The word may have its origin in the Aramaic language, but numerous conflicting folk etymologies are associated with it.
The word Abracadabra may derive from an Aramaic phrase meaning "I create as I speak."  or from the Greek "Αύρα κατ' αύρα" meaning "from Αura to Aura". This etymology is dubious, however, as אברא כדברא in Aramaic is more reasonably translated "I create like the word." In the Hebrew language, אברא translates as "I will create" and כדברא "as spoken". The second lexeme in this supposedly Aramaic phrase might be a noun given the presence of the definite article on the end of the word (it cannot be an infinitive construct, as the infinitive cannot take the definite article). Regardless, this phrase would actually be pronounced ebra kidbara, which is clearly different from abracadabra.
"[A]bracadabra may comprise the abbreviated forms of the Hebrew words Ab (Father), Ben (Son) and Ruach A Cadsch (Holy Spirit), though an alternative derivation relates the word to Abraxas, a god with snakes for feet who was worshipped in Alexandria in pre-Christian times." David Pickering's description of the word as an abbreviation from Hebrew is also a false etymology—as he apparently here means Aramaic (בר is Aramaic for "son", it is בן in Hebrew, although בר is an honorific form), nor does he account for the final five letters (i.e., -dabra) in the lexeme.
The first known mention of the word was in the third century AD in a book called Liber Medicinalis (sometimes known as De Medicina Praecepta Saluberrima) by Quintus Serenus Sammonicus, physician to the Roman emperor Caracalla, who in chapter 51 prescribed that malaria sufferers wear an amulet containing the word written in the form of a triangle:
A - B - R - A - C - A - D - A - B - R - A
A - B - R - A - C - A - D - A - B - R
A - B - R - A - C - A - D - A - B
A - B - R - A - C - A - D - A
A - B - R - A - C - A - D
A - B - R - A - C - A
A - B - R - A - C
A - B - R - A
A - B - R
A - B
The power of the amulet, he explained, makes lethal diseases go away. Other Roman emperors, including Geta and Alexander Severus, were followers of the medical teachings of Serenus Sammonicus and may have used the incantation as well.
It was used as a magical formula by the Gnostics of the sect of Basilides in invoking the aid of beneficent spirits against disease and misfortune. It is found on Abraxas stones, which were worn as amulets. Subsequently, its use spread beyond the Gnostics.
The Puritan minister Increase Mather dismissed the word as bereft of power. Daniel Defoe also wrote dismissively about Londoners who posted the word on their doorways to ward off sickness during the Great Plague of London. But Aleister Crowley regarded it as possessing great power; he said its true form is abrahadabra.
The word is now commonly used as an incantation by stage magicians. It is also applied contemptuously to a conception or hypothesis purporting to be a simple solution of apparently insoluble phenomena.
In popular culture
- Abra Kadabra is the name of a DC Comics villain, who originally uses futuristic technology to create effects that appear magic to present-day people, and later gains actual magic powers.
- Mr. Kadabra is a member of the 13th floor witches, in Vertigo's Fables comic series and loves the artist formerly known as Prince.
- In Sergio Aragonés' Groo comic series, two witches who are sometimes allies or enemies of Groo are named Arba and Dakarba.
- In The Wizard of Id comics, the Wizard creates a Frankenstein-like monster known as Abra Cadaver.
In the Nintendo/Game Freak video game franchise Pokémon, there are three creatures in the same evolutionary chain named Abra, Kadabra, and Alakazam (the third of which is also an alleged magic word used by stage magicians).
- Lili Ivanova, a Bulgarian singer, has a song written for her with this title (Bulgarian: Абракадабра).
- 1982 Song and album of the same name by the Steve Miller Band.
- 2008 Song recorded by FLAP!.
- 2009 Song of Korean quartet Group, Brown Eyed Girls.
- 2011 Song performed by Abra
- 2013 Song by German Power Metal band Heavatar
- 2014 Abracadabra a Jamaican and German Soundsystem
- 2014 Song by Kana Nishino
- Aabra Ka Daabra was a 2004 Hindi Bollywood movie where the character Rahul is a magician and performs Houdini-like tricks.
- The Brazilian actress, singer and presenter Xuxa Meneghel is protagonist in a film from the Globo Filmes called Xuxa Abracadabra, in which, the wizard Merlino (Sérgio Mamberti), uses this incantation to perform several different maneuvers.
- In the Merrie Melodies episode Transylvania 6-5000, Bugs Bunny reads a book entitled 'Magic Words and Phrases' that describes the use of powerful magical words such as 'abracadabra' and 'hocus pocus'
- The Powerpuff Girls episode "Abracadaver", an amalgamation of the words 'abracadabra' and 'cadaver', is a reference to the word 'abracadabra', as the villain Al Lusion was an undead magician.
- In the British TV series "Rosemary & Thyme," season 3, episode 3 is entitled "Agua Cadaver." The episode features a dead body discovered in an aqueduct in Spain, and is thus a double pun on "Abracadabra."
In the Harry Potter novel series, the incantation Avada Kedavra is known as the Killing Curse. During an audience interview at the Edinburgh Book Festival on 15 April 2004, series author J. K. Rowling had this to say about the fictional Killing Curse's etymology: "Does anyone know where avada kedavra came from? It is an ancient spell in Aramaic, and it is the original of abracadabra, which means 'let the thing be destroyed.' Originally, it was used to cure illness and the 'thing' was the illness, but I decided to make it the 'thing' as in the person standing in front of me. I take a lot of liberties with things like that. I twist them round and make them mine."
In Legend of the Heart Eaters, the first book of the Jonah and the Last Great Dragon series by M. E. Holley, Jonah makes a copy of the triangular Abracadabra charm, to wear while he tries to free a child from an attacking demon. A translation of the charm is on the wall of St Michael's Church, Cascob, in Radnorshire.
- Kushner, Lawrence (1998). The Book of Words: Talking Spiritual Life, Living Spiritual Talk. Jewish Lights Publishing. p. 11. ISBN 1580230202.
- Dictionary of Superstitions, David Pickering, Cassell Wellington House, 1995, 1
- Vollmer, Friedrich. Quinti Sereni Liber Medicinalis. Leipzig: Teubner, 1916, chap. LII, v. 4.
- "The Tenacious Buzz of Malaria". The Wall Street Journal. July 10, 2010.
- Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Abracadabra". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.
- Daniel Defoe. A Journal of the Plague Year. London, Dent, 1911 (1722)
- Guiley, Rosemary (2006). "Abracadabra". The Encyclopedia of Magic and Alchemy. Visionary Living Inc. ISBN 0-8160-6048-7.
- J. K. Rowling (2004-08-15). "J K Rowling at the Edinburgh Book Festival". J. K. Rowling Official Site. Archived from the original on 30 April 2011. Retrieved 2011-03-20.
- Jonah and the Last Great Dragon by M. E. Holley, published by Our Street Books.
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