Posted by ESC on March 12, 2003
I got some new information on a word (from a newly purchased book) and wanted to share.
ABRACADABRA - "One of the few words entirely without meaning, this confusing term is still used in a joking way by those making 'magic.' It was first mentioned in a poem by Quintus Severus Sammonicus in the second century. A cabalistic word intended to suggest infinity, 'abracadabra' was believed to be a charm with the power to cure toothaches, fevers, and other ills, especially if written on parchment in a triangular arrangement and suspended from the neck by a linen thread. Abracadabra is of unknown origin, though tradition says it is composed of the initials of the Hebrew words 'Ab' (Father), 'Ben' (Son), and Ruach Acadsch (Holy Spirit). When toothache strikes, inscribe the parchment amulet in the following triangular form." From "Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins" by Robert Hendrickson (Facts on File, New York, 1997). The triangular form starts with ABRACADABRA on the first line, then the next line is less one letter (ABRACADABR) and so on until just an A remains.
A second source says the word does have a meaning: "The word derives from the Hebrew 'abreg ad habra' meaning 'strike dead with thy lightning.' In Hebrew it comprises nine letters. 'Placing aleph on the left side of the triangle - and its ninefold repetition - is the magical element' (MARA, Page 48)." MARA is "Marques-Riviére, Jean, "Amulettes, talismans et pentacles dans les traditions orientales et occidentales," with a preface by Paul Masson-Oursel, Paris, 1938.
"By arranging the letters in a reverse triangle, the celestial energies which the charm claims to entrap are directed downwards. Accordingly, the figure should be seen three-dimensionally as a funnel. The magic letters slanting down from the wide mouth to the narrow spout comprise the lines of force of a mighty whirlwind. Woe betide the powers of evil which it strikes since they will vanish forever from the world above into the abyss from which there is no return." From "The Penguin Dictionary of Symbols" by Jean Chevalier and Alain Gheerbrant, translated by John Buchanan-Brown (Penguin Books, 1996.)