Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Interest Lies at the Spectral Periphery

"What is interesting is not what is clarified and believable but whatever is obscure, uncertain, imperceptible but assumed, by whatever is only vaguely perceptible at the periphery of our vision, spectral and thus haunting."
Geof Huth

Monday, December 27, 2010

Which Comes First: The Vocabulary or the Insight?

"We are so used to behaving as if the definition of words is the same as the meaning of events that I am sure that many people—teachers included—can listen to this lesson objective and hear nothing odd in it: 'Students will learn new vocabulary word needed to understand Newton's Laws.' But I wonder what sort of magic word this is that enables insight into physical forces. How is it that learning the definition of a word gains for a student insight into the movements of objects? Is it not rather that we need to be able to understand the phenomena before we can truly understand the vocabulary?" —Robert Voostrom, "Why I am Not Wearing a Tie," Curriculum and Teaching Dialogue

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Knowledge and Intent as Magical Qualities of Words

"The power of words lies not in their surface meaning but in qualities hidden from view. Every word, for example, enfolds both knowledge and intent. Both of these are magical qualities. The magic of knowledge is that many layers of experience—in fact, an entire history—can be packaged in a few syllables. . . . All the richest words in the language open hidden passages of meaning and knowledge. But the second quality of words, intention, is even more powerful." —Deepak Chopra, The Way of the Wizard

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Hocus Pocus

We're honored to have our insights into "hocus pocus" referenced in Software Studies: A Lexicon. The chapter in question is Marco Deseriis' "Text Virus."

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

A Visible Yet Unwritten Magic Password

We were tickled by this description of a silent yet visible magic word spelled not alphabetically but aesthetically, through the features of a stunning landscape:

"There is here a sort of magic password, as though all the powers of grace and splendour that nature holds concealed had united to give at the same moment, to a spectator unknown to men, one great, decisive proof of the blessings and the glories of the earth. There is here a sort of unparalleled expectation ...; an ecstatic silence which demands a supernatural presence." —Maurice Maeterlinck, Mountain Paths (1919)

Can you guess the landscape in question?

Answer: The "gardens and valleys of the Provençal coast during the six or seven weeks when departing spring still mingles its verdure with the first warmth of advancing summer. ... Here, amid this desert, this silence, this emptiness, from the vine-arbours to the terraces and from the terraces to the porches of a thousand abandoned villas, reigns a rivalry of beauty which reaches a poignant agony of intensity, exhausting every energy, form and colour." (The answer is in black text on the black background. Highlight it to view.)

Sunday, December 12, 2010


Of Farsi origin, Agimagilataragi is equivalent to Abracadabra. It is used to indicate any sort of magical occurrence. Note the root "magi."

Friday, December 10, 2010

Magic / Trick

"Magic" and "trick" are not synonyms. Robert E. Neale explains: "There can be magic without tricks and, unfortunately, tricks without magic. If our tricks are to be magical, perhaps we ought to wonder first about what magic is. Decide for yourself. This is hard to do, but try to think about it. An easy way to begin is to ask yourself, 'What is magical to me?' After answering the question with several examples, think about why they are so magical for you. Only then can you consider whether or not any of your tricks are magical. ... So what if you are not fooled by your own magic? What has fooling got to do with magic anyway? Sure, it can help, but it can also hinder" (This is Not a Book, 2008).

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Disneyland's Haunted Mansion

Here's a delightful essay about how Disneyland's Haunted Mansion is an elaborate performance of stage magic — how magic stagecraft is the very substance of the presentation. We especially like this part, concerning the relatively low-tech special effects at the Haunted Mansion: "With magic, there seems to be an inner bent that runs exactly opposite to our more overt bent toward technological progress. If you need lasers and computers to make the elephant vanish, that's good, but if you can do it using only smoke and mirrors, somehow that's better. And it's more delightful for both the magician and the audience."

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Xor-thax Teray

"Alexei fastened his eyes to that rampart as he began to cast a spell. ‘Xor-thax, teray.’ In the blink of an eye, Alexei teleported to the center of the ramp, materializing in one place as he vanished from the other." —Douglas Niles, Black Wizards (2004)

Sunday, December 5, 2010


"The most magical word you can use, short of a person's name, is 'you.' The great Arthur Godfrey practiced this invariably. 'How are you?' he said, is all- important." —Dick Cavett, Talk Show (2010)

Friday, December 3, 2010


The magic word ostagazuzulum is from the BBC television series “Wizbit,” hosted by Paul Daniels. The title character is a giant magician’s hat.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

"Open Sesame" in Beyond Bizarre

We're delighted to be twice-referenced in Varla Ventura's Beyond Bizarre, an entertaining collection of stranger-than-fiction stories and trivia. In the chapter on famous magicians, hoaxes, and feats of human endurance, see our explanation of why "open sesame" is the most straightforward magical key.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Fiction / Magic

Vladimir Nabokov's word for fiction was magic, and he called the library "that citadel of illusion" (New York Times).

Thursday, November 25, 2010

The Alchemy of Words

The Weiser Books Blog has a piece about the alchemy of words:

Words, my friends, have power. The immediate success or failure of a book depends on many factors – timing and circumstance not least among them. But ultimately, an individual book lives or dies by the power of its content – words, ideas, the beauty of language.
One of the entries in our Magic Words: A Dictionary pops up:


“Just say the magic word: Oprah” – Vince Vittore, America’s Network (Jan. 1, 1995)

  • Dust
  • Fawn
  • “She who turns her back” – Adrian Room, Cassel’s Dictionary of First Names (2002)
Origins: This is the given name of the successful talk-show host and media mogul Oprah Winfrey. The word is of Hebrew origin.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Poetry and Magic in Black or White

"As with magic, poetry is black or white, depending on whether it serves the sub-human or the superhuman." —René Daumal

Saturday, November 20, 2010

There are no S's in "Magic & Meaning"

We contributed an article in the December issue of MAGIC magazine about our favorite magical gathering. Here's a snippet:

There are No S's in "Magic & Meaning"

What's the secret for keeping a magic conference from turning into a "vicious circle"? For host Jeff McBride, it's uncoiling that circle into a spiral, with a fixed starting point but enough momentum to spring. McBride's unwound magic circle, known as Magic & Meaning, is an innovative, annual conference held over four days in Las Vegas. McBride gathers a band of prominent thinkers, theorists, and philosophers of the art to spark insights for magicians from around the world. Attendees have only one thing in common: a quest to unravel the secrets of wonderment.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010


Kzspygv is the word for rainbow in Vladimir Nabokov's private language of synesthesia (as discussed in Speak: Memory, revised edition, 1967).

(Strange rainbow photo by ZeePack.)

Monday, November 15, 2010

Vanishing Writers of Magic Words

While participating in a writing workshop, Irene Borger was asked to gather every word that came to mind within a few minutes, as if one were saving these words from destruction. Irene found herself happily jotting Abracadabra, Open Sesame, Presto Change-o, and the like. "Yet, sometimes," she notes, "I find myself wondering what magic words can do when too many people who write them are vanishing" (From a Burning House, 1996).

Saturday, November 13, 2010


Bababadalgharaghtakamminarronnkonnbronntonnerronntuonnthunntrovarrhounawnskawntoohoohoordenenthurnuk is the thunderous voice of God made audible through the noise of Finnegan's fall in James Joyce's Finnegans Wake.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Turning Grief to Song

Blessed be thy tongue!
O magic word, that turns my grief to song!
—Pierre Corneille, Polyuecte, translated by Thomas Constable

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Abba Zabba

Abba Zabba appears in a Captain Beefheart song of the same name (1974). The lyrics are a sort of nursery rhyme about childhood rituals and seem to suggest that the primal syllables abba zabba are “song before song before song.”

Abba Zabba is also the name of an old-fashioned peanut butter taffy candy bar.

Friday, November 5, 2010


"One remembers his first modest advertisements headed with the magic word Thrift, Thrift, Thrift, thrice repeated; promising ten per cent on all deposits."
—Joseph Conrad, Chance (1913)

Tuesday, November 2, 2010


"'Little devils! . . . Shoot ’em! Jump on ’em with big boots! That’s the only way to deal with ’em . . . rabbits!' At that word, that magic word, she revived."
—Virginia Woolf, "Lappin and Lapinova" (1939)

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Which Came First?

which came first
the blessing or the curse
—vox anon, "hemorrhaging"

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Nicander, Melchior, Merchizard

Three magic words to make even an old, weak horse run like a champion:

"You turn his face eastward and you whisper into his ear, three times, the words: 'Nicander, Melchior, and Merchizard.'" —Umberto Eco, The Name of the Rose

Nicander is the name of an Egyptian saint. Melchior is the name of one of the Three Magi. Merchizard remains a mystery.

