->'''Jade''': I know your magic words! [Starts chanting] [Nothing happens]
->'''[[AncientConspiracy Magisters]]''': Hahahahahahaha!
->'''Jade''': Come on already!
->'''Magisters''': Yon twain knoweth nothing about our magicks.
->'''Jackie''': That's what I've been trying to tell you!
--> -- ''WesternAnimation/JackieChanAdventures'', "The Chan Who Knew Too Much"

Alice sees Bob successfully accomplish a spell or [[MagicAndPowers mystical feat]] and later attempts to accomplish the same spell or feat by merely copying or repeating their words and/or actions and fails for the [[ExactlyWhatItSaysOnTheTin titular reason]]. Usually occurs when it takes more than the MagicalIncantation and MagicalGesture. The magic may be in [[LanguageOfMagic another language]] that requires understanding before use. It may be because as a {{Muggle}}, Alice ''can't'' cast magic. Or ByThePowerOfGreyskull only works for Bob since only ''he'' has the power of Greyskull. [[MagicPrerequisite Maybe the sun wasn't at the right height.]] Whatever the case even if the character is AwesomeByAnalysis, the feat won't work by observation.

The results of when a character uses a spell where more than the MagicalIncantation matters will vary. There may simply be no effect or the [[MagicMisfire spell could backfire]]. If a villain tries to use a {{hero}}'s spell and fails due to lacking something necessary for success like ThePowerOfFriendship, expect a ReasonYouSuckSpeech. Aversion of this trope are rarely examples since then words '''''do''''' make the magic and it is a case of MagicalIncantation works for anyone.

In RolePlayingGames the inability of {{Muggles}} to cast spells by repeating the words is standard. To have it otherwise would mess up the game balance.

Compare/Contrast ByThePowerOfGreyskull, where the words do heavily matter but usually only certain characters can use the words successfully.

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!Examples:

[[foldercontrol]]

[[folder:Anime and Manga]]
* In ''FistOfTheNorthStar'', a mook tries the Hokuto Shinken on [[TheHero Kenshiro]], of all people, even daring to tell him [[CatchPhrase "You're already dead"]] and count down the seconds to Kenshiro's death. Of course, the mook was the one [[YourHeadASplode who was already dead]].
* In ''Manga/FairyTail'', [[PsychoElectro Laxus]] attempts to use Marakov's, [[spoiler: his grandfather]] spell, Fairy Law, which targets anyone the user considers an enemy, to eliminate the entire guild. When it fails, despite having enough power and invoking it to activate, one of his friends reminds Laxus that his heart can't lie to his magic and the guild members are still his TrueCompanions.
* ''Manga/{{Bleach}}''. Kido spells are spoken, but they only have effect if used by spiritual beings such as Soul Reapers.
[[/folder]]

[[folder:Comicbooks]]
* In TheDCU, Johnny Quick's sidekick Tubby Watts tried reciting Johnny's [[FormulaicMagic magical formula]] of [[EEqualsMCHAmmer ("3X2(9YZ)4A")]] [[note]]It is a nonsense formula, do not bother searching for it.[[/note]] in order to give himself SuperSpeed like Johnny's. It failed. A later {{Retcon}} established that the 'formula' was actually a personal mantra that would only work for Johnny (and eventually his daughter).
* In the "Irredeemable" StoryArc in ''ComicBook/FantasticFour'', DoctorDoom defeats the Four using [[TheMagicVersusTechnologyWar magic]] (and a DealWithTheDevil). He even [[LockingMacGyverInTheStoreCupboard locks Richards in his own spellbook library]], [[EvilGloating secure in the knowledge that Mr. Fantastic cannot manage even the apprentice-level spell that would unlock the door]]. And he's right. Comicbook/DoctorStrange has to show Reed that magic requires admitting something about the self and one's relationship to higher powers, not just saying the right words.
[[/folder]]

[[folder:Fan Fiction]]
* In HarryPotterAndTheMethodsOfRationality, Harry assumes this is the case:
--> You couldn't really need to say 'Wingardium Leviosa' in exactly the right way in order to levitate something, because, come on, 'Wingardium Leviosa'? The universe was going to check that you said 'Wingardium Leviosa' in exactly the right way and otherwise it wouldn't make the quill float?
** A simple experiment shows he's WrongGenreSavvy, and the words in fact ''do'' matter, right down to syllable length.

[[/folder]]

[[folder:Film]]
* ''Film/FrightNight''
--> '''Jerry Dandridge''': You have to have ''faith'' for that to work, Mr. Vincent!
* ''Film/BedknobsAndBroomsticks'', the [[ConArtist man]] who [[AchievementsInIgnorance invented the spells from what he thought was a nonsense book]] could not use them, but [[Disney/BeautyAndTheBeast Angela]] [[NannyMcPhee Lans]][[MurderSheWrote bury's]] character, Miss Eglantine Price, could because she actually believed in magic. It took a great deal of concentration before he could finally get one to work after being shown numerous times that magic existed.
** Later, Angela Landsbury gets a hold of the magic words on the [=MacGuffin=] that she had been searching for throughout the film...and they do not work. The man then explains that ''none'' of the magic words she had been using for her spells were the "real" words or preparations; he had found them, but spiced them up a bit before selling them on. He suggests she tries the same (read: they all sing a song)- and it works.
* In ''Film/HellboundHellraiserII'', the psychopathic psychologist uses a traumatized girl to open the puzzle box, thus summoning the Cenobites to Earth, figuring that this way it'll be the girl who gets dragged to Hell and not himself. But as Pinhead puts it, "It is not hands that call us, it is desire". They leave the girl in peace and go off in search of the one who ''truly'' summoned them.
[[/folder]]

