Magic word  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

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).

Contents

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: 15:35, see Help:Magic words.

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

Manners

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

"Gimme ketchup now!"
"What's the magic word?"
"Sorry. May I have some ketchup, please?"</br>

The 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.Template:Citation needed

Likewise, other magic words exist as part of a social contract, designed to express affection for another. Such words are magic not because of their effect on people (If they were, this would be simple manipulation, not etiquette) but because they make others feel better in context of the situation. For example:

  • Please should not be used for just any request, but a request that might be considered unreasonable without it. This is because it is used to reflect the knowledge that the asker understands the trouble involved in the request.
  • Thanks is used to show that the other person's actions are valued.
  • Sorry is perhaps more important than the first two, as it is used to express regret over one's actions. Without such regret, relationships often dissolve over time. Also, contingent on this idea is the promise of not repeating the action (a promise which may be difficult or impossible to carry out, which is why some people are reluctant to apologize).
  • In addition, an unofficial magic word may be added, since it follows a similar idea. The word Stay (not as it is used to dogs, but as the opposite of "Leave!") could be considered magic since it expresses the idea that the person is loved or wanted, and that they belong.

See Etiquette

See also





Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Magic word" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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