Sunday, October 24, 2010


Bam-boo-zalem is the word “bamboozle” transformed into an Arabesque magical incantation. It appears in Theodore Annemann's classic magic newsletter, The Jinx, Dec. 1939.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Mane, Tekel, Peres

This passage about a code written in invisible ink refers to mysterious words from the Book of Daniel:
Slowly, as if an invisible hand were writing 'Mane, Tekel, Peres,' I saw some marks emerge one by one on the white side of the sheet as William moved the the lamp, and as the smoke that rose from the top of the flame blackened the recto; the marks did not resemble those of any alphabet, except that of necromancers. —Umberto Eco, The Name of the Rose
Mane, Tekel, Peres can be translated as "numbered; reckoned up; carried away."

Monday, October 18, 2010

Deciphering Codes

"The first rule to deciphering a message is to guess what it means."
—Umberto Eco, The Name of the Rose

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Across Miles of Milky Starlight

The way you speak to me
Across these miles of milky starlight
Is also magic, poetry, prayer.
—from "En Passant" by Rebecca Lu Kiernan

Saturday, October 9, 2010


(Photo by Gordon Meyer)

You wiggle your fingers and—eureka!
—Irv Furman, Amazing Irv’s Handbook of Everyday Magic (2002)
That sudden, impassioned sound of accomplishment, eureka, is “a word of magic . . . a dot of light on a night as black as pitch” (Terry Kay, The Valley of Light, 2003). It marks the special moment when a spark of inspiration seems to come out of nowhere. “Eureka, or should I say abracadabra. I’ve found the magic” (Eddie Segrum, “Segrum Secret,” 2004). Eureka is a Greek word, famously associated with the great mathematician Archimedes.


• Aha!
“[L]ooking at the symbols in your dreams can suddenly give you a Eureka! moment.” —Ariana, House Magic (2001)
• Bingo!
—Bruce Coville, Aliens Ate My Homework (1993)
• Breakthrough
—David Wolfe, Puzzlers’ Tribute (2001)
• I found it!
—Edward Eager, Magic by the Lake (1957)
• I’ve got it!
—Sig Lonegren, The Pendulum Kit (1990)
• Realization, insight, illumination, epiphany
—L. Michael Hall, User’s Manual for the Brain, Vol. II (2003)
—Richard Florida, The Rise of the Creative Class (2003)
• This is it!
—Brian Jacques, Redwall (2002)

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

To Utter

"An utterance grows from a sound. (Or is it a sound which is born from the will to utter?)"
—Andrew Lovatt

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Secrets Veiled by Arcane Words

"Sometimes it is better for certain secrets to remain veiled by arcane words. The secrets of nature are not transmitted on skins of goat or sheep. Aristotle says in the book of secrets that communicating too many arcana of nature and art breaks a celestial seal and many evils can ensue. Which does not mean that secrets must not be revealed, but that the learned must decide when and how." —Umberto Eco, The Name of the Rose

Sunday, September 26, 2010


"I pronounce the magic word [karma] like I'm presenting it for the first time to the Webster's dictionary committee to be considered for inclusion in their latest edition." —Jessica Brody, The Karma Club (2010)

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Conjuring a Book

"There's something special about writing by hand, writing with a fountain pen, and there's something special about writing into a book, to take a blank book and turn it into an actual book. I guess there's a sort of superstitious or mystical aspect to it." —science fiction author Joe Haldeman, in an interview by Mitch Wagner

(Thanks, Gordon!)

Monday, September 20, 2010


“The King placed the casket on a small table before him, and then, after a solemn look at the expectant faces, he said slowly: ‘Giggle-gaggle-goo!’ which was the magic word that opened the box. At once the lid flew back, and the King peered within and exclaimed: ‘Ha!’” —L. Frank Baum, The Surprising Adventures of the Magical Monarch of Mo (1903)

Friday, September 17, 2010

Flurr Ecke Ecke Ecke Ecke Ben Yan Bjorn

This magic phrase to transform anything into a toaster is from the television series “The Rottentrolls” (1998).

Tuesday, September 14, 2010


This is a magic word granting invisibility, as discussed in Writing Prompts by Justin McCory Martin (2001).

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Cullen, Rayburn, Narz, Trebek

This is a spell that conjures zombies (actually names of game show hosts: Bill Cullen of To Tell the Truth, Gene Rayburn of Match Game, Jack Narz of Concentration, and Alex Trebek of Jeopardy), chanted by cartoon character Bart Simpson in the episode “Dial Z For Zombies” from The Simpsons television series.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010


This magic word, representing the power of imagination, is featured in the educational computer program “Boohbah” (2003) to stop action or make things happen.

Sunday, September 5, 2010


This is the name “Rumplestiltskin” spelled backwards, used as a magic word in the computer game “King’s Quest 1.”

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Tasted Like Magic Words

Umberto Eco notes terms he encountered in the Nuovissimo Melzi, 1905 edition, that "tasted like magic words":
avolate, baccivorous, benzoin, cacodoxy, cerastes, crubble, dogmatics, glaver, grangerism, inadequation, lordkin, mulct, pasigraphy, postern, pulicious, sparble, speight, vespillo, Adrastus, Allobroges, Assur-Bani-Pal, Dongola, Kafiristan, Philopator, Richerus ...
(The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana, p. 111-112)

Tuesday, August 31, 2010


At the Secret Art Journal, Gordon Meyer discusses the word "mystery" and how to gift someone with a beautiful reminder of life's unanswerable questions.

Sunday, August 29, 2010


"To penetrate as far as possible into the great white area on Dawson's map, south of the Kananaskis Lakes, marked with the magic word 'Unexplored,' that most fascinating and suggestive of all names to any lover of the wilderness."
Canadian Alpine Journal

Thursday, August 26, 2010


Love: "Isn't that the fabled magic word that fixes everything? Isn't that the only word that can't be worn out by its repetition on the covers of a billion greeting cards?" —Dexter Palmer, The Dream of Perpetual Motion (2010)

Monday, August 23, 2010

The Hunt and the Mystery

When Andrew Lovatt kindly praised us for "bringing the excitement and the hunt and mystery back into lexicogaphy," we realized that he had identified the patron saint of our magical dictionary: Artemis, the Roman goddess of the hunt. Thanks, Andrew!

Friday, August 20, 2010

Wild Strawberries

"There is something about the wild strawberries which draws me like a magic spell. There is magic is the French cast of their name [fraises des bois]: strawberries of the woods. There is the magic of memory, the recollection of afternoons when I plucked and ate them."
—"The Point of View," Scribner's Magazine, Volume 67, p. 761

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Magic and Literature are the Same Thing

"Oddly, alchemy seems to work with texts in just the same way as it is meant to work with matter . . . Titles, plots, all of the elements which for us make a text what it is give way to an alchemical process perhaps best described as an aura. . . . [M]agic and literature are the same thing. Enchanting, the text is, quite literally enchanted."
—Amy Wygant, The Meanings of Magic (2006)

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Spellbound = Aphasic?

Is to be spellbound to experience aphasia?

"She stood silent, motionless, spellbound. Words had lost all meaning."
—Mary Stewart, Unspotted from the World (1897)

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Beauty, Inspiration, Magic, Spellbound, Enchantment, Serenity, Silence, Intimacy, Amazement

Self-taught architect Luis Barragán (1902-1988), whose colorful work was described as poetic, once "apologized for not having done justice to the concepts of beauty, inspiration, magic, spellbound, enchantment, serenity, silence, intimacy, and amazement" (Dwell, May 2009).

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Three Crucials

the magic word
the perfect time
the proper voice
—Russian Red, "Perfect Time"

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Great Powers

"Over the whole scene . . . had loomed the commanding magic of the words ‘the Great Powers’—even more imposing in their Teutonic rendering, ‘Die Grossmächte.’” —H.H. Munro, The Complete Saki (1976)

Monday, August 2, 2010


In Literature:

“[Treasure] is a magic word, conjuring ‘riches beyond measure,’ troves of wealth, chests of gold coins, hoards of precious stones, jewel-encrusted reliquaries, crowns and crucifixes, sovereigns and states, pirates and plunder. The word arrived on the shores of the islands of New Zealand in 1840 with centuries of English history behind it and millennia of Mediterranean history behind that.” —Malcom McKinnon, A History of the New Zealand Treasury (2003)

“During a conversation over several rounds of iced rum, Caesar spoke the magic word that has fired the human mind into insanity for five thousand years and probably caused more grief than half the wars: treasure.” —Clive Cussler, Cyclops (1986)

“‘It’s as if—as if the key to the treasure is the treasure!’ As soon as she spoke these last words, a genie appeared from nowhere right there in our library-stacks.” —John Barth, Chimera (1972)

Friday, July 30, 2010


In Easy to Remember (2000), William Zinsser counts rhubarb among his list of “magical words” with powerful connotations. (Rhubarb is a red-stemmed medicinal plant.)

Rhubarb is the name of a magician’s rabbit in Prophet Annie by Ellen Recknor (2000).

