Magic Words: A Dictionary - Craig Conley
“This book seeks to read deep into the glimmering treasure-chest of magic words and reinstate the dignity to a dusty, subsidiary treasury—the little jewel box full of terms that have lost their sparkle over the years.” – From Magic Words

A memorable performance at Hollywood’s Magic Castle inspired “language fanatic” Craig Conley to create Magic Words: A Dictionary (Weiser Books). One would suppose that it was a grand illusion that incited his epiphany, or even a remarkable display of prestidigitation.

However, no wand waving impelled Conley to write this 352-page compendium. Surprisingly, it was the twice-whispered word from an audience member after a trick’s dramatic reveal: Voila!

Voila, she said, “like an efficient script girl prompting a delinquent stage actor’s lines from behind the curtain”—almost trying to will the magician to finish his feat by uttering some type of magic word. (Alas, the performer ignored her desperate cue.)

It was then that Conley, an eccentric researcher, realized “precisely what was missing from an otherwise flawless display”: it was the “sheer vibrancy and urgency of magic words” that was revealed in that audience member’s “genuine desperation, rooted in legitimate expectation.”

The first 48-pages of Magic Words are utterly fascinating, with Conley an engaging tour guide through literary, philosophical, cultural and spiritual landscapes—realms dotted with landmarks that pay homage to the power of magical utterances (and, sometimes, even to silence and mysterious glyphs).

Not only does Conley offer examples of poetic incantations and the mysterious power of words in his introduction, but he also provides fascinating insight into the vocabulary of ritual (and why we get the giggles during solemn occasions!), the four archetypes of the Magician, and our ability to imbue “ordinary” moments with the magic of both cadence and connation.

The rest of Magic Words is dedicated to, well, magic words!

With word origins, facts, variations, meanings, mystique and appearances in literature, this A to Z guide offers a mind-boggling array of information to be mined by would-be magicians, entertainers, writers and artists.

Here are but a few of my favorites from Magic Words:

Cullen, Rayburn, Narz, TrebekFacts: This is a spell that conjures zombies as chanted by Bart Simpson in the episode “Dial Z for Zombies”. (If you grew up in the 70’s or love the Game Show Network, you’ll recognize those names as hosts of old-school games shows!)

Fiddleson Faddleson Spirits That Fly, Let Me Give It Another TryFacts: These are magic words for trying something a second time in the Bewitched TV series.

Great Googly- Moogly Origins: The phrase Great Googly-Moogly is delivered in the song “Stranded in the Jungle” (1956) by the Jacks (While Conley does mention variations and magician usage of this word, he fails to mention that this is a favorite phrase of the gentle, giant spotted creature in the children’s TV series Maggie and the Ferocious Beast).

Petrificus Totalus Origins: Petrificus is from the Latin word meaning “stone” (petra). Totalus is from the Latin word meaning “entire” (tota). In Literature: Petrificus Totalus is a petrifying spell in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by J.K. Rowling (1997). It causes a person to freeze like a statue.

Potter references notwithstanding, there are (to me) some glaring omissions from children’s books and movies. One example: there is no mention of “Treguna, Mekoides, Trecorum Satis Dee” from the beloved Disney movie Bedknobs and Broomsticks (a film about magicians!).

However, Magic Words is, indeed, a meticulously researched, heavily footnoted, and absorbing read, especially for lovers of trivia and words. Performers seeking to spruce up their magic routine would do well to consult this book, as would all manner of artists who seek to infuse their work with meaning, mystery, flair or sacredness.

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