Magic Words: A Dictionary
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Magic Words: A Dictionary

Magic Words: A Dictionary is a one-of-a-kind resource for magicians and word lovers, exploring the most intriguing magic words and phrases from around the world.  720 essay-style entries touch upon magic words’ multiple meanings, auras of mystery, origins and history, popular variations, amusing trivia, and fascinating examples of usage from literature and popular culture.  Sources range from prominent modern stage magicians to their distant ancestors: the hierophants of ancient Egypt; the high priests, medicine men, sorcerers, and alchemists of the Middle Ages; the necromancers and wizards of legend and fairy tale; and the workers of wonders and miracles throughout history—all performers of their day, seeking to mystify, to enchant, and to entertain.  This dictionary showcases those powerful words that give shape and form to a magician’s ungraspable feats, like a piece of silk, or that conjure up a puzzling new reality, like smoke and mirrors.

Our current fascination with magic words lies in the revival of interest in the art of close-up magic and grand illusions that began in the late twentieth-century and has continued into the twenty-first, fueled by the work of such performers as Lance Burton, David Copperfield, Siegfried & Roy, David Blaine, and Jeff McBride.  Magic words are naturally as old as conjuring itself, echoes of the rhythm and vibration of creative power.  Medieval conjurors first began using exotic words to give their performances an air of authentic secret knowledge.  Whether they employed pseudo-Latin phrases, nonsense syllables, or esoteric terms from religious antiquity, these magicians were doing far more than merely adding a bit of enigmatic audio to their visuals.  They were enhancing their specific illusions with a universal mystery: language as an instrument of creation.  A great many magic words have stood the test of time, passed on from master to apprentice, generation through generation, to find expression on the modern stage and street.  These ancient, musical, poetic incantations have a profound—but not necessarily unfathomable—mystique.  From the familiar but oft-perplexing classics like abracadabra, alakazam, hocus pocus, presto-chango, shazam, and sim sala bim, to lesser known gems like the tongue-twisting tirratarratorratarratirratarratum, to whimsical modern inventions like izzy wizzy let’s get busy, these venerable magic words and phrases warrant a serious, scholarly tribute and indeed have earned a place of honor in their own special dictionary.

There is profound meaning in the clichéd image of a magician pulling a rabbit out of an empty hat with the magic word abracadabra.  The magician is speaking an ancient Hebrew phrase that means “I will create with words.”  He is making something out of nothing, echoing that famous line from Genesis: “Let there be light, and there was light,” only in this case the light is a white rabbit and perhaps a flash of fire.  The magic word, whether it be abracadabra or another of the magician’s choosing, resonates with the audience because there is an instinctive understanding that words are powerful, creative forces.  “The word has always held an ancient enchantment for humans,” says scholar Ted Andrews.  “It hints of journeys into unseen and unmapped domains.”  This dictionary seeks to reinstate dignity to the treasury of magic words that have lost some of their sparkle over the years, as well as to celebrate and codify the new magic words that magicians are adding to the lexicon every day.  This dictionary is testament to the magic of language and urges magicians to reinvest their incantations with that primitive power everyone remembers at the deepest level.  Whether the reader is a professional illusionist, an amateur at sleight-of-hand, or simply a word lover intrigued by the power of language, this dictionary is meant to enlighten and inspire everyone to create pure wonder and awe whenever they speak.

read the introduction online now »
Chapter 1 » “A Tip of the Hat”

NOTE: We have been pleased to offer the entire contents of Magic Words: A Dictionary for free online viewing since 2004.  As of October 2008 we are delighted to offer the dictionary in print by Weiser Books, available from your local bookstore or through online retail channels.


“[A]n impressive work. . . . The ‘take away’ I had from this book has less to do with the amusing words and their definitions, and more to do with a thoughtful consideration of the role of the magic word in my own work.”  —Brad Henderson, MAGIC, The Magazine for Magicians

“If David Lynch and Jorge Luis Borges created a book the result would be something very much like the writings of Craig Conley.  As with those artists, Craig’s work creates truly remarkable and subtle effects.  His books are ones to dream with and learn from.”  —Lawrence Hass, Ph.D., philosopher, magician, and author of Transformations

“I am in awe of the volume and variety of the usages and references discussed: the research seems monumental. . . . Yes, it will not only give you the importance of magic words, the kinds of magic words used under what circumstances, what the public (as expressed through references in literature) thinks about magic words and what are magic words, it will help you understand magic and your relationship to it. Recommended as a very useful resource for those who think and care.”  —Phil Willmarth, Linking Ring Magazine