Tuesday, July 27, 2010



  • Friend
  • “‘A friend?’ Ashtaroth swung back his left hand and shot it forward in a wicked pitch that sent a stream of fiery energy crashing into the statue. ‘Aemaer! Friend you are and friend you shall be, emblazoned now for all to see!’ As the arcane smoke cleared, Loew edged in to examine the demon’s handiwork. The golem leaned back against its dolly, as impassive as before, but there was a change. Carved into its wide flat forehead were the letters f-r-i-e-n-d.” —Deborah Van Fossen, “Gone with the Golem” (2006)
  • Protection, forgiveness, life
  • “I don’t know why, but I took an eyeliner pencil, and I wrote the word ‘Aemaer’ on his forehead. I meant it only as a last gesture—my own goodbye. I knew the word from my Pop Pop’s books, a magic word meant to give life, to grant protection. I in no way imagined that it would act as anything more than a symbol—a mark of forgiveness that would fade away all too quickly as I stuffed John’s body into the crematorium oven.” —Christopher Michael Davis, “Cosmetics,” Little Knives: Twelve Tales of Horror and the Supernatural (2004)

    Origins: Kabbalic lore. Aemaer is likely a variation of Aemaet.

    Saturday, July 24, 2010

    Eucalyptus Leaves

    Professional magician Annie Erlandson uses the magic phrase Eucalyptus leaves in her performances with a koala bear puppet named Sydney.

    Wednesday, July 21, 2010



  • Prayers
  • Loyalty
  • Religious observance
  • Origins: Devotion is from the Latin devotio, meaning “zeal.”

    In Literature:

  • From Frithjof Schuon, “Truth and Devotion,” Songs for a Spiritual Traveler (2002):
  • Devotion—a sound, a wondrous word,
    Fragrant with love and holy silence;
    A magic word, whose beauty is enough
    To convince us of the power of Truth.
  • “They . . . had followed honor; and this was sanctified even more in their eyes by the magic word devotion.” —Alphonse de Lamartine, History of the Girondists (1847)
  • Monday, July 19, 2010


    “What was the word—the magic word? Brumagem—that was it—Brumagem. An enchanting word! . . . A word to be repeated over to himself softly and secretly at night at the same time as Damn and Corsets.” —Agatha Christie, Giant’s Bread (1930)

    Saturday, July 17, 2010

    Backwards, Turn Backwards O Time in Thy Flight; Back to the Past With the Speed of Light

    This is a magic spell for reversing time in the Bewitched television series.

    A variation from the same series: "Night into day and day into night; back to the past with the speed of light."

    Wednesday, July 14, 2010


    Just pronounce the magic word ‘Art’, and everything is O.K.
    —George Orwell, “Benefit of Clergy: Some Notes on Salvador Dali,” Fifty Orwell Essays (1944)

    In Literature:

  • “And then, too, Madame Chebe no longer believed in her husband, whereas, by virtue of that single magic word, ‘Art!’ her neighbor never had doubted hers.” —Alphonse Daudet, Fromont et Risler (c. 1874)

  • “I wear an amulet, and have a spell of art- magic at my tongue’s end, whereby, sir ancient, neither can a ghost see me, nor I see them.” —Charles Kingsley, Westward Ho! (1855)

  • See also this previous post about the magic word art.

    Monday, July 12, 2010


    Abab is a divine name associated with Jupiter (a planet named after the Roman sky god). The word appears in Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa’s Of Occult Philosophy, Book II (1533).

    Saturday, July 10, 2010

    Blessed Be

    “Forget hocus-pocus, abracadabra, and kaboom and begin transforming the world’s ‘Double, double toil and trouble’ with your passionate ‘Blessed be!’” —Sarah Ban Breathnach, Romancing the Ordinary (2002)

    Wednesday, July 7, 2010

    Club in a Sack

    Club in a sack recalls the fertility rites associated with early magic, the club symbolizing the male reproductive organ, the sack symbolizing the womb, and the two joined in sacred union.

    In Literature:

  • “[The] youngest brother [in the Grimm fairy tale ‘The Magic Table, the Golden Donkey, and the Club in the Sack’] becomes a wood-turner, but his reward, upon completing his apprenticeship, is neither food nor money; instead, it is a ‘club in a sack.’ Whenever the owner of this enchanted object utters these magic words, a club immediately jumps out of the bag and, prancing around, begins to beat mercilessly anyone who happens to be standing nearby.” —Valerie Paradiz, Clever Maids: The Secret History of the Grimm Fairy Tales (2005)
  • Sunday, July 4, 2010

    By Jingo


  • Euphemism for the name of God; an oath
  • “‘Why not?’ he asked. ‘Why not, by Jingo?’” —T.H. White, The Once and Future King (1939)
  • Surprise
  • Variations and Incantations:

  • By gee, by gosh, by jingo
  • “[H]e whistled the ballad ‘Oh, by gee, by gosh, by jingo’ as though it were a hymn melancholy and noble.” —Sinclair Lewis, Babbitt (1921)
  • By jingo by gee by gosh by gum
  • —e.e. cummings, “next to of course god america i” (1926)
  • By the living jingo
  • —Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, The Return of Sherlock Holmes (1903)
  • High jingo!
  • —Michael Connelly, The Closers (2005)

    In Literature:

  • “By jingo, that would be awful!” —James Joyce, Ulysses (1922)
  • “I shall never forget it; by Jingo, it has served me for a most excellent good joke ever since.” —Fanny Burney, Evelina (1778)
  • “[B]y Jingo was not my Lolita a child!” —Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita (1955)
  • “By jingo, I’m kerfoozled!” —Brian Jacques, Lord Brocktree (2001)

  • Friday, July 2, 2010

    Thanks to Olga Volozova, author of The Airy Tales (about the invisible threads that connect all things), for mentioning that she's currently reading our Magic Words: A Dictionary.

    Thursday, July 1, 2010


    Zara, enchanted by your powerful magic.
    —John Lord Campbell, The Lives of the Lord Chancellors and Keepers of the Great Seal of England Vol. 4 (1851)

    Mystique: Zara recalls Zarathustra (also known as Zoroaster), the ancient Persian prophet.

    Meanings: The root of Zara is zar, meaning “gold.”

    Origins: Zara is of Persian origin.

    In Literature:

  • “Across the table, he leaned forward and, in a husky whisper, pronounced the magic word: ‘Zara!’” —Jacqueline Park, The Secret Book of Grazia Dei Rossi (1997)
  • “[I said] a magic word. . . . Her name. Zara [the Queen of Light].”
    —Tony Abbott, The Knights of Silversnow (2002)
  • Monday, June 28, 2010


    My locus
    My focus
    My wand of hocus-pocus.
    —Dennis Miller, The Rant Zone (2001)

    The word locus means “place,” so locus-pocus conjures a place where magic happens.

    This phrase is a variation of the magic phrase hocus pocus.

    In Literature:

  • Julia Oliver, Music of Falling Water (2001)
  • Friday, June 25, 2010

    The Power, the Magic, and the Mystery of the Word

    "Opening it entirely at random -- to any page, any paragraph, any sentence -- I feel at once in the presence of the miraculous, awakened once again to the power, the magic and the mystery of the word." —Jonathan Yardley, describing Vladimir Nabokov's Speak, Memory.

    Tuesday, June 22, 2010


    This is a magic word of transformation spoken by the character Apache Chief in the television series The All-New Super Friends Hour (1977).

    Sunday, June 20, 2010

    Good Questions

    Jonathan Jones wonders if being greedy for meaning kills the life of language. "Whereas to go with the sounds and crystallizations of the language is to be alive to the magic and revelatory moments?"

    Saturday, June 19, 2010


    Origins:  The magic word ha-ya-ba-ra-la is of Indian origin.

    Facts:  This word is the equivalent to abracadabra.  It was popularized by children’s writer Sukumar Roy (d. 1923).

    In Literature:

  • Sukumar Roy, Ha-Ya-Ba-Ra-La (1928)
  • Wednesday, June 16, 2010


    “Bagus. This magic word, meaning ‘very good’ or ‘wonderful,’ depending on the inflection, served him in every situation.” —Stewart Wavell, The Naga King’s Daughter (1965)

    Bagus is of Malay origin.

    Sunday, June 13, 2010


    “I met Jundugio in my first tour of the interior provinces of Panama. He was not a great magician but he had a couple of effects he could sell very well. One of these was the stunt of eating a drinking glass which he did to the accompaniment of a weird dance while he shouted ‘Abdubia!’ his own magic word which he used in all his effects instead of the more common ‘Abracadabra’ or ‘Hocus Pocus.’” —Marko, “Jundugio and the Runaway Girl,” The Learned Pig Magic eZine (2000)

    Friday, June 11, 2010

    Gamble Grumble Groumble

    "Gamble Grumble Groumble" is a magic phrase (in conjunction with clapping three times) for activating a crystal ball in Oral Storytelling and Teaching Mathematics by Michael Schiro (2004).

    Wednesday, June 9, 2010

    Beethoven, Chopin, Vivaldi, Bach

    This magic phrase conjures the names of four great musical geniuses, as in Lisa Fiedler's Know-It-All (2002).

