You Can’t Abracadabra a Meaning to it

Abracadabra

If you haven’t lived under a rock in the last decade or so, you’ve probably seen a Harry Potter movie or maybe even read a Harry Potter book. In there, you may have noticed the killing curse used all throughout the series “avadakedavra.” JK Rowling claimed that she based it off of the well-known magic term “abracadabra.”

Abracadabra was first used in magic shows as far back as modern memory goes. The first thought goes to a man in a tux pulling a rabbit out of his top hat. But there has been a debate for centuries as to where the term actually came from and why we are still using it today. Is abracadabra is just a term for magic?

The word has been contested many times over. Everyone seems to have an idea of where it came from, but who is right? Is there an answer out there?

Latin Use

One of the oldest usage of the word abracadabra came from the second century. There was a reference to a Greek disease that they did not have a term for in Latin. Since the disease was fatal, and people couldn’t say what it was called, they would write the word abracadabra over and over again on a piece of paper. On every line they had the word written, they would take off a letter at the end until they were at the bottom where their weren’t anymore letters left. Kinda like a reverse triangle. They would then wear the piece paper like it was going to ward off the disease. But even though they used abracadabra for that, it wasn’t the first time abracadabra was actually used.

So Was it Hebrew?

There is a chance that the term is from Hebrew. If you translate the words father, son, and Holy Spirit from English into Hebrew, it kind of does sound like abracadabra.

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Closer yet is the Aramaic words of “avrakedabra.” But scholars of Aramaic don’t believe that the term is actually Aramaic despite a common rumor. Even Rowling said it’s from Aramaic, but there is no mention of the word being related to Aramaic until the late 19th century.

Even More Speculation

So if the word is not likely to be Hebrew, what is abracadabra’s origin? The truth is no one seems to know. Some people still claim that it is Aramaic and it is a demand for something to be destroyed.

The theory that it is Aramaic seems to go around like wildfire. And different ideas are running amok as to what it could actually mean. Some say things like “this thing needs to be destroyed,” some say “give the corpse a life,” “fade away as this word is fading,” and on and on. But there is no proof to support these claims. Meanwhile, there is said to also be an Arabic phrase of abracadabra which translates to let the thing be destroyed. That would make more sense in terms of the diseases.

The Magician’s Word

A somewhat more plausible meaning for the modern sense of abracadabra is related to magicians. Since magicians are who we often think of using the word, it would make sense that they would have a meaning for the word.

There is another Aramaic phrase that sounds similar to abracadabra. “AvrahKeDabra,” roughly translated, means that this thing that I say becomes real. Meaning that when a magician waves is hand and says abracadabra, a real thing will happen.

Abracadabra in the Cosmos

There is one other theory that is interesting related abracadabra. Some people think that it could be relating to the gemstone. There was a gnostic group of people sometime around the second or third century who had Stones with seven letters to represent the seven planets.

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Among them, there were some pieces of jewelry that had the word abracadabra written on them. They were meant to bring the healing powers of the sun down to them to get rid of any kind illness that they we’re dealing with.

What does it all mean?

Like so many things that have been around for a long time, no one really knows where the word abracadabra actually came from. It’s been around for a long time, and obviously some people thought that it was a good thing to wear to get rid of diseases.

The word itself could be Hebrew, could be Arabic, could be Aramaic, or could be anything really. The word is been around so long that its original origin probably couldn’t have even been written down. But we do know that it is a fun word for magic.

Dismissed and Praised

No matter what anyone says, abracadabra has some power. It may not be mystical or spiritual, but it has at least enough power to get people arguing about it. In facts, famous author Daniel Defoe wrote in his book the Journal of the Plague Year criticizing Londoners who would put the word on the outside of their door to keep the plague away.

Likewise, famous Puritan minister Increase Mather said that the word was useless. But even with all of those naysayers, there have been enough people through the years who believe in the word. And even today, even if we are not using the word to fight off plagues, we are using it to pop that rabbit out of the hat.

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Much like abracadabra, hocus-pocus also doesn’t really have a set origin. While it just seems like a funny combo of words that people use for magic, some people think that it might be real. One theory is that it’s actually a Norse word that refers to a magician named OchusBochus. Other people just think its gibberish meant to sound Latin. The most interesting hocus-pocus story is that it’s actually making fun of The Roman catholic term hoc est corpus meum.

Video: The Fascinating Origin of the Word “Abracadabra”

These days you might hear Abracadabra before some stage magician pulls a rabbit out of his hat, but hundreds of years ago people actually believed that “abracadabra” was a magical spell. The exact origin of the word is up for debate, but perhaps one of the oldest records we have of “Abracadabra” being used is a snippet from a Roman sage named Serenus Sammonicus in the 2nd century AD from his Liber Medicinalis: