AskDefine | Define abracadabra

Dictionary Definition

abracadabra n : gibberish and nonsense

User Contributed Dictionary

English

Etymology

Magical word used in certain Gnostic writings, relation to Greek Abraxas, a Gnostic deity.

Pronunciation

Noun

abracadabra (uncountable)
  1. Originally, a mystical word or collocation of letters written as in the figure. Worn on an amulet it was supposed to ward off fever.
  2. A supposedly 'magic' word associated with stage magic and conjuring.
    The magician waved his wand and said abracadabra before he pulled a rabbit out of the hat.
  3. A noun meaning "complicated technicalities" and similar (from Def #2)
    I don't know all the theoretical abracadabra about how it works, I'm only its pilot.
  4. A word used chiefly in jest to denote something without meaning; jargon.

Translations to be checked

ttbc Vietnamese: câu thần chú, lời nói khó hiểu

Extensive Definition

Abracadabra (sometimes spelled Abrakadabra) is a word used as an incantation.

History

The word is now commonly used as an incantation by stage magicians. In ancient times, however, it was taken much more seriously as an incantation to be used as a cure for fevers and inflammations. The first known mention was in the 2nd century AD in a poem called De Medicina Praecepta by Serenus Sammonicus, physician to the Roman emperor Caracalla, who prescribed that the sufferer from the disease wear an amulet containing the word written in the form of an inverted cone:
A - B - R - A - C - A - D - A - B - R - A A - B - R - A - C - A - D - A - B - R A - B - R - A - C - A - D - A - B A - B - R - A - C - A - D - A A - B - R - A - C - A - D A - B - R - A - C - A A - B - R - A - C A - B - R - A A - B - R A - B A
This, he explained, diminishes the hold of the spirit of the disease over the patient. Other Roman emperors, including Geta and Alexander Severus, were followers of the medical teachings of Serenus Sammonicus and are likely to have used the incantation as well.

Etymology

Theories about the source of the word are:

"I create as I speak"

A possible source is Aramaic: אברא כדברא avra kedabra which means "Creating as speaking" which is thought to be in reference to God creating the universe (in some belief systems, ex nihilo, most notably the Abrahamic religions), by speaking (see also Fiat Lux). An alternative spelling is avda K'Davarah. One may also view it as "I transgress as I speak" in the Aramaic עבריה כדבריה which is phonetically closer.
However, it seems likely that abracadabra is older and that it derives from one of the Semitic languages, though nobody can say for sure, because there is no written record before Serenus Sammonicus. Some suggested theories regarding its source:
  • It’s from the Aramaic phrase avra kehdabra, meaning “I will create as I speak”.
  • The source is three Hebrew words, ab (father), ben (son), and ruach hakodesh (holy spirit).
  • It’s from the Chaldean abbada ke dabra, meaning “perish like the word”.
  • It originated with a Gnostic sect in Alexandria called the Basilidians and was probably based on Abrasax, the name of their supreme deity (Abraxas in Latin sources).

The curse and the pestilence

There is the view that Abracadabra derives from the Hebrew, ha-brachah, meaning "the blessing" (used in this sense as a euphemism for "the curse") and dabra, an Aramaic form of the Hebrew word dever, meaning "pestilence." They point to a similar kabbalistic cure for blindness, in which the name of Shabriri, the demon of blindness, is similarly diminished. Other scholars are skeptical of this origin and claim that the idea of diminishing the power of demons was common throughout the ancient world, and that Abracadabra was simply the name of one such demon.

Other phrases that have been suggested as possible origins

Abracadabra may have been from: • a corruption of the Hebrew avar k'davar which means roughly "it will be according to what is spoken;"
• abrakha adabra - Hebrew for "I shall bless, I shall speak."
• abreq ad Habra - Arabic meaning "hurl your thunderbolt even unto death."

Disappear like this word

Some have argued that the term may come from the Aramaic אבדא כדברא abhadda kedhabhra, meaning 'disappear like this word'. Rather than being used as a curse, the Aramaic phrase is believed to have been used as a means of treating illness. J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter series, stated that the curse avada kedavra came from the word "abracadabra," which she stated originally meant "let the thing be destroyed."