    Monday, June 7, 2010


    "The mirror was blank. ‘Kraalax-Heeroz,’ she chanted quickly. The image returned.” —Douglas Niles, Black Wizards (2004)

    Sunday, June 6, 2010

    Magic Geography

    Fukuoka Takaoka Omsk
    Fukuyama Nagayama Tomsk
    Okazaki Miyazaki Pinsk
    Pennsylvania Transylvania Minsk

    I repeated this rhyme like a magic incantation and was transported far away without ever leaving our room. -- Uri Shulevitz, How I Learned Geography (2008)

    Saturday, June 5, 2010

    "Houdini" as a Noun-Verb

    "The name of Houdini [is] still . . . important in every type of literature as noun-verb." —Theo Annemann, The Jinx #87 (1940)

    Annemann calls Houdini "the world's best recognized mysticist since Moses threw down his staff and caused it to appear as a snake."

    Thursday, June 3, 2010

    Oh Mighty Isis

    In the television series Isis (1977), the heroine is a high school teacher who discovered an ancient Egyptian amulet during an archaeological dig. By intoning the magic phrase “Oh mighty Isis!” she transforms into a superhero with the strengths and abilities of her Egyptian goddess patroness.

    Tuesday, June 1, 2010

    Shazza Bowzer Googly Nowzer

    “What words would make the dog reappear? ‘Shazza Bowzer Googly Nowzer!’” —Susan Meddaugh, Lulu’s Hat (2002)

    Saturday, May 29, 2010

    Trojan, Ramses, Magnum, Sheik

    This is a spell to get rid of zombies (actually names of condom brands), chanted by cartoon character Bart Simpson in the episode “Dial Z For Zombies” of The Simpsons television series.

    Thursday, May 27, 2010


    “[T]hat is really the magic word—‘until.’ There is nothing that is impossible for the man or woman who says, ‘I will not quit until I succeed.’ And the good news is that we were all born with this ‘never say die’ spirit.” —Eric Aronson, Dash (2003)

    Tuesday, May 25, 2010

    Molly Molly Hung

    “On July 17, 2004 over 500 spectators were treated to a special show in Hong Kong and shouted out the magic word, ‘Molly, Molly Hung.’ What, haven’t you used this magic word before in your show? It means ‘Abracadabra’ in Cantonese.” —Amadeo Swiss, “Fantasma Open up Magic Venue in Hong Kong” (2004)

    Sunday, May 23, 2010

    From Thin Air ... But Thick With Words

    "She is a magician, a messenger, conjuring her spirits out of breath, from air. 'From thin air' comes the whisper in your ear. But it is not thin at all, but thick with words rising around you, towers so tall they have no turrets but stretch ever into the sky; forests so dense and deep their pale inhabitants believe the sun to be a myth, and live their lives in a canopy of limelight, a world ever painted green." —Myrlin A. Hermes, The Lunatic, the Lover, and the Poet (2010)

    Saturday, May 22, 2010

    What Does "Magician" Really Mean?

    In a world where everything from floor wax to handheld computers is described as being magical, what does being a magician really mean? Gordon Meyer, a long-time magician and trained sociologist, answers that question by turning to the worldwide id known as Twitter. His collection of one hundred carefully curated quips about conjuring is funny, surprising, insightful, and sometimes just plain odd.

    Friday, May 21, 2010


    Meanings: The “eleventh hour” is a figure of speech referring to a decisive moment at hand.

    Origins: Aalacho is a name that appears in the Lemegeton Clavicula Salomonis or The Lesser Key of Solomon (17th century). It means the eleventh hour of the night.

    Wednesday, May 19, 2010

    The Magic of Encoded Meaning

    "I don't really know why I like letters, by which I mean characters by which language is written down, because we really don't know why we like anything. To say I like letters would force me to say because I like the mystical way in which humans created written language so that meaningless signs could be meaningful. But to say that is to raise the question why I like the magic of encoded meaning., and the questions just come again." —Geof Huth

    Tuesday, May 18, 2010

    Is It All Done With Magnets?

    Use key words as magnets to create a field that attracts other phrases. That's electronic music pioneer John Foxx's secret for constructing lyrical language. He explains:

    First gather a list of titles - which are really shorthand themes. Then you have to establish a wee magnetic field - in this way. You switch on the drum machine and find a jerky old pattern that the rhythm of the words can adhere to in some way. Then you switch on the synth and find a three or four note melody that seems to have some appropriate resonance with the title.

    This is the main theme - I always see it as a sort of mysterious cinematic intro.
    If all the foregoing meshes well enough, it will exert a magnetic attraction for other phrases - so, gradually you accumulate the nucleus of a song. Then you can begin to arrange it all.

    Once you establish a main theme, the whole thing runs like a movie. In come the characters, they interact in some way and something is thereby revealed which is unexpected and rewarding and you hope has some universal emotional resonance.

    Then circumstances are resolved - or not, and we go out on the main theme again. If you do this well enough, you now have a small universe with its own internal logic that you can adjust delicately over the rest of your life.
    (Full interview at Electronically Yours, posted 17 May 2010)

    Monday, May 17, 2010

    If Life is a Joke, Retell It Your Own Way

    In his novel The Book of Jokes (2009), Momus' narrator lives in a preposterous world governed by the laws of bad jokes and dirty jokes. But the narrator has a revelation concerning the magic of words:
    I have discovered that there is a way to escape this grim fate—the misfortune of joke dharma. The solution, I believe, is that I should assume, myself, the responsibility of telling the very jokes which constrain and define me, and to make, each time, a small alteration in their telling, an alteration which restores a few shreds of dignity, human decency, beauty and sensuality to the tale.

    It might begin by embroidery; I add a few details which are not normally included in the rush to the punchline. I must ensure that the story is so well-told that my audience loses interest in the farcical pay-off, the money-shot. I tell the tale several times, from different angles and with different emphases, forcing my listeners to pay attention to small formal questions, adverbs rather than verbs, hows rather than whats.

    By these methods, little by little, I believe I can improve my world. Even if you are not in the same grim situation as me, you might want to try this technique for yourself. (51-52)

    Time Travel Trigger Terms

    "There are, in virtually everyone's memory, certain events so important that each and every one of us need only hear a certain trigger word to be immediately and magically transported back to the time represented by that magic word. And among our trips down memory lane, there are few flashbacks as quick and vivid as hearing that magical word, ... Prom!" —Lee Silvan

    [Note: your eccentric scholar appreciates Lee Silvan's point but can't personally share in the magic of the word "prom." Having dropped out of high school two years early to attend college—not to mention being a confirmed recluse—the word "prom" mostly just reminds us of "pram," a British baby carriage.]

    Saturday, May 15, 2010

    Moon Prism Power

    "Moon Prism Power, Make Up was the first command Usagi Tsukino used to change into Sailor Moon in the anime and manga." —

    Thursday, May 13, 2010

    Recitation Establishes Length

    "It's the length of the name that is important. Reciting it ten times isn't magic—it gives you the length of time you've got to let the mixture bubble for."
    —Dugald Steer, The Dragon Diary, 2009

    In this story, the magic name in question is "Aladdin."

    Monday, May 10, 2010

    Your Middle Name

    "What magic word should I use?"
    . . . "Your middle name."
    —Jenna Lindsey, Quest for Evil: The Magic of the Key, 2009

    Friday, May 7, 2010

    Language and Hypnosis

    "Words literally can hypnotize us. . . . Language and hypnosis form the foundation on which humans create worlds of consciousness and of fantasy, which no other animals seem able to achieve." —Robert Anton Wilson, Cosmic Trigger II

    Tuesday, May 4, 2010

    Reality is a Word

    What is "reality"? Philosopher Alfred Korzybski reminds us to remember that "reality" is a word.

    Saturday, May 1, 2010

    Every Novel is a Species of Magic Trick

    "Every kind of novel is a species of magic trick and a close relative of the con-game. As somebody said, art is lies that look like truth. A so-called 'realistic' Leonardo-style painting, or pre-modernist painting, is a two-dimensional object that almost convinces you it's three dimensional. It was only after modern art appeared that we could see how magical and weird that kind of 'realism' is. ... Where does fraud leave off and art or entertainment begin?"
    —Robert Anton Wilson, Cosmic Trigger II

    Tuesday, April 27, 2010

    Krax Pex Phax

    The magic phrase "krax pex phax" is used to recover a lost hedgehog in the novel Magickeepers: The Eternal Hourglass by Erica Kirov (2009). Like abracadabra, the phrase means "I create as I speak" (p. 63).

    Wednesday, April 21, 2010

    Magic as the Embryo of Music

    "The magic incantation is, in short, 'the oldest fact in the history of civilization.' Although the magician chants without thought of aesthetic form or an artistically appreciative audience, yet his spell contains in embryo all that later constitutes the art of music."
    —Lynn Thorndike, A History of Magic and Experimental Science

    Monday, April 19, 2010

    Reading vs. Referring

    Thanks to Ed Raube for giving our Magic Words: A Dictionary a 5-star review at Amazon:

    "As much as the book is listed as 'a dictionary', it is more of type of a book that you would sit down and read for pleasure, not necessarily to be used as a reference book that sits on a shelf and used only when needed."