“Magic Words is more than a dictionary — it is an impassioned call to writers, magicians and laypeople to bring magic back into their vocabulary.  It is, in fact, an incantation calling forth the demons hidden within our speech, and no reader will finish this book without succumbing to its spell.
     Let there be no doubt about it: Conley is on a mission to promote literacy, and his love of words possesses the cabbalistic reverence of an alchemist in pursuit of gold.  For it is in the meaning of each word, of each letter of each word, that we discover the mysterious powers of language — or, as the author puts it, it is the inherent enchantment of the word that gives literature its magical influence.  And this book will influence you in a most magical way.”  —Anthony Marais, author of The Cure

“This 352 page dictionary of magic words was a real hoot to review, I had a blast just thumbing through the pages and learning about myths, origins, trivia and other cool stuff.  I even learned how to summon zombies and bring big changes into my life.  I also found the illustrations and icons to be very helpful with the process.
     I must tell you I knew of some magic words from books and movies, but I never imagined there were so many and even how they came to be in the first place.  I think this voluminous teacher will go a long way in helping anyone broaden their horizons.  I would recommend it to those who enjoy learning.  Thanks Craig, for the interesting and informative experience.”  —Riki Frahmann, Mystic Living Today

“Words are inherently magical for the writer—also frustrating, obtuse, enchanting and expressive in various moments and times.  We struggle with them, delight in them, and weave them together to form significant combinations.  Dictionaries are our friends, lists of synonyms our best buddies, and there are many of us who take simple delight in the well-turned phrase.
     Craig Conley has given us a gift beyond regard: a dictionary of 720 of the words used by (stage) magicians throughout the ages.  Who can forget the shiver of delight we felt when hearing ‘open sesame’ in the tale of Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves?  Or the eternal Abracadabra! and Hocus Pocus?  Now we know where they originated, with their meanings, in combinations, and source material.
     But this is no common dictionary!  Conley clearly loves words:  ‘Hocus Pocus: These primal, rhyming syllables echo the transcendental incantations of Latin rites, reverberating through hallowed cloisters.  They invoke an ancient, unworldly power, especially when enunciated slowly and authoritatively.’ (p. 327)
     Highly recommended for anyone with a taste for words.”  —Lisa Mc Sherry, Facing North

“The first 48-pages of Magic Words are utterly fascinating, with Conley an engaging tour guide through literary, philosophical, cultural and spiritual landscapes—realms dotted with landmarks that pay homage to the power of magical utterances (and, sometimes, even to silence and mysterious glyphs).
     Not only does Conley offer examples of poetic incantations and the mysterious power of words in his introduction, but he also provides fascinating insight into the vocabulary of ritual (and why we get the giggles during solemn occasions!), the four archetypes of the Magician, and our ability to imbue ‘ordinary’ moments with the magic of both cadence and connation.
     The rest of Magic Words is dedicated to, well, magic words!
     With word origins, facts, variations, meanings, mystique and appearances in literature, this A to Z guide offers a mind-boggling array of information to be mined by would-be magicians, entertainers, writers and artists.”
Janet Boyer, author of The Back in Time Tarot Book [Read Full Review]

“I just got Magic Words: A Dictionary.  What fun!  Magic words taken from literature, plays, movies; all the way from Ovid to Shakespeare to Ronald Hutton to J.K. Rowling!  Each word is presented as a word (with variations, if any) and then in a quote, and then meanings are given from many historical sources.
     It would be interesting to sprinkle them in my conversation or journal writing or even for magic! Alakazam and abracadabra and hocus pocus, but also Hola Noa Massa, and Lit Flitt Latt Flight, and Shubismack.  They are even just fun to say.
     There is also an Appendix of ‘magic words’ used by people in various professions — ‘action’ for movies, ‘troubleshoot’ for computer technicians.”  —Chela’s review

“Craig Conley, bless him, has given us plenty of literary treats — but his Magic Words: A Dictionary is one of the excellentest.  The entries are essay-style, so they’re fun to read (like I would ever recommend anything that wasn’t), and feature words and symbols from around the world — each with its own etymology, as well as mythical, historical, and cultural background.  Illustrations of symbols and icons are included where applicable.  Bippity boppity boo.”  —“Books by Design: Reference Books You’ll Actually Use

“Any interested in the words and philosophy of Wicca and magic will find Magic Words a fascinating dictionary packed with magic words and phrases from around the world.  Over seven hundred essay-style entries probe the origins of magical words, their history, and their variations.  Sources range from ancient Medieval alchemists to modern necromancers and magical legends, making for a fine trivia and study reference.”  —Diane C. Donovan, California Bookwatch

