Magic vocabulary

It’s the first Wednesday of the month again, time for a post for the Insecure Writer’s Support Group.


I’m not going to answer this month’s optional question. Instead, I’m going to write about my preferred genre. I’m a speculative fiction writer, so all my stories are either science fiction or fantasy. In most fantasy stories – mine or written by other writers – magic is always close to the surface. Something is always happening because of magic.  

Admittedly, magic isn’t necessary confined to fantasy fiction. It exists in our everyday lives as well, and in our mundane vocabulary, magic is always a good word. Consider these well-known idioms: magic moment, magic touch, magic show, work your magic, and the most popular – magic word.

But in a fantasy land, magic has a different connotation. In fantasy stories, magic is a force only magicians can wield. Have you ever wondered what those idioms might mean to a magician from a fantasy novel? I have and I asked a magician, Eriale, the heroine of my novel Almost Adept (now out of print). Below are her definitions of the idioms that include the word magic.  

Magic word – that is a metaphor. There are no magical words except ‘please’ and ‘thank you’, and there is no real magic involved, just politeness.

Magic touch – this is usually reserved for small magic. When I need to heat the water for my bath, I touch the water and infuse it with energy through the touch. The water warms up. When I need to coat a wood splinter with an illusion, to make it look like something else, I touch it, apply my magic through the touch, and voila, it looks like a feather or a knife or a spoon. But such a spoon couldn’t be used for eating, of course, or the knife for cutting. Only the appearance changes.

Magic show – a show created by using magic. For example, fireworks displays in the sky during Midwinter celebrations or visual storytelling on birthdays. My father is excellent with visual storytelling. He uses distinct illusion spells for every character involved in a story. Children love his shows. When I was a child, my favorite illusionary character was a cricket spy, a very tricky little lad. I haven’t mastered this kind of magic yet. I can do fireworks displays, of course, but visual storytelling is a very delicate and precise application of magic. It requires lots of patience and practice.   

Work your magic – means exactly that. When a client needs something done with magic, he would hire a magician and say: “Work your magic.” It could be applied to sending messages, or checking food for poison, or screening patrons in a gaming house, or changing the weather.  

Magic price – is what a magician pays for working magic. Magic is energy generated by a magician’s body. Anything that can be done without magic can be done with magic, and the magician applying it pays the price. For example, if you want to carry a cargo to the other side of the country, you can do it using a horse and a wagon. And lots of time. Or you can employ a mage to transport your cargo. The horse would spend energy pulling the wagon. It would need to eat and sleep to replenish its strength. So would a drover. A mage is no different. He compacts the time and space needed for transportation, and he uses the same amount of energy for the same job, but he pulls this energy out of himself. Of course, mages are always hungry and tired after working magic. If they are not careful and overextend their magic, they could faint or even die. Sometimes, when there is no choice and many lives are at stake, a magician might work too much magic and burn his own magic; cripple himself to save others. It doesn’t happen often, but I read about a few such cases. Those magicians were heroes. They sacrificed themselves for the good of all.


Below is a snippet of a dialog on the subject Eriale has with another character from the novel, Kealan.

“What if a mage wants to use more magic than his body generates?” Kealan asked.

“He can’t.” Eriale’s expression clouded. “Unless he resorts to blood magic. Then he can, if he extracts the energy from the pain and death of others. It’s easy magic, but…it’s dirty. Blood magic corrupts a mage’s soul.” She shivered. “It makes me want to puke, like poison.” She hugged her knees and stared into the distance.     

“Sorry I asked.” Kealan didn’t like her looking so forlorn. He thought of a distraction. “What if something can’t be done without magic? Like turning a man into an animal? Is it possible with magic?”

“Why?” Eriale snickered. “Do you want to turn someone into a frog?”

“No. I heard a rumor that some crazy mage at the royal court turned a duke into a goat. I thought it was a hoax. They were just pulling my leg, right?”

“Ah.” She kept silent for so long, he wasn’t sure she would answer at all. At last, she stirred. “You can transform one living being into another, but it’s a very complicated spell and a brutal one,” she said quietly. “It takes lots of power and lots of knowledge. You have to learn every detail of the anatomy of your original creature and the target creature. Otherwise, you’ll create a monster. And the overall masses of both creatures should be the same. You can’t turn a man into a tiny frog. Where would the extra mass go? Unless you want a frog the size of a man.”