    Sunday, April 18, 2010

    Poetry, Magic, and the Omnipotence of Thought

    "Poetry and magic ... are based on a belief that thought can create its own reality—which Sir James Frazer in The Golden Bough called the theory of 'the omnipotence of thought' and which Freud, in his comment on Frazer's anthropological investigations in Totem and Taboo, traced back to the child's power, with an outcry of desire, to make the missing mother mysteriously appear again and offer the all-providing breast. It is no accident, then, that so many poems, from the Odyssey right up to Joyce's great prose-poem, Finnegans Wake, contain magical 'invocations' summoning the goddess to appear at once."
    —Robert Anton Wilson, Decadance

    Thursday, April 15, 2010

    Grow, Grow

    "Every blade of grass has its angel that bends over it and whispers, 'Grow, grow.'" —The Talmud. (Today, listen to your Angels)
    Cory Booker

    Wednesday, April 14, 2010

    On This Day ...

    On this day in 1828, Noah Webster changed the American spelling of colour to color and honour to honor and magick to magic.
    Robert Ebert

    Dreaming Incomprehensible Words

    "He claimed that he dreamt incomprehensible words whose meanings were transparent to him. He spoke like a mystic and wrote foreign phrases and said that those were the words of the future."
    —Ricardo Piglia, The Absent City

    Thursday, April 8, 2010


    "The word jade is magical in itself. It calls up first a narrow, curving street in Singapore."
    —Helen Bartlett Bridgman, Gems (1916)

    Tuesday, April 6, 2010

    Strange Land

    The soldier looked at him reflectively. "A strange land," he said. "Barbarians and magicians, dirt and poetry. A strange land, yours."
    -- Susan Cooper, Silver on the Tree

    Monday, April 5, 2010

    Arousing Marvel and Admiration

    Thanks to magician Mark David for praising our Magic Words: A Dictionary as "fascinating resource material that arouses marvel and admiration." See his entire review here.


    "Spirit is a magical word that has myriad meanings I've discovered while investigating and writing about becoming word-savvy."
    —Max Brand, Word Savvy, 2004

    Friday, April 2, 2010

    Witchcraft Always Has a Hard Time, Until it Becomes Established and Changes its Name

    "Most likely when [inventor of the electroscope] Dr. [William] Gilbert rubbed a rod and made bits of paper jump on a table, the opposition to his magic was directed not so much against what he was doing as against what it might lead to. Witchcraft always has a hard time, until it becomes established and changes its name."
    —Charles Fort, Lo!

    Thursday, April 1, 2010

    Magic Words in 3D

    Courtesy of Google Books, read our Magic Words in 3D! Just click the "View in 3D" button at the top of this link.

    Wednesday, March 31, 2010


    “Spoken words are silver, unspoken words are gold.”
    —Leo Tolstoy, War & Peace, 1869; translated by Anthony Briggs, 2005. (p. 491)
    (via DJMisc)

    Monday, March 29, 2010


    "The word 'sorcerer' is magical itself and conjures up images as different as Merlin the Magician, the Sorcerer's Apprentice and Dr. Faust."
    —Lynn Edelman Schnurnberger, Kings, Queens, Knights, & Jesters (1978)

    Friday, March 26, 2010

    Praise and Blame

    "The human use of word magic extends as far as magical practice itself. Without oversimplifying, it might be helpful to categorize the magical use of verbal power in literary terms: as praise and blame." —Stephen Murphy, The Gift of Immortality

    Wednesday, March 24, 2010

    The Fairy Origin of Abracadabra

    Our article tracing the magic word abracadabra back to fairy origins is now available for free reading over at Witches & Pagans.

    Sunday, March 21, 2010


    In the World of Warcraft game universe, Allaminar is a magic word used by night elves for creating illumination.

    Thursday, March 18, 2010

    Magic and Erudition

    Magic and erudition in alliance
    Opened the door to every mystery.
    —Hermann Hesse, The Glass Bead Game,
    translated by Richard and Clara Winston

    Monday, March 15, 2010


    "['Transcend'] has been a veritable magic word for me, like 'awakening,' an impetus, a consolation, and a promise. My life, I resolved, ought to be a perpetual transcending, a progression from stage to stage; I wanted it to pass through one area after the next, leaving each behind, as music moves on from theme to theme, from tempo to tempo, playing each out to the end, completing each and leaving it behind, never tiring, never sleeping, forever wakeful, forever in the present."
    —Hermann Hesse, The Glass Bead Game, translated by Richard and Clara Winston

    Friday, March 12, 2010


    “‘Therefore,’ approximately in the sense of ‘Abracadabra’ or ‘Open Sesame.’” —Roger Kimball, The Rape of the Masters (2004)

    Tuesday, March 9, 2010

    Your Name on a Wall

    Peter Prevos explores how writing one's name on a wall is an act of magic:
    Magic is a psychological force – a means to understand our position in nature. Although some might argue that magic has been wiped from contemporary culture, it has never actually disappeared from our psyche. Simple acts, such as writing your name on a wall are in fact magical. To some this is a simple act of vandalism, but that is not the real motivation for people to do this.

    Writing your name on a wall makes the wall becomes an extension of yourself and you become part of the wall. It is a way to exert our self onto the world. This is I think the deeper psychological reason for the popularity of tagging. Tagging is a way to impart part of your self onto the environment in which you live. This is in essence an act of magic because it is a way to connect the inner world (psychology) with physical reality. There is no rational reason to write your name on a wall.
    See his full discussion here.

    Saturday, March 6, 2010


    Fred points out an archaic Italian word meaning effortless magic: Sprezzatura.

    Friday, March 5, 2010


    Prana is a Sanskrit word for the breath as a life-giving force.

    "In Hindu magic prana is the energy source for all magical feats. Magicians use prana to energize the imagination and will, which are the keys to the Creative Mind Principle, the controlling instrument of genuine magic." —Rosemary Guiley, Harper's Encyclopedia of Mystical & Paranormal Experience, 1991, p. 627

    (Dedicated to Fred.)

    Wednesday, March 3, 2010


    We just discovered (with help from Gordon) that a Mac app called Presto contains a passage from our Magic Words: A Dictionary. Presto is a utility for quickly pasting in commonly used snippets of text, and the magic word "presto" is the default example. So when one types "presto" into any application, a passage from our dictionary appears, like magic!

    Monday, March 1, 2010

    Zim Zala Bim

    Facts: Zim Zala Bim is the name of a Commodore 64 computer game (1984).

    Variations and Incantations:

    * Abrakadabra zim zala bim -- Anonymous, "Earth Dream" (2000)

    Sunday, February 28, 2010



    He gave us story-oceans and abracadabras.

    —Salman Rushdie, The Moor’s Last Sigh (1997)

    It’s that spine-tingling thing that gives you goose bumps.[i] It’s the instant of a wish coming true. It’s opening your eyes and seeing that the workaday world has transformed into something holy.[ii] It’s that moment of clarity when everything suddenly “clicks,” and you see that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. These clicks and ticks can trigger a resounding chime, signaling the fullness of time. And yet it is that very same chime of the clock that can disintegrate a dream (“At the stroke of midnight, you know, abracadabra.”[iii]) Energy builds and builds to a breaking point: “Abracadabra. Something flipped in my head.”[iv] Then it diminishes. This is the cosmic process of creation and destruction, of waxing and waning, reflected by abracadabra.

    “The link between language and ritual reaches far back into the origin of human culture when certain words were felt to have awesome magical powers. That same feeling of awe is still manifest in children’s eyes when they listen to a magician’s abracadabra.”[v] Arguably the best-known and best-loved magic word in history, abracadabra is pure dazzle, and it has never lost its spark over the centuries. “When a magician says the word ‘abracadabra,’ wonderful things happen. A rabbit hops out of a hat, the ace floats to the top of the deck, and the comely young assistant vanishes in a puff of smoke.”[vi] Though some magicians now consider it a cliché due to its sheer ubiquity, abracadabra remains the word associated with conjuring[vii], and such is its power that it is virtually impossible to speak the syllables without some vestige of reverence or at least respect. “‘Magic words,’ be they as commonly known as Abracadabra, or as deeply secret as the Unknowable Name of God, have always carried great power.”[viii] As novelist Terry Kay points out, “Illusions [are] made of words, like a magician’s singsong of abracadabra secrets.”[ix]

    We’ll likely never know who first coined or uttered the word abracadabra, but it was passed along to us by way of the ancient Jewish mystics and was no doubt antiquated even in their time. Sustained over generations by its undeniable profundity, today the word pops up virtually any time someone wants to describe a magical moment in life. It’s so versatile that it appears as every part of speech, from noun to adjective to verb, and it is instantly poetic: “[D]ewdrops perched on tall blades of grass became small prisms in the abracadabra light of sunrise,” writes poet Diane Ackerman.[x] Indeed, abracadabra captures that wavelength of light that scintillates and makes rainbows. It’s also the mystery of shadows, as poet Barbara Smith describes:

    [W]ait while darkness
    pronounces its abracadabra,
    and the moon rises
    from the tips of trees.”

