The Language of Magic


When magic words appear in books and other media, they’re usually either total nonsense or based on some dead language, often Latin. The common term “abracadabra” is thought to be based on Aramaic, with the phrase “Avra Kadavrai” meaning “I will create as my words,” at least according to Wikipedia. In the Harry Potter series, “Avada Kedavra” is the Killing Curse, probably playing on both the original Aramaic phrase and the Latin-derived word “cadaver.” There’s also been some speculation as to the origin of “hocus pocus,” but I couldn’t say which possibility is the most likely. In the Oz series and related books, magic words given seem to just be nonsense, as evidenced by Queen Zixi’s statement, “No one knows [what it means], and therefore it is a fine incantation.” There are, however, occasional mentions of a language of magic. There’s a reference to “the language of sorcery” in Glinda of Oz, and Ruth Plumly Thompson makes several references to Magic as a language. Would this be a language in which all words have magical power? Such might be the case. It reminds me of the Old Speech in Ursula LeGuin’s Earthsea books, in which all things are called by their true names, which in turn are the secret to magic. The idea of true names holding power was certainly not original with LeGuin; it was, for instance, quite common in ancient Egyptian magic. I don’t know that an entire language of true names was used prior to LeGuin’s books, however. Regardless, I’d be interested in knowing if the magic words we see in the Oz books, like “weaugh, teaugh, peaugh” to activate the Powder of Life, actually mean anything in the language of Magic.

This entry was posted in Harry Potter, L. Frank Baum, Oz, Oz Authors, Ruth Plumly Thompson and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to The Language of Magic

  1. Bryan Babel says:

    I remember reading somewhere long ago a short story about a class of children who, after reading “The Magic of Oz,” sit around trying to pronounce “Pyrzqxgl.” There is one who manages it, and the results for his tormenting classmates are harsh.

    • Bryan Babel says:

      Just looked it up. The story is “The Believing Kind” by Zenna Henderson, and it was a little girl who used the word.

    • Nathan says:

      I’ve heard of the story, but haven’t read it. There was also a short story in Oziana called “Much Ado About Kiki Aru,” in which it was revealed that Pyrzqxgl was the name of a fairy captured by the Wicked Witch of the East.

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