Kealan grunted. His imagination leaped into overdrive, visualizing a possible result of such a transformation. “A frog the size of a man. Should be charming.”

She giggled. “There’s another solution. I could use a transportation spell. You know, find a frog in a nearby pond, transport the man there and the frog here. It’s a kind of a switcheroo. Done properly, it only takes a moment. For a bystander, it would look like a transformation, but it’s a trick, really.”


What about other genres? Do you know other genre-specific words that have different meaning in the genre books than on our mundane lives?



This entry was posted in Almost Adept, Fantasy, Insecure Writer's Support Group, Magic, Olga Godim, Writing and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

20 Responses to Magic vocabulary

  1. What we call magic is not magic at all.
    Miracles…now those are completely different.

  2. One thing I love about fantasies is the magic and dreaming of the what if if that kind of magic really existed in our world.

  3. Magic is a lure which will always get me in. And how I wish the magic words were used more regularly.

  4. If you asked my heroine, Susan, she would tell you that for her magic is very much in the words as well: “In the mundane word we of course have those ‘magic words’ – we normally include ‘sorry’ – but on The Unicorn Farm, words are vessels of magic.”
    The concept of Magic show is new to me in both aspects. Thank you for teaching me something new.

  5. spunkonastick says:

    Those magic words need to be used more often.

  6. Sonia Dogra says:

    I really enjoyed reading this post Olga. Thank you for putting it together. What a lovely way to talk about your chosen genre.

  7. patgarcia says:

    Very nice post. I believe there are special words for every genre. You are a good writer that knows how to weave the special words for your genre so that they fascinate your readers. At least your writing is fascinating to me.
    Shalom aleichem,
    Pat G @ EverythingMustChange

  8. melissamaygrove says:

    Loved the interview and the excerpt. Great job!

  9. emaginette says:

    I’ve repeated made-up words to make a point in my writing. Snarcasm comes to mind. I guess, I try to use the right word in all my works. So many of them have an underlying meaning that can oof if used with that in mind.

    Anna from elements of emaginette

  10. I like your look at ‘magic’ words.

  11. Lee Lowery says:

    Thanks for this interesting view of magic. Magic has always intrigued me. In my mind it always come with sacrifice and often, unintended consequences. I am reminded of the Sorcerer’s Apprentice in Fantasia.

  12. Jemi Fraser says:

    I love magic and the rules of magic in the various stories around the world. I love the magical story telling you describe – that would bring such joy!!

  13. Kim Elliott says:

    When I’m in a groove with my writing, it feels like making magic happen. Love that feeling!

  14. Denise+Covey says:

    I loved reading your take on magic. And yes, those phrases are so powerful in any world. Like we teach at school, everything has its own ‘technical language’. Which is why the discourse in a war epic is so different to the discourse in a romance novel, for example. Makes life interesting.

  15. Kalpana says:

    That was a delightful education on magic, especially the snippet of dialogue. Happy IWSG day.

  16. yvettecarol says:

    What an interesting take on things. I would never have thought about how commonly-used magical phrases might be seen from the point of view of the characters. Very cool.

  17. That was interesting. I’m thinking…

  18. Jenni says:

    This was really interesting! I liked how you played with these idioms to have them mean real things in your story. I know the hardest part of writing fantasy for me is getting the magical system to be logical. Yours definitely was really fleshed out, which I could see in the dialogue.
    I’d have to think on it, but I think there might be a similar correlation with mystery words. Like, red herring, which came from mysteries, is now used in a general sense.

  19. What an interesting idea for a post! I can’t think of anything off the top of my head about horror, but in short stories there are things like the difference between a query (novel – pitching your book) and a query (short story – sending a querying email to the publisher when it’s been a long time to inquire as to whether your story is still being considered).

  20. Loni Townsend says:

    Magic is one of those interesting words for me. I resisted using it in my own writing with my elementals, until I added another race who calls their own supernatural works magic. But then, my world is such a mix of so many different things, I think to anyone but the occupants of my head, it’s probably a jumbled mess. 😀

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