Bibbity Bobbitty Boo…Hocus Pocus…Abracadabra …”Use the magic word” all of these words and phrases are introduced to us at such an early age that many don’t even think to question where they come from. If you have ever wondered when magic words come from, how they are formed or inspired, then we have some answers for you.
This word has perhaps the most convoluted origins of all the magic words. Scholars have found it impossible to come to an agreement on its true beginnings. Some of the more commonly accepted origins are that it’s simply a fake Latin incantations. Others believe is a parody on the Roman Catholic rites of communion, specifically the incantation occurring at the moment of the transubstantiation of the Eucharist, hoc est enum corpus meum (so the magician, as a priest, brings out the rabbit, as Jesus’s body, from the hat, as a wafer). While the word has come to mean trickery with an extreme connotation of bogus, hocus pocus is one of the oldest terms used specifically by conjurers and illusionists of all sorts as a magical incantation.
While its first recorded appearance in the 2nd century, when Quintus Serenus Simonicus recorded it in his colloquial medicinal poem as a cure for warding off illness, which was thought to be caused by malignant spirits living in the body. The actual origination of this word is just as mysterious and mystic as the word has come to be. The actual birth of the word seems to have much earlier beginnings in a Semitic language. It is extraordinarily similar to the Aramaic avra kehdabra (“I will create as I speak”), and the Chaldean abbada ke dabra (“perish like the word”).
One of the most commonly used of all magic words today “open sesame” is actually an adaptation on the phrase “open Simsim” from the tale of Ali-Baba and the Forty Thieves. Ali-Baba whose brother has stolen his fortune follows the bandits to their cave hideout, learns the password, and starts thieving from the thieves. His greedy brother finds out about the treasure cave and tries to get in on some of the wealth. He gets so excited when he’s in with all the treasure that he forgets the words to open the cave, and is brutally murdered and quartered by the thieves. Ali-Baba, afraid for his reputation, realizes that he can’t let his brother be seen this way, so he hires a (blindfolded) tailor to sew him back up again for the burial. Nobody asks any questions, and they live happily ever after.