Posted by Remo Giuffré on


Cure for malaria or just a nonsense word?

Abracadabra is these days an incantation used as a magic word in stage tricks. But, historically, the word was believed to have healing powers when inscribed on an amulet, but in a very specific way.

The first known mention of the word was in the Second Century AD in a book called Liber Medicinalis by the Roman physician Serenus Sammonicus who believed in the power of Abracadabra to make fatal illnesses go away. To cure malaria Sammonicus prescribed the word to be written in a triangle on an amulet to be worn by the sick. The word is repeated on each line, but with the final letter omitted. The process is repeated until there are no letters left.

Several Roman Emperors (Caracalla, Geta and Severus Alexander) followed Sammanicus’ teachings and  are thought to have also used the incantation.

These “ideas” were disparaged in later years. In the 17th Century Daniel Defoe wrote dismissively of the practise of posting the word on the doorway to ward off sickness during the Black Plague of London.

Eventually, people let go of the abracadabra superstition and by the 19th Century the practice of hanging an abracadabra charm around your neck to cure disease had died down. It is at this point that the word started to take on the meaning of “fake magic” which is what we think of today.

The origin of the word is also in dispute. One theory is that it’s a combination of Aramaic and Hebrew words. “Abra” is the Aramaic equivalent of the Hebrew “avra”, meaning, “I will create”. And “cadabra” is the Aramaic equivalent of the Hebrew “kedoobar”,  meaning “as was spoken”. Together the phrase means, “I will create as has been spoken”

Finally, and as if this word isn’t already interesting enough, the word is one of a limited set of words that can be typed in its entirety using the left-handed side of a QWERTY keyboard.



The idea for this story was contributed by Shveitta Sethi Sharma


Wikipedia Reference: Abracadabra | (Text) CC BY-SA


1. ABRACADABRA. Source: Encyclopedia Brittanica.
2. Magic!
3 & 4. Quintus Serenus, Liber Medicinalis. 13th Century Text.
5. Image Source: patrika.com
6. Victorian Era Pendant. Abracadabra Talisman in the Centre.
9. Silver Cross Talisman. Contains magical signs and incantations close to "Abracadabra" 6th-7th century.
10. Tattoo. Credit: Crywolfbaby.


Thank You for the Suggestion: Shveitta Sethi Sharma

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  • And you didn’t even mention the Steve Miller Band’s 1982 song/album :)

    Amy Denmeade on

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