Magic word

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Magic words or words of power are words which have a specific, and sometimes unintended, effect. They are often nonsense phrases used in fantasy fiction or by stage prestidigitators. Frequently such words are presented as being part of a divine, adamic, or other secret or empowered language. Certain comic book heroes use magic words to activate their super powers. Magic words are also used as Easter eggs or cheats in computer games, other software, and operating systems. (For example, the words xyzzy, plugh, and plover were magic words in the classic computer adventure game Colossal Cave Adventure).

Invocations of magic[edit]

Examples of traditional magic words include:

Craig Conley, a scholar of magic, writes that the magic words used by conjurers may originate from "pseudo-Latin phrases, nonsense syllables, or esoteric terms from religious antiquity," but that what they have in common is "language as an instrument of creation."[4]

Magic words in technology[edit]

Software like MediaWiki uses "magic words" to make system information available to templates and editors, such as {{CURRENTTIME}}, which displays the server time: 03:50, see Help:Magic words.

Hexadecimal "words" used in byte code to identify a specific file or data format are known as magic numbers.

"The Magic Words are Squeamish Ossifrage" was the solution to a challenge ciphertext posed by the inventors of the RSA cipher in 1977.


The term "magic word" may also refer to the word please when used by adults to teach children manners:

"Gimme ketchup right now!"

"What's the magic word?"

"Sorry. May I have some ketchup, please?"

The single word changes an imperative order into a conditional request, concisely communicating "Do as I say, if it pleases you."

The "magic" is a result of simple psychology, because when a person feels respected they are much more likely to choose a harmonious response.[citation needed]

Likewise, other magic words exist as part of a social contract, designed to express affection for another. Such words are magic not because of their effect on people (If they were, this would be simple manipulation, not etiquette) but because they make others feel better in context of the situation. For example:

  • Please should not be used for just any request, but a request that might be considered unreasonable without it. This is because it is used to reflect the knowledge that the asker understands the trouble involved in the request.
  • Thanks is used to show that the other person's actions are valued.
  • Sorry is perhaps more important than the first two, as it is used to express regret over one's actions. Without such regret, relationships often dissolve over time. Also, contingent on this idea is the promise of not repeating the action (a promise which may be difficult or impossible to carry out, which is why some people are reluctant to apologize).
  • In addition, an unofficial magic word may be added, since it follows a similar idea. The word Stay (not as it is used to dogs, but as the opposite of "Leave!") could be considered magic since it expresses the idea that the person is loved or wanted, and that they belong.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Magic Words: A Dictionary". The Magician's Hidden Library. Retrieved 9 July 2012. 
  2. ^ Peter Monticup. "Magic Glossary". 
  3. ^ LaVey, Anton (1969). The Satanic Bible. New York, NY: Avon Publishing. pp. 130, 134. ISBN 0-380-01539-0. 
  4. ^ Conley, Craig (2006). Magic Words: A Dictionary (revised second edition). In-Spired. 

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