Abraxas

It has also been claimed that the word comes from Abraxas, a Gnostic word for God (the source of 365 emanations, apparently the Greek letters for Abraxas add up to 365 when deciphered according to numerological methods). It has also been claimed to come from Abracalan (or Aracalan) who is said to have been a Syrian god.

Thelema

The occult movement of Thelema spells the word "Abrahadabra", and considers it the magical formula of the current Aeon. The movement's founder, Aleister Crowley, explains in his essay Gematria that he discovered the word (and his spelling) by kabbalistic methods. He appears to say that this happened before his January 1901 meeting with Oscar Eckenstein, one of his teachers. (At this meeting, Eckenstein ordered him to abandon magick for the moment and practice meditation or concentration.) The Word Abrahadabra appears repeatedly in the 1904 invocation of Horus that led to the founding of Thelema. (The Equinox I, no. 7. 1912) It also appears in a 1901 diary that Crowley published in The Equinox.
The essay Gematria gives Hindu, Christian, and "Unsectarian" versions of the problem that Crowley intended this magick word to answer. He also gives a kabbalistic equivalent for each phrasing, and a brief symbolic answer for each. The unsectarian version reads, "I am the finite square; I wish to be one with the infinite circle." Its equivalent refers to "the Cross of Extension" and "the infinite Rose." Crowley's numerological explanation of ABRAHADABRA focuses mainly on this last formulation and the answer to it.

Jamrach Holobom, quoted by Ambrose Bierce, The Devil’s Dictionary (1911)

By _Abracadabra_ we signify An infinite number of things. 'Tis the answer to What? and How? and Why? And Whence? and Whither? -- a word whereby The Truth (with the comfort it brings) Is open to all who grope in night, Crying for Wisdom’s holy light.
Whether the word is a verb or a noun Is knowledge beyond my reach. I only know that 'tis handed down. From sage to sage, From age to age -- An immortal part of speech!
Of an ancient man the tale is told That he lived to be ten centuries old, In a cave on a mountain side. (True, he finally died.) The fame of his wisdom filled the land, For his head was bald, and you'll understand His beard was long and white And his eyes uncommonly bright.
Philosophers gathered from far and near To sit at his feat and hear and hear, Though he never was heard To utter a word But "_Abracadabra, abracadab_, _Abracada, abracad_, _Abraca, abrac, abra, ab!_" 'Twas all he had, 'Twas all they wanted to hear, and each Made copious notes of the mystical speech, Which they published next -- A trickle of text In the meadow of commentary. Mighty big books were these, In a number, as leaves of trees; In learning, remarkably -- very!
He’s dead, As I said, And the books of the sages have perished, But his wisdom is sacredly cherished. In _Abracadabra_ it solemnly rings, Like an ancient bell that forever swings. O, I love to hear That word make clear Humanity’s General Sense of Things.

"Abra" and "Kadabra" in Pokémon

The two Pokémon Abra and its evolution Kadabra are obviously named after this phrase. They are of the Psychic type, which can do things that seem like magic. Kadabra further evolves into Alakazam, another Pokémon with an incantation for a name.
abracadabra in German: Abrakadabra
abracadabra in Spanish: Abracadabra
abracadabra in French: Abracadabra
abracadabra in Galician: Abracadabra
abracadabra in Korean: 아바다 케다브라
abracadabra in Italian: Abracadabra
abracadabra in Hebrew: אברקדברה
abracadabra in Georgian: აბრაკადაბრა
abracadabra in Lithuanian: Abrakadabra
abracadabra in Hungarian: Abrakadabra
abracadabra in Dutch: Abracadabra
abracadabra in Japanese: アブラカダブラ
abracadabra in Norwegian: Abrakadabra
abracadabra in Norwegian Nynorsk: Abrakadabra
abracadabra in Polish: Abrakadabra
abracadabra in Portuguese: Abracadabra
abracadabra in Romanian: Abracadabra
abracadabra in Russian: Абракадабра
abracadabra in Albanian: Abrakadabra
abracadabra in Finnish: Abrakadabra (taikasana)
abracadabra in Swedish: Abrakadabra
abracadabra in Turkish: Abrakadabra
abracadabra in Ukrainian: Абракадабра
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