Sunday, February 6, 2011

Sunday Trivia 2

Spells and incantations are supposed to be potent, so the words they employ often have some zing. They can also have really funky origins because they've reached us through the magical backwater of etymology.

Abracadabra, for instance, is thought to either come from the Aramaic עַבְדָא כְּדַברָא or avda kedavra, "what was said has been done," or from the Greek Gnostic term Αβρασαξ or Abrasax, which carried mystical significance as the name of a supreme being or god, each letter representing one of the seven known planets. The first known use of Abracadabra was in the second century, when it was used in triangular inscriptions on Roman amulets to ward off malaria. The incantation Open Sesame from the story of Ali Baba is thought to refer to the fact that a ripe sesame seed pod bursts open, the same way, for example, a magical cave's entrance does.

J.K. Rowling's spells in the Harry Potter series are an interesting blend of pseudo-Greek, near-Latin, English, and the occasional odd language. Avada Kedavra, the Killing Curse, comes from the same Aramaic as Abracadabra, and also seems to play off the sound similarity between Kedavra and cadaver. Alohomora, the Unlocking Charm, comes from Malagasy, specifically in a system of geomancy called Sikidy, and means "friendly to thieves," among other things. Several other Harry Potter terms may come from the same source, including the plant Alihotsy, the Gryffindor passwords Caput Draconis and Fortuna Major, and the names Rubeus and Albus. (Although all these except Alihotsy are straightforward Latin, not Malagasy.)

So, your trivia question for today is about magic words.

1. Name a common magical term which derives from a Christian phrase.
2. Name a common noun that derives from the magical term, which describes trickery of a different sort.


  1. hocus pocus = hoc es meum corpus = "this is my body" (which has been given up for you) i explained this to someone yesterday! weird...



  2. Excellent work. This is one of my favorite etymology facts.