This Is Why We Say “Abracadabra” During Magic Tricks

Share a fun fact at the next magic show you attend? Check.

'Abracadabra'-Doesn't-Mean-What-You-Think-It-DoesTatiana Ayazo /Rd.com

You’ve heard the incantation “Abracadabra” in every magic act you’ve ever attended, but have you ever stopped to think about why? Does it even have a definition? Turns out, it has a mystical and mysterious origin worthy of every magician’s favorite word.

Dating back to medieval times (back when Groundhog Day was invented, believe it or not), magic was a casual part of everyday life. Whether it was an excuse for strange phenomenon or used to cure diseases and fight off evil, its existence was never questioned.

This word was so well-known that many medieval people who were ill would rely on wearing an upside-down triangular amulet with the word “abracadabra” engraved on it. Each line going down the triangle would lose the final letter of the word, eventually ending up with just an “a” at the bottom. Legend has it, the sick person became a little bit healthier each time it was read aloud. (We haven’t tested out those amulets yet, but we do know what works and what doesn’t for natural flu remedies!) So where did the word originate from? As it turns out, there are several theories of its origin.

Abracadabra'-Doesn't-Mean-What-You-Think-It-DoesTatiana Ayazo /Rd.com

One reasoning is that Roman sages came up with the word and thus created the repetitive word formula. Another explanation may be in relation to the magic word “abraxas,” which is sometimes found on charms and amulets constructed by the late Greco-Roman societies. Or maybe its origin is derived from the Aramaic word “avra kadavra,” meaning “it will be created in my words.” The last possible origin is that the word itself stems from three separate Hebrew words: “ab,” meaning father, “ben,” meaning son, and “ruach hakodesh,” meaning the holy spirit. Ultimately, some speculations insist that this was a sort of prayer asking for improvement of health, which only a miracle (or, ahem, magic) could alleviate; hence, the amulets.

Whether or not you believe magic exists, here are some tricks that will surely fool your friends. For more word origins, learn why we call them “white lies.”

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Brittany Gibson
Brittany Gibson is a regular contributor to RD.com’s culture, food, health, and travel sections. She was previously an editorial intern for RD.com and Westchester Magazine. Her articles have appeared on Buzzfeed, Business Insider, AOL, Yahoo, and MSN, among other sites. She earned a BA in English from the University of Connecticut