[[folder:Literature]]
* ''Literature/{{Discworld}}'' series
** Mentioned in ''Discworld/MakingMoney'': the {{golem}}s won't obey orders even spoken in their native tongue, unless [[spoiler: the person giving the order is dressed like an Umnian high priest in golden robes, aka Moist's suit.]]
** Also, the actual chanting done by the Wizards in the {{Necromancy}} department is meaningless, any old chanting will do as long as it sounds the part.
** Same thing in ''Wyrd Sisters'' as the names of instruments of demon summoning are immaterial as long as the general sound and intent is there.
** In ''Discworld/IShallWearMidnight''; a very powerful but untrained witch casts a spell that ''other witches'' think is nonsense, overlapping with AchievementsInIgnorance.
* Present in ''TheDresdenFiles'', but the words are still an important ''part'' of the spell. The incantation is as much a part of the spell as pointing and drawing up power, so wizards will use nonsense--but consistent--words rather than real ones, to avoid the risk of accidentally misfiring.
** The words are part of a personal, mental construct that a given mage uses to make the spell, and they seem to need a personal connection to the wizard. In a flashback scene, Harry is trying to start a fire with magic, and is using his teacher's words, and can't manage the actual spell until he makes up his more familiar "Flickum Bicus" incantation.
*** And the reason Wizards use dead languages and nonsense words for their spells is that the incantation becomes linked with the spell in their mind, so if they use a word from a language they speak regularly, they could burn their house down whenever they say "fire."
* ''Literature/HarryPotter'':
** The [[AgonyBeam Cruciatus Curse]] Harry tried using on Bellatrix Lestrange did work, but due to his own lack of desire to hurt her, it was really weak in effect. It applies to all Unforgivable curses, as their user has to desire to hurt others for them to work at all, and without pure malice (which is quite different from the righteous fury that Harry tried to channel into his Cruciatus against Bellatrix) their effect will be less than desired.
** Another Literature/HarryPotter example, it is made quite clear that a wand and an incantation do not magic make, you have to be a wizard to use magic. [[MuggleBornOfMages Filch]] trying to learn magic via Quickspell would be an good example.
** The fact that wizards have to go to WizardingSchool. You can't just say the words and wave the wand, you have to know ''how'' to do it. [[note]]It is possible for a skilled wizard/witch to cast a random magical effect similar to "accidental magic" without using their wands, too, since wands are a tool of control, and not one of power.[[/note]]
** Parseltongue (the ability to speak with snakes) apparently is not magical as such. Ron is able to [[spoiler: open the Chamber of Secrets]] by just making the same sounds that Harry did when he opened it. A subversion since it was the sounds rather than the knowledge of the actual words that were required opened the door.
*** But then again, Ron is still a wizard, even if he wasn't born with that power. That might not work for a muggle.
* In ''Literature/TheBible'', is [[http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Acts%2019:15&version=NIV an account of non-believers who attempts to cast out a demon]] by repeating the words Paul used to successfully excorcise one. The demon, being a bit of a Main/DeadpanSnarker, replies "Jesus I know about, and I know about Paul, but who are you?"
* ''The Dark is Rising'', the second novel in ''Literature/TheDarkIsRising'' series. Before Will Stanton reads the Book of Gramarye, Merriman tells him that only an Old One can use the spells and Words of Power in the book. Even if a human being could read the Book he couldn't use them.
* AWizardInRhyme plays with this. Magic is treated as a neutral force that responds to any kind of symbol as a vehicle for the user's intent. Words aren't strictly necessary, but happen to be the most accessible, convenient, and reliable symbols to use, especially when arranged in verse. Of course, the use of verse is so prevalent that most spellcasters never bother with any other method.
* Shown from a mage's perspective in Creator/RogerZelazny's second part of ''Literature/TheChroniclesOfAmber'' and in ''Changing Land''. Words are not the whole spell--they are just the trigger part, and without a properly readied magic they are meaningless.
* In ''Literature/{{Ra}}'', it's not enough to speak a spell. The mage must think through and understand it as well. #
* In the second ''RiversOfLondon'' book, Lindsey tries to copy one of Peter's spells, and he explains to her that you can't just say the words, you need intense practice and an innate ability. [[spoiler: Which she does.]]
[[/folder]]

[[folder:Live-Action TV]]
* ''Series/{{Charmed}}'' only a magical being, such as an actual, magical witch, can cast spells. If a mortal tries it, the mortal is just speaking a rhyme. A subversion occurs in the episode ''Animal Pragmatism'': a group of [[{{Muggles}} mortals]] (mortal= non magical "normal" human) cast a spell by playing a tape recording of Phoebe chanting a spell, and it worked, because Phoebe did the rhyming.
* ''Series/XenaWarriorPrincess'': In a [[{{Subversion}} variation]], several people attempt to cast a magic spell from a scroll, to no effect. Gabrielle deduces that they are using the wrong meter and accidentally casts the spell herself. HilarityEnsues.
* In ''Series/{{Merlin}}'', the second episode shows how Merlin struggles through a long night in order to master the spell he needs to save Arthur, even though he can say the [[MagicalIncantation Incantation]] properly, it's not enough for him to use that spell.
* In the ''Series/{{Supernatural}}'' episode "The Curious Case Of Dean Winchester", the Winchesters run into an Irish warlock called Patrick who takes years from people's lifes with a deck of enchanted magic cards, and uses it to [[LifeDrinker extend his own life indefinately]] [[spoiler:and that of his lover.]] When Dean loses 50 years in a gamble, he tries to reverse the process by breaking into Patrick's safe and stealing the cards. The warlock interrupts them and tells them not to bother.
-->'''Patrick:''' The magic isn't in the cards, idiots. It's ''in the 900-year-old witch''.
[[/folder]]

[[folder:Tabletop Games]]
* ''TabletopGame/DungeonsAndDragons'