    It’s a building block, a blueprint: “I was getting back to simple abracadabra,” writes novelist Henry Miller, “the straw that makes bricks, the crude sketch, the temple which must take on flesh and blood and make itself manifest to all the world.”[xii]

    It is said that when abracadabra was originally chanted, it was reduced letter by letter until only the final “A” remained.[xiii] Likewise, it was written on paper as in the figure below. Such a notation signified a totality gradually shrinking away to nothing.[xiv] Similar to sawing a lady in half, “Dismemberment of language produces enigma; but at the same time a performative act is being brought about. Language is simultaneously ruined and employed.”[xv]

    For all its syllables, abracadabra is one of those “one-piece words” that “seem complete in themselves.”[xvi] Not easily divided into smaller linguistic pieces (morphemes), abracadabra has a dynamism to it, something that carries the speaker smoothly through the syllables. It’s like a handful of other long yet unified words that roll off the tongue: didgeridoo, mulligatawny, millennium, rhododendron.[xvii] It’s as if there’s a sonic “glue” holding the syllables together, and that gives the word strength.


    The virtues of Abracadabra are well known; though the meaning of the word has puzzled some of the best critics of the last age.

    —Tobias Smollett, The Adventures of an Atom (1748)

    A (the letter)

    “By the father of physic, thought I, this study of medicine is not the pleasant task I anticipated—rather arduous in the long run for the stomach, I should judge, to swallow and digest all the medicines, from Abracadabra to Zinzibar.” —Henry Clay Lewis, The Swamp Doctor’s Adventures (1858)


    “‘Abra cadabra,’ that famous saying that everyone learned, is actually a very good ancient magical formula. It just takes the alphabet, supplies some extra vowel sounds, and you turn it into a very spooky sounding word, at least from a Greek perspective.” —L. Michael White, “Magic, Miracles, and the Gospel” (1998)

    Antiquated knowledge or wisdom

    “On the blackboard the futile abracadabra which the future citizens of the republic would have to spend their lives forgetting.” —Henry Miller, Tropic of Cancer (1961)

    Assyrian deity

    “Today we know that Abracadabra was the supreme deity of the Assyrians.” —H.E. Dudeney, The Canterbury Puzzles (1907)

    Changing or transforming; the cause of change

    “[S]ort out the jigsaw pieces of problems, then abracadabra them into brilliant solutions.” —Linda Goodman, Linda Goodman’s Star Signs (1988)

    “His voice was quiet, like a hypnotist’s: ‘Everything in my life changes now.’ Abracadabra. Madeline silently repeated his incantation, also wishing that everything in his life would change for him.” —Valerie Ann Leff, Better Homes and Husbands (2004)


    “There was magic in sketching. She heard Joel at the door, turned around, and said, Abracadabra, I create as I sketch.” —Pearl Abraham, The Seventh Beggar (2005)

    Cryptic language

    “[T]he facts tumbling out of the coding machines in Navy abracadabra.” —Herman Wouk, War and Remembrance (2002)

    “He saw—waking or dream, he still couldn’t say—a ghost mumbling all sorts of Biblical abracadabra in a dead tongue, Chaldean perhaps or Hittite.” —Amos Oz, A Perfect Peace (1993)

    Devil’s name

    “‘There, you see? The devil’s name, Abracadabra!’ He frowned for a few seconds. ‘The writer claims Abracadabra can be raised to this world by invoking his name above the Grail.’” —Bernard Cornwell, Vagabond (2003)


    “Right now, unnoticed by the pilot of the big plane, Allard’s hand was building a complicated pyramid of letters that looked like a mystic abracadabra. Zigzagging lines between those letters, he gave potential meanings to dots and dashes in the body of Zanigew’s message.” —Maxwell Grant, Shadow Over Alcatraz (1938)

    Diminishing, causing to disappear

    —Laura Lippman, By A Spider’s Thread (2004)

    “[R]oughly translated from a Chaldean word [abracadabra] means ‘to diminish.’” —Patricia Telesco, How to be a Wicked Witch (2001)

    Divine utterance

    “[A] puff of smoke and a holy abracadabra.” —Lisa Samson, The Church Ladies (2001)

    Exotic, otherworldly

    “[H]e longed to clear a way for himself into unknown territories, the abracadabra realms we feel inside which nobody dares to touch.” —David Grossman, See Under: LOVE (2002)

    “Unaware of their cage unless they try to leave it, the objects seem to float in the abracadabra realm of flying carpets.” —Diane Ackerman, A Natural History of the Senses (1990)


    “The effect [of James Joyce’s literary methods] at times is astounding, but the price paid is the entire dissolution of the very foundation of literary diction, the entire decomposition of literary method itself; for the lay reader the text has been turned into abracadabra.” —Sergei Eisenstein, Film Forum: Essays in Film Theory (1969)

    “If the encryption only yields abracadabra, something along the transmission path has gone wrong . . . The difference between messages that make sense and abracadabra might be subjective.” —M.H.M. Schellekens, Electronic Signatures Volume 5 (2004)

    “Hippie-dippy airy-fairy baloney”

    —Michael Crichton, Travels (1988)

    “Host of the winged ones” (i.e., angels)

    This is an interpretation of the word Abrakad, from a prayer attributed to Rabbi Nehunya ban harKanah (Philip Schaff, The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge, Vol. I).

    “I bless the dead”

    A Dictionary of Angels (1997)


    “[N]o abracadabra insights, just plain old hard work.” —Joseph J. Luciani, Self-Coaching: How to Heal Anxiety and Depression (2001)


    “We’ll have you some heat in here before you can say abracadabra, and you can put your money on it.” —Mark Edward Hall, Holocaust Opera (2004)

    “Reality is like a magic act, and magic by definition contradicts what we expected. But life’s magic acts don’t always have us applauding. Before you can say ‘abracadabra’ many of us discover we’re the dumb bunnies pulled from a top hat and blinking blindly into the lights only to again disappear as wondrously as we first appeared. We are no sooner here than we disappear.” —Noah benShea, “Life is a Contradiction in Terms: (2003)

    Key to unlock or open

    “Tibetans have been reported to lift stones through the use of certain combinations of sound frequencies. Perhaps the Arab word ‘Abracadabra’ pronounced correctly really did cause something to open.” —Paul Von Ward, Gods, Genes, and Consciousness (2004)

    “Abracadabra, a door opened and there was Claudia.” —Kathy Kaehler, Kathy Kaehler’s Celebrity Workouts (2004)

    “He thought ‘CIA’ was a kind of abracadabra that would magically open all the important doors in Washington.” —Robert Baer, See No Evil (2003)

    “The safe hummed once, then clicked. ‘Abracadabra,’ Roarke stated, and opened it.” —J.D. Robb, Purity in Death (2002)

    “No amount of intellectual authority, arrogant confidence, name dropping, or ego and ambition pounding on the door demanding to be admitted will allow us passage. Beyond a certain point, faith is the magic lamp and humility the abracadabra.” —Gregg Michael Levoy, Callings: Finding and Following an Authentic Life (1998)

    Keyword or buzzword

    “The abracadabras of a champion job search.” —Jay A. Block, 2500 Keywords to Get You Hired (2002)


    “He was certain that if he sailed a hundred years on the Caine he would understand such abracadabra no better than he did at that moment.” —Herman Wouk, The Caine Mutiny (1951)

    “[T]he abracadabra of the philosophers.” —Christa Wolf and Jan Van Heurch, Cassandra: A Novel and Four Essays (1988)


    “Change is magical, like . . . Abracadabra.” —Angeles Arrien, The Tarot Handbook: Practical Applications of Ancient Visual Symbols (1997)

    “There were abracadabra spells for protection on journeys.” —Paul M. Johnson, A History of the Jews (1988)

    “[T]here’s no abracadabra magic involved in change.” —Joseph P. Luciani, The Power of Self-Coaching (2004)

    “Lacking an abracadabra wand, you’re stuck with people.” —Rose Rosetree, The Power of Face Reading (2001)

    “[I]t worked like abracadabra.” —Lynn Hightower, The Debt Collector (2001)

    “One word from me and, abracadabra!, reality was transformed.” —Eva Luna, quoted in Conversations with Isabel Allende by Isabel Allende (1999)


    “That mausoleum right there [is] the permanent home of the Great Abra Cadabra—one of the greatest magicians that ever lived.” —Deborah Gregory, The Cheetah Girls: Growl Power (2000)

    Magic word

    “I can’t touch it without an abracadabra either from her or from Grandpappy.” —Robert A. Heinlein, Time Enough for Love (1973)

    “[T]he right abracadabra to select the winning lottery number . . .” —Stephen Jay Gould, I Have Landed: The End of a Beginning in Natural History (2003)

    “[T]he appropriate abracadabra may be . . .” —Andrew Tobias, Extraordinary Popular Delusions & the Madness of Crowds (1995)