“. . . No matter how you approach it, Conley has given us a delightful resource that entertains, informs, and inspires. If only more books, especially those for magicians, offered as much.”  Gordon Meyer, author of Smart Home Hacks [Read Full Review]

“A most extraordinary book.”  —Steve Spill, magician and founder of Magicopolis

“Recommended for the incantophile!”  —James Callan, Quiz Quiz Bang Bang

“A dictionary of words with power, including the derivation of many of them.  A great resource for ceremonial magicians or anyone seeking to create their own spells.”  Isis Books

“Craig Conley is as intimately familiar with the magic of words as he is with the words of magic. His masterful, dazzling blend of scholarship and showmanship results in the perfect tribute to this spectacular subject. Professional magicians seeking inspiration, serious researchers seeking insights, and casual readers seeking entertainment will be equally well rewarded by a ride on Conley’s magic carpet.”  Jonathan Caws-Elwitt, playwright

“A brilliant book for fans of magic.  MAGIC WORDS is a must-read for those of us who write about magic.  It starts with a scholarly (and entertaining) essay about the power of words to mystify and dazzle, then includes entries and definitions for magic words humans have used throughout history.  If you’re looking for just the spell to bind your readers to your story, it may well be in this book.  (It’s also a hoot if you enjoy learning things like this: Phblthplbht is a magic word for conjuring an iron will.)”  Martha Brockenbrough, author of It Could Happen To You: Diary Of A Pregnancy and Beyond

“There is magic and dreams do come true.”  Diana Page Jordan, Multi-media Entrepreneur

“Truly words of magic about magic words!”  Bill Wisch, creator of “The Magic Word” program

“This is a great book. Loads of fun to browse through and stimulate understandings and possibilities. . . . fascinating information that is stimulating for the creation of either tricks or presentations, being quite difficult to let go of.”  —Robert Neale, author of The Magic Mirror

“A fascinating piece of scholarship, and an invitation to wonder.”  Bernie DeKoven, author of The Well Played Game

“Too often we forget the real Magic in our lives. Craig Conley is a student of Wonder, and like all true Wonder Experiencers, he is moved to share that. Mr. Conley reminds us to open our eyes, minds, ears and hearts to the Wonder within and without. Those of us who travel along such paths are ever grateful for Those Few who travel with us in spirit. Craig Conley is one of Those Few.”  Kenton Knepper (The Mystic of Magic), author of Wonder Words

“This critter will definitely expand your vocabulary and repertoire.”  —Bernie (xyzzy)

“Useful . . . entertaining.”  Taylor Ellwood, author of Pop Culture Magick

“A Magic Masterpiece!”  Magic-Al Garber, creator of “It’s a Magic-Al World!”

“Contains notes on everything from the fractal magic word abacaba-dabacaba to the typographically charged zxcvbnm, and a few more besides.”  Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America

“Wonderful.”  —Graham P. Collins, editor of Scientific American

“Magic can be within your grasp if you take a look at some of these print and web resources. . . . Amateur magicians can learn more about the different magic tricks and magic words that professional magicians use.”  —Evelyn Khoo, The Wizard’s Bookshelf

“A wealth of information for the aspiring magician.”  Spooky Librarians

“Fascinating! A book about the origins of magic words. This will be of interest to those into stage magic as well as occultism.”  Aaron Leitch

“An engrossing resource.”  Neil Tobin, magician

“Another great book from Craig Conley.”  Andy Martin

“Craig Conley uses the language as Salvador Dali used paint.”  —Natasha K., voice artist

About the Author

Craig Conley is a magic enthusiast and scholar.  Recognized by Encarta as “America’s most creative and diligent scholar of letters, words and punctuation,” his intensive and eccentric research has led him to compile a true masterwork entitled Magic Words: A Dictionary.  He has also authored One-Letter Words: A Dictionary, among other strange and unusual lexicons, and is a regular columnist for Pentacle magazine.  Conley’s ideas are often decades ahead of their time.  He invented the concept of the “virtual pet” in 1980, fifteen years before the debut of the popular “Tamagotchi” in Japan.  His virtual pet, actually a rare flower, still thrives and has reached an incomprehensible size.

Featured Works:
  • Magic Words: A Dictionary
  • Magic Archetypes: The Art Behind the Science of Conjuring
  • The Skeleton Key of Solomon
  • The Collected Oldest Trick(s) in the Book(s)
  • Esoteric Articles
  • Trump L’Oeil: Tarot of Portmeirion

    Published Works
    Published Works by Craig Conley

  • Online Resources

  • Jeff McBride’s
  • Eugene Burger’s
  • Rebuilding a Mystery
  • Abecedarian blog
  • Magic Words blog
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