eye which makes it see things other than they are." Put another way, glamour adds a sparkle of delight or wonder, with no apparent provocation in the beheld objects.

The "necromantic word" glamour grants "the mysterious gift of second sight . . . like the sudden turning on of a factitious light, just as in a theater the effects they call 'transformation' are accomplished by a changing of lights. In glamour the facts remain the same, your appreciation of the facts remains the same; but the significance is entirely changed." The beholder's entire natural world "crystallizes anew" around the glamorous object. "Nothing is quite familiar, all is invested with divine novelty, while . . . the 'spell' lasts. . . . Whether we should say of these momentary special intimations that the veil of enchantment has been thrown over the scene, or that the veil of dull accustomedness has been lifted, may always remain a debatable question. The so-called 'common-sense' view will adhere to the idea of illusion; the idealist, the poet, the artist, may well insist that thus should we always see objects if we saw them clearly and in toto; and I would hazard the theory that it is the perception, more or less perfect, of the subtle super-qualities of all objects of sense which keeps the poet in a divine emulation, tremulous between hope and despair, to make the rest of the world see what he himself quite habitually sees and hears. Whatever thus piques and holds the inner fantastic eye or ear, investing sight and sound with an enhanced wealth of significance to the soul, we may call glamour" (Edith M. Thomas, "Glamour," The Century Magazine, Vol. LI, No. 2, Dec. 1895).

[Don't miss Futility Closet's eye-witness account of a fairy castle in Ireland.]

Monday, March 9, 2009


From the Turkish gizem, meaning “mystery,” Gizem-Gizam is an incantation to ensure living happily ever after, as in the play Mickey by Mary Chase (1969).

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Treguna Mekoides and Tracorum Satis Dee

This is a spell for animating objects, from the Disney film Bedknobs and Broomsticks (1971). The spell conjures “substitutiary locomotion,” a “power that’s far beyond the wildest notion. It’s a weird so feared, yet wonderful to see” (Robert and Richard Sherman’s lyrics to “Substitutiary Locomotion”).

Saturday, March 7, 2009


"A grand aubergine! She sculpted the air with one hand, conjuring."
—Merilyn Simonds, The Lion in the Room Next Door, 2000
Twitter member TheWeirdGuy combines three common magic words into a spell to turn someone into an aubergine:


Friday, March 6, 2009

Silent Magicians

Do silent magicians use magic words?

In Polynesian mythology, Tama is Maui's guardian and silent teacher of magic: "You found the shores of Tama, the silent magician who gave you gifts of the underworld and secrets of the hidden realsm." —James W. Barnes, Sea Songs, 2004

(Here's an Icelandic film, "The Silent Magician." Here's deaf entertainer Morton A. Feldman, The Silent Magician.)

Thursday, March 5, 2009


"As every one knows, psychology is a word to conjure with."
The Harvard Theological Review, 1908

See our "mental iceberg" template for psychological Tarot readings at Anima Tarot.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

In Every Leaf

"In every leaf a magic word is sealed."
—Herman Hesse, Crisis: Pages from a Diary (1975)

The Credulity of the Audience

Here's our favorite example of magic in a court case:

"An executing officer can hardly claim good-faith reliance on a warrant issued by a judge who was mis-directed by the officer himself: the same principle explains why, at a magic show, the credulity of the audience does not cause the magician to fear that the lady has been sawn in half."
--United States v. Falso
544 F.3d 110 (2d Cir. 2008)

(From the book Sleight of (Learned) Hand.)

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

On the Record

"On the record" is a magical phrase in the following court case:

"Although Section 554 specifies that the governing statute must satisfy the 'on the record' requirement, those three magic words need not appear for a court to determine that formal hearings are required."
--City of W. Chicago, Ill. v. U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Comm’n
701 F.2d 632, 641 (7th Cir. 1983)

(From the book Sleight of (Learned) Hand.)

Monday, March 2, 2009


"There is no magic by which everybody can be made rich. But there is a magic word by which everybody can be given an opportunity to earn a decent living, and live a happy, useful life. That magic word is justice!"
—Ross Lee Finney, Causes and Cures for the Social Unrest, 1922

Don't miss our guest blog about the word justice at Anima Tarot.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

The Court Doesn't Believe in Magic

In the following court case, a "magic phrase" appears with a qualifier:

"[W]e disapproved the use of the term 'special relationship,' which we called a 'magic phrase' (and we do not believe in magic). For in both classes of case the victim is safe before the state intervenes and unsafe afterward. . . . If the fire department rescues you from a fire that would have killed you, this does not give the department a constitutional license to kill you, on the ground that you will be no worse off than if there were no fire department."
--Sandage v. Bd. of Comm’rs
2008 U.S. App. LEXIS 24059, 9-10 (7th Cir. 2008)

(From the book Sleight of (Learned) Hand.)