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Abracadabra! Is that Hebrew?

Kajano - Shutterstock

Daniel Esparza - published on 09/07/16

Some words you use on a daily basis happen to be rooted in the good old biblical language. Even “magic” words.

We all know English is, in itself, a blend of other languages: Latin, Greek, French, Anglo-Frisian dialects and other Germanic tongues. But also, in that stream that flows all the way down from the dawn of time into our contemporary use of language, other words from different origins are to be found. That’s how some Hebrew words, which we often use — if not on a daily basis — shaped some of today’s English. For instance, “camel” is a straight derivation of the Hebrew gamal, our “bath” is an ancient Hebrew measure equivalent to ten gallons (enough water to fill a bath tub, right?) and our “copacetic” is but an Anglicization of the Hebrew kol b’seder, which basically means “everything is OK,” as explained in the Jerusalem U blog.

But what about that magic “Abracadabra”? Here’s a mind-blowing etymological explanation for one of our most popular hocus-pocus magic words. “Abracadabra” is the final result of the combination of two Aramaic phrases (Aramaic being itself a Hebrew-based language spoken by the Jews 2000 years ago, in which the Talmud is written) A’bra and K’dabra: A’bra means “I shall create from nothing” (as in our Latin creatio ex nihilo), and K’dabra, “as I speak.” It is an explicit reference to the creative act of the Word of God, as narrated in the book of Genesis … or at least that’s one popular etymology.

So, next time you see a magician, may it be in Vegas or elsewhere, keep your Aramaic/Hebrew at hand: if you can’t find out how the trick is done, at least you can tell them you know what “Abracadabra” means!

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