    “[H]oping to acquire an abracadabra or open sesame . . .” —Helen Valentine, Better Than Beauty: A Guide to Charm (2002)

    “The magician says ‘Abracadabra,’ and the genie comes out of the bottle.” —Charles Hartshome, Omnipotence and Other Theological Mistakes (1984)


    “[B]reathe in—abra, breathe out—cadabra, abra, cadabra. If you can do this successfully in a quiet place, with near total relaxation, you will achieve a particularly satisfying state of mind. Some would call it a religious experience.” —Bill Greene, Think Like a Tycoon (1980)


    “The word good, when applied to [God], becomes meaningless: like abracadabra.” —C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed (1961)

    Moment in time

    “The cooking of the dish is nearly as quick as abracadabra.” —Pierre Franey, The New York Times 60-Minute Gourmet (2000)

    “She’d have me in a cell before I could say abracadabra.” —Jim Butcher, Fool Moon (2001)

    “Before one could say abracadabra, they had moved to a corner of the lawn . . .” —James Duffy, Dog Bites Man: City Shocked (2001)


    “[W]ith an abracadabra tone in his voice . . .” —Stuart Ewen, PR! (1998)


    —Richard Cavendish, The Black Arts (1968)

    “Mumbo jumbo and abracadabra, all of it.” —Lesley Blanch, The Wilder Shores of Love: The Exotic True-Life Stories of Isabel Burton, Aimee Dubucq de Rivery, Jane Digby, and Isabelle Eberhardt (2002)

    “I was growing stupid listening to nothing but statistical abracadabra.” —Henry Miller, Plexus (1963)

    “By the time Lucien, hunted down and on the run, had brought himself to read this abracadabra, he had received notice that a judgment had been obtained against him.” —Honoré de Balzac, Lost Illusions, translated by Kathleen Raine (1951)


    “Music is planetary fire, an irreducible which is all sufficient; it is the slate-writing of the gods, the abracadabra which the learned and the ignorant alike muff because the axel has been unhooked.” —Henry Miller, Tropic of Capricorn (1961)

    Mystic importance

    Judge Benjamin Kaplan wrote of the “oddity of accepting . . . an enlargement of copyright while yet intoning the abracadabra of idea and expression” (quoted in Free Culture: How Big Media Uses Technology and the Law to Lock Down Culture and Control Creativity by Lawrence Lessig [2004]).


    “The costuming, pageantry, and general abracadabra had attracted him to the Masonic ritual in the first place, just as the theatricalism of the conjurer’s art had lured him to the money-digging of his youth.” —Fawn M. Brodie, No Man Knows My History: The Life of Joseph Smith (1995)

    Nonsensical babble

    “The Egyptologists make nothing out of it but abracadabra.” —Patrick Geryl, The Orion Prophecy: Will the World Be Destroyed in 2012 (2002)

    “[U]nintelligible ‘abracadabras.’” —John R. Donahue, The Gospel of Mark (2002)

    Out of the blue

    —Tom Spanbauer, In the City of Shy Hunters (2001)


    “‘Abracadabra, great Siva,’ prayed Gottfried.” —Erich Maria Remarque, Three Comrades (1998)

    Ritualistic utterance

    “Ritualistic utterances . . . whether made up of words that had symbolic significance at other times, of words in foreign or obsolete tongues, or of meaningless syllables, may be regarded as consisting in large part of presymbolic uses of language: that is, accustomed sets of noises which convey no information, but to which feelings . . . are attached. Such utterances rarely make sense to anyone not a member of the group. The abracadabra of a lodge meeting is absurd to anyone not a member of the lodge. When language becomes ritual, its effect becomes, to a considerable extent, independent of whatever signification the words once possessed.” —S.I. Hayakawa, Language in Thought and Action: Fifth Edition (1991)

    “[A]ll they really wanted was to do the abracadabra and get the hell out.” —Yvonne Navarro, Shattered Twilight (2004)


    “[H]e practiced the abracadabra of calling dogs.” —Beryl Markham, West with the Night (1982)

    Spiritual connection

    “If you make abracadabra with spirits you can get money from them.” —Wole Soyinka, The Road (1965)


    —Susan Albers, Eating Mindfully (2003)

    “The United States retains, unusually for an advanced industrial society, about the same per capita level of religious superstition as Bangladesh. What one of Jimmy Carter’s aides once referred to as the ‘abracadabra vote’ is ample.” —Francis Wheen, Idiot Proof: Deluded Celebrities, Irrational Power Brokers, Media Morons, and the Erosion of Common Sense (2004)


    “The next morning a sorcerer’s talisman in the form of a small, oddly shaped shell filled with evil smelling ashes and bound with dried sinews was found tied to his door. Well aware that the eyes of the entire village were watching his every action, he took the token and with a great show of contempt tied it to the tail of a large hog. All that day the swine snouted and grubbed for food in the usual noisy way of such an animal, quite unaware of the abracadabra at its rump but in the evening it died.” —John Farrow, Damien the Leper (1954)


    “You belong in any position or career that allows you to sort out the jigsaw pieces of problems, then abracadabra them into brilliant solutions—and permits you to play marbles with jelly beans on your lunch break.” —Linda Goodman, Linda Goodman’s Star Signs (1987)

    Unity, totality

    “All is one! Life is a unity! Abracadabra!” —Bruce Duffy, The World As I Found It (1987)


    “It sounds like we need some kind of ancient word of wisdom?” “Abracadabra?” Teabing ventured, his eyes twinkling.

    —Dan Brown, The DaVinci Code (2003)

    Because abracadabra has been adopted in so many languages without translation, there is speculation that it predates the Biblical story of the confusion of languages at the Tower of Babel.[xviii] In spite of exhaustive inquiry, “the origin of Abracadabra is unknown, and most of the attempts made to translate or explain it are not impressive.”[xix] Some scholars have suggested that the word originated with the Chaldeans of the old Babylonian period.[xx] The so-called “Abracadabra texts” of Babylonia contain mysterious incantations, some derived from other languages such as Old Elamite and subsequently incomprehensible.[xxi]

    Frequently cited as a possible source is the name Abraxis, the supreme being in Gnosticism, “the source of divine emanations from which all things were created.”[xxii] Stones inscribed with abracadabra are called “abraxis stones.”[xxiii] One scholar of Greek Qabalah, Kieren Barry, suggests that abracadabra is derived from the word Akrankanarba from Greek magical papyri dating from the second century BCE to the fifth century CE.[xxiv] Other scholars claim the word is a corruption of the name Abu Abdullah abu Jafar Muhammad ibn Musa al-Khwarizmi, a ninth century Arabian mathematician who pioneered algebraic formulae.[xxv]

    In 1822, Samson Arnold Mackey suggested that abracadabra is actually a sentence formulated by ancient astronomers to describe the constellation of the bull, meaning literally “the Bull, the only Bull”: “The ancient sentence split into its component parts stands thus: Ab’r-achad-ab’ra, i.e., Ab’r, the Bull; achad, the only—Achad is one of the names of the Sun, given him in consequence of his Shining alone,—and he is the only Star to be seen when he is seen—the remaining ab’ra, makes the whole to be, The Bull, the only Bull.”[xxvi]

    More popularly, abracadabra is associated with a Hebrew-Aramaic expression, variously transliterated: ibra k’dibra (“I create through my speech”[xxvii]), abhadda kedkabhra (“disappear like this word”[xxviii]), Abra kadavra (“I will create with words”[xxix]), ha brachah dabarah (“speak the blessing”[xxx]), abreq ad habra (“hurl your thunderbolt even unto death”[xxxi]), abraq ad habra (“I will create as I speak”[xxxii]), Avra c’dabrah (“it came to pass as it was spoken”[xxxiii]), and Ab, Ben, Ruch a cadasch (the words for father, son, and holy spirit[xxxiv]). Scholar William Isaacs explains it this way: Abra comes from the Aramaic verb bra meaning to create. Ca translates to ‘as.’ Dabra is the first person of the verb daber, ‘to speak.’ In other words, abracadabra literally means ‘I create as I speak.’ Magic!”[xxxv]

    Ultimately, the meaning of abracadabra doesn’t matter: “The true magic ‘word’ or spell is untranslatable, because its power resides only partially in that outward sense which is apprehended by the reason, but chiefly in the rhythm, which is addressed to the subliminal mind.”[xxxvi]

