Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Magic words: origins and uses

First off, before I even looked at magic words in themselves I looked at the origins of the words “magic” and “words” purely because you’d need the two, whatever the form they took, to be able to say a word is a magic word at all. So, here is a little on “magic” and “words”.

Noun: the power of apparently influencing events by using mysterious or supernatural forces.
Adjective: having or apparently having supernatural powers.
Verb: Move, change or create by or as if by magic.
Origin: Late Middle English; from Old French magique, from Latin magicus (adjective), late Latin magica (noun), from Greek magikē (tekhnē) (art of) a magus. Magi were regarded as magicians.

Noun:  A single distinct meaningful element of speech or writing, used with others (or sometimes alone) to form a sentence and typically shown with a space on either side when written or printed.
Verb: (with object) express (something spoken or written) in particular words.
Adjective: with submodifier worded.
Origin: Old English, of Germanic origin; related to Dutch word and German Wort, from an Indo-European root shared by Latin verbum ‘word’.

Common Magic (adjective) Words (noun):

OED recognised. Late 17th century  (as a mystical word engraved and used as a charm to ward off illness): from Latin, first recorded in a 2nd century poem by Q. Serenus Sammonicus, from a Greek base.
Better known to us as a magic word used by stage magicians that also appears in everything Disney and was spoken by the clown who appeared at your 5th birthday party. Power resides in the user of this word, not in the word itself, otherwise those clowns wouldn't be there for your 5th birthday in the first place.

Not recognised as a word.
But it is recognised as a family or proper name.
Because of this, it is possible that to say that when using Alakazam as a magic word you are trying to draw on the powers and attention of a person named Alakazam rather than magic, much like praying but I know of no god named Alakazam.

Sim Sala Bim
Not OED recognised.
Sim Sala Bum was a phrase used by Harry August Jansen. Also, these magic words were used by Hadji on two shows: The Adventures of Jonny Quest and The Real Adventures of Jonny Quest (these could be said to be just one show continued).
Not used very often, this phrase still has some power to it but mostly when written rather than spoken. Spoken, it just sounds silly (I am not saying so by making any comparison to other magic words. There are plenty sillier.).

Open Sesame
Not OED recognised.
Ali Baba spoke these words in the English version of a tale from 1001 Arabian Nights.
The reason most of us know of this magic phrase has less to do with the book and more to do with Disney. When we were kids a whole lot of us ended up seated in the theatre watching the Disney Ali Baba And The Forty Thieves movie. Then those that did see it proceeded to run about like headless chooks screaming “Open Sesame” over everything that could possibly be linked to magic, locks and treasure (imagined or otherwise). It was even often used as a not-so-secret password.

OED recognised. An invented word used in the 1940’s by conjurers.
Preferred magic word of Captain Marvel.
2nd choice of magic word for that 5th birthday clown. Not as easily recognised by kiddies so some confused faces are likely to result from its usage.

Hocus Pocus
OED recognised. Early 17th century: from hax pax max Deus adimax, a pseudo-Latin phrase used as a magic formula by conjurors.
I think I like hax pax max Deus adimax better.
You may know hocus pocus from kiddie TV and Disney movies, also cult horror movies and books where the words hocus pocus have little magic to them and are used more to describe what magic is.

Rarely used or known.
Clowns of Jaye’s magic circus spoke this word so it has some power if spoken in front of the right people.

Alla Peanut Butter Sandwiches
This magical phrase is spoken by The Amazing Mumford on Sesame Street and is a hit with anyone a child when it was first used and any kid currently familiar with it. It will cause uncontrollable giggles in the young.

Johnny Thunder, superhero, used the word Cei-u to summon his magical thunderbolt. Nobody else uses this word and few know how to pronounce it.

Klaatu barada nikto
These magic words need to be spoken correctly and in order.
First spoken in the 1951 movie The Day The Earth Stood Still but they weren’t used as magic words until the awesome movie Army of Darkness.
Any Uni student or horror buff worth their salt will know these lines and use them freely along with lines such as “Alright you Primitive Screwheads, listen up! You see this? This... is my boomstick!” and “Shop smart, shop S-Mart!”.

Meeska, Mooska, Mickey Mouse
This word is often used in the TV show Mickey Mouse Clubhouse and has the power to make the clubhouse appear. I’m sure this means a lot to some of you but it means absolutely zip to me so this phrase holds little power as far as I’m concerned.

Presto chango
Magicians used these magic words to suggest a quick change has happened, usually when the smashed watch is ‘reformed’ into a brand spanking new one. If someone says presto chango to you, check your pockets and/or give the beady eye to anything handed to you that’s said to be new or fixed. Don’t trust the use of these magic words to mean something good has happened.

Hey Presto
OED recognised. British in origin.
Hey presto is a phrase often used to announce the successful completion of a magic trick or to suggest that something has been done so easily that it seems like magic.
This phrase needs less of the beady eye but still beware.
Overused but still a favourite.

Wella Walla Washington
Bugs Bunny from the Loony Tunes prefers this magic phrase no matter the instance. You will hear 30-40 year old men using this phrase but not many others.

Origin: Middle English. From Old French plaisir ‘to please’, from Latin placer.
Known to all as the most powerful magic word there is. Things happen simply by saying this word; attitudes change, what is wanted is often attained, sacrifices are made for you and arguments are curbed.
Such power cannot be found in the use of any of the previous magic words.
The favourite magic word of any child wishing a forbidden cookie.

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