Magic word

Magic word

Magic words are words which have a specific, and sometimes unintended, effect. They are often nonsense phrases used in fantasy fiction or by stage prestidigitators. 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

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."

Note that the television game show You Bet Your Life, hosted by Groucho Marx in the 1950s, used the term secret word, not magic word. ("Say the secret word and win a prize!")

Magic words in technology

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

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


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

"Gimme ketchup!"
"What's the magic word?"
"Sorry. May I have some ketchup, please?"

The reason why the word please has seemingly magical powers is because it expresses respect for the person's freedom of choice. This 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.

In the Addams Family films, the "magic word" is Now!

In My Family, Janey tells Ben that she will help him move a mattress downstairs if he says the magic word. Ben says 'please', and Janey replies that that's not it and that the magic word is actually 'money'.


See also

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