    Facts: Scholar Joshua Trachtenberg notes that certain words take on occult virtues through the tradition that has developed around them “or because of their fancied descent from potent charms of ancient times or foreign peoples.” He notes that magic is the most conservative of disciplines: “like the law it clings to archaic forms long after they have lost currency.” (Many prominent figures in professional magic are certainly wary of what they consider old clichés, like the icons of the tuxedo, top hat, white rabbit, and words like ‘abracadabra,’ urging their fellow performers to adopt styles more current with the times.) But Trachtenberg points out that magic’s conservatism “is not inspired by intellectual inertia. The very nature of magic demands a strict adherence to the original form of the magical name or word, for its potency lies hidden within its syllables, within its very consonants and vowels—the slightest alteration may empty the word of all its magic content.” Naturally, words undergo changes over time, transmitted as they are through inaudible whispers or all-too-fallible scribes, and eventually they become so corrupted as to be “altogether exotic and meaningless,” offering few if any clues to their original sense and tongue, and essentially “unintelligible to the heirs of the tradition.” Ironically, a mystery offers its own a kind of potency, and magic words came to be considered efficacious to the degree that they were strange and incomprehensible: “Rashi, in the eleventh century, proved his familiarity with this phenomenon when he wrote: ‘The sorcerer whispers his charms, and doesn’t understand what they are or what they mean, but . . . the desired effect is produced only by such incantations.’” Trachtenberg notes that the Cherokee medicine men, aborigines in India, and Tibetan and Chinese Buddhists all hold in high regard archaic, unintelligible expressions “that have conveyed no meaning for centuries,” considering them “more potent than their own. The ‘abracadabra’ of the modern stage magician reflects a phenomenon familiar to us all.”[xxxvii]

    A very early written record of abracadabra dates back to 208 CE, as “part of a folkloric cure for a fever.”[xxxviii] The record is actually an incomplete poem on medicine by the Roman doctor Serenus Quintus Sammonicus, “containing curious lore, ancient remedies, and magical formulae—such as the Abracadabra charm—and was much used in the Middle Ages.”[xxxix]

    Abracadabra was commonly used as a conjuring word by the Middle Ages.[xl]

    As a talisman against disease, abracadabra was inscribed on parchment and worn around the neck.[xli] In the late 1600s, John Aubrey transcribed instructions for creating such a charm in Miscellanies Upon Various Subjects:

    Abracadabra, strange mysterious word,
    In order writ, can wond’rous cures afford.
    This be the rule:-a strip of parchment take,
    Cut like a pyramid revers’d in make.
    Abracadabra, first at length you name,
    Line under line, repeating still the same:
    Cut at its end, each line, one letter less,
    Must then its predecessor line express;
    ’Till less’ning by degrees the charm descends
    With conic form, and in a letter ends.
    Round the sick neck the finish’d wonder tie,
    And pale disease must from the patient fly.

    In Journal of the Plague Year (1722), Daniel Defoe reported that many people attributed the Black Death to possession by an evil spirit and believed the Abracadabra charm could ward it off.

    In popular culture, the word abracadabra is most often associated with awakening the genie in a magic lamp (to grant a wish) and pulling a rabbit out of a hat.

    Dogura-Magura is a Japanese equivalent to abracadabra.

    “Abner Kadabra” is the title of an episode of the television series Bewitched (1965).

    When a little girl asked professional magician David Greene, “Why does a magic word like abracadabra work?” his reply was “It works because you believe in it.”[xlii]

    Abra Kadabra is a villainous stage magician who first appears in the comic book Flash #128 (1962): “Abra Kadabra hails from the 64th Century, an era in which science is sufficiently advanced to be indistinguishable from magic, and the art of stage magic is dead. Obsessed with a need for applause, and championing the cause of the individual in an era of mechanical precision, he traveled back in time to torment the second Flash.”[xliii]

    “Debra Kadabra” is the title of a song by Frank Zappa (1975), concerning a “witch goddess” whose full name is “Debra Algebra Ebneezra Kadabra” or “Debra Fauntleroy Magnesium Kadabra.”

    Abra Cadabra is a legendary old wise woman and oracle in the novel Jonah by Dana Redfield (2000).

    In the Bugs Bunny cartoon “Transylvania 6-5000” (1963), Bugs the Magician uses abracadabra to turn the menacing vampire Count Bloodcount into a “bumbling bat.” “Always enchanted by wretched excess, Bugs experiments with ever-weirder abracadabras, resulting in ever-more-extravagant vampiric incarnations.”[xliv]

    “Lady Abracadabra” is the name of a fairy “in no humor to be turned into a toad,” in The Hope of the Katzekopfs (1844) by William Churne of Straffordshire.[xlv]

    “Abracadabra Day” is “the best holiday of all,” listed “in no almanac and printed in no calendar.” It is explained in Mr. Mysterious & Company (1962) by Sid Fleischman: “The secret was this: No matter how bad you were on Abracadabra Day or no matter what pranks you pulled, you would not be spanked or punished. . . . There was only one rule about Abracadabra Day. You must not tell anybody the day you had chosen to be bad. . . . It was like magic to do something naughty and not get punished.”

    [i] “Amid a blinding cloud of smoke, a cadaverous voice cries aloud, ‘Abra-cadabra.’” —Variety review of the television program “The Magic Horseshoe” (1953). “‘Abracadabra.’ The sound had cold fingers squeezing Luke’s spine.” —Nora Roberts, Honest Illusions (1992).

    [ii] “The custom of closing or covering the eyes while saying the blessing enacts the transformation of the world, since, when you reopen your eyes Abracadabra! the weekday, workaday world is special, holy, and Shabbat.” —Anita Diamant, How to Be a Jewish Parent: A Practical Handbook for Family Life (2000)

    [iii] Alan Furst, Dark Voyage (2004), referencing the fairy tale of Cinderella

    [iv] Carolyn S. Kortge, The Spirited Walker: Fitness Walking For Clarity, Balance, and Spiritual Connection (1998)

    [v] Marcel Danesi, Of Cigarettes, High Heels, and Other Interesting Things (1999)

    [vi] Martin Fry (1991)

    [vii] “‘Please is a good magic word,’ I said, ‘but the magic word for magicians is ‘abracadabra.’” —Ace Starry, The Magic Life: A Novel Philosophy (2003)

    [viii] Deborah Lipp, The Way of Four: Create Elemental Balance in Your Life (2004)

    [ix]The Valley of Light (2003)

    [x]Deep Play (2000)

    [xi]Wild Sweet Notes: Fifty Years of West Virginia Poetry 1950-1999 (2000)

    [xii]Sexus (1962)

    [xiii] Gustav Davidson, Dictionary of Angels: Including the Fallen Angels (1994)

    [xiv] Richard Cavendish, The Black Arts (1968)

    [xv] E.S. Shaffer, Comparative Criticism, Volume 9 (1987)

    [xvi] Richard Coates, Word Structure (1999)

    [xvii] Richard Coates, Word Structure (1999)


    [xix] Richard Cavendish, The Black Arts (1968)

    [xx] Herman Slater, A Book of Pagan Rituals (1978)

    [xxi] Wolfram Von Soden, The Ancient Orient (1994)

    [xxii] Constance Victoria Briggs, The Encyclopedia of God: An A-Z Guide to Thoughts, Ideas, and Beliefs About God (2003)

    [xxiii] Bob Brier, Ancient Egyptian Magic (1999)

    [xxiv]The Greek Qabalah: Alphabetical Mysticism and Numerology in the Ancient World (1999)

    [xxv] Daniel Hillis, Pattern on the Stone (1999)

    [xxvi]‘Mythological’ Astronomy of the Ancients Demonstrated, quoted in The Secret Teachings of All Ages by Manly Palmer Hall (1928)

    [xxvii] Estelle Frankel, Sacred Therapy: Jewish Spiritual Teachings on Emotional Healing and Inner Wholeness (2004)

    [xxviii] David Colbert, The Magical Worlds of Harry Potter: A Treasury of Myths, Legends, and Fascinating Facts (2004)

    [xxix] David Aaron, Endless Light: The Ancient Path of Kabbalah (1998)

    [xxx] Gustav Davidson, Dictionary of Angels: Including the Fallen Angels (1994)

    [xxxi] J.E. Cirlot, A Dictionary of Symbols (2002)

    [xxxii] Susan G. Woolridge, Poemcrazy: Freeing Your Life with Words (1997)

    [xxxiii] Alan Lew, This is Real and You are Completely Unprepared (2003)

    [xxxiv]Llewellyn Encyclopedia (2002)

    [xxxv]Dialogue: The Art Of Thinking Together (1999)

    [xxxvi] Evelyn Underhill, Mysticism (1911)

    [xxxvii] Joshua Trachtenberg, Jewish Magic and Superstition (1939)

    [xxxviii] Tom Ogden, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Magic Tricks (1998)

    [xxxix] Donald Tyson’s annotation to the works of Henry Cornelius Agrippa, Three Books of Occult Philosophy (1993)

    [xl] Tom Ogden, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Magic Tricks (1998)

    [xli] Gustav Davidson, Dictionary of Angels: Including the Fallen Angels (1994)

    [xlii] “Magician David Greene Launches Lower School Book Fair with Demonstration of the ‘Magic of Reading,’” Christ Church Episcopal School newsletter (2003)

    [xliii] Kelson Vibber, “The Flash: Those Who Ride the Lightning” (2005)

    [xliv] Steven Jay Schneider, Horror Film and Psychoanalysis (2004)

    [xlv] Peter Hunt, Children’s Literature: An Anthology 1801-1902 (2001)