Performers of Magic have used a variety of Magic Words in their acts over the years.
Some of them are vintage and have been used for many years while others are bang up to date.
In fact, I made a huge article with an overview of all magical words that magicians say.
One word that has a long history is the word Abracadabra.
You will be surprised to know that the word stretches back to the second century, and quite possibly before.
Why Do Magicians Say Abracadabra? Magicians say Abracadabra to catch the attention of the audience during the magic performance and to indicate that something magical is about to happen.
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The first quotation that included the word “Abracadabra” was a Roman poem by a physician, Quintus Serenus Sammonicus.
The poem was called De medicina praecepta.
This was published just two centuries into the Christian era.
This makes the term “Abracadabra” quite an ancient word.
Sammonicus said that if a sick person wanted to get well that they should dress in an amulet that contained a paper with the word laid out as above.
A kind of Magic spell.
This would “drive the sickness from the body.”
This was the first time the word appeared in any quotation, but linguistic experts believe the word is probably much older in origin.
Origins of the word
Here are the ideas that are suggested for the origin.
Aramaic was the language that Jesus would have spoken.
It was also used in certain parts of the Old Testament.
The Aramaic words “Avra K’dabra” which means “I build as I speak.”
Hebrew is a language related to Aramaic.
In Hebrew the words ab (father) ben(son) and acadpsch (holy spirit)
Chaldeans were native to Iraq and have a history that spans back 5,000 years.
In Chaldean abbada ke dabra meant “Perish like the word”
These were from Alexandria and were a Gnostic sect.
This theory believes that Abracadabra stems from Abrasax the supreme deity they worshipped.
While we are looking at the origins of words, it seems a good time to add that J.K.Rowlings used a combination of the Roman word for Cadaver (a dead body) with Avra kehdabra (The Aramaic shown above), to make the word Avada Kedavra to create the Magic killing curse that appeared in Harry Potter.
The 15th Century
I mentioned that the word “abracadabra” was used in the format shown above and put in an amulet to make someone well in Roman times.
Apparently, this was still common in the 15th Century as reported in the book by Eva Rimmington Taylor, called “The Troublesome Voyage of Capt. Edward Fenton” in which was written:
Banester sayeth that he healed two hundred in one year of an ague by hanging abracadabra around their necks.
The 18th Century
This practice was still going in the 18th Century and in the book “Journal of Plague Year,” (1722) the charm was mentioned again as the author sadly reported on the ineffective use of charms like Abracadabra to ward off the Plague.
The 19th Century
The first recorded use of “Abracadabra” as a Magic expression on stage was in 1819 in the play Rochester, by William Thomas Moncrieff, While this was not in a magic act, clearly, the writer saw it as a common word (like Hocus Pocus) used by Magicians Although, exactly which magician first used it I have been unable to find out.
The 20th Century
Let’s take a look also in the 20th Century.
Abracadabra was a weekly Magic Magazine published in the UK. The magazine continued publication for 63 years, closing on 28th March 2009 with its 3,296th edition.
Looney Tunes Cartoon
The term was very well known as a Magical Expression in 1963 when it was used in the Cartoon Transylvania 6-5000 by Bugs Bunny.
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We can see that “Abracadabra” has been around for a long time, back to Roman times, but only 1in the late 19th century did it become associated with magic tricks performed on stage.
Since then, however, it has become part of western culture, a word that I engrained in our language and used almost as a generic word to describe magic.