• abracadabra •
Pronunciation: æ-brê-kê-dæ-brê • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Interjection, Noun
Meaning: 1. (Interjection) An incantation that is supposed to work magic. 2. (Noun) Gibberish, nonsense, mumbo-jumbo, hocus-pocus.
Notes: There isn't much to say about this word; it is a perfect lexical orphan without any family at all. The noun usage does allow a plural, abracadabras, but that is all we can say about it.
In Play: This word is the word used in the performance of some magicians to leave the impression that what they do is real magic: "I can't just say 'abracadabra' and the money for a bicycle, poof, just appears!" However, since magicians are known to perform legerdemain, this word has come to be a noun in the second sense above: "This company runs on abracadabra accounting, and it is just a matter of time before someone catches on."
Word History: The first known mention of the word was in the second century AD in a book called Liber Medicinalis by Quintus Serenus Sammonicus, physician to the Roman emperor Caracalla. Sammonicus prescribed that malaria sufferers wear an amulet containing the word written in the form of a triangle (see the graphic to the left). It was used as a magical formula by the Basilides Gnostics to invoke the aid of beneficent spirits against disease and misfortune. It is found on Abraxas stones worn by the Gnostics as amulets. It probably started out as a rhyming compound of the word Abraxas [abrak-sas]: abrak-adabra. (I wish we could say 'abracadabra' and words like today's Good Word would magically appear, but we needed Agoran Eric Berntsen to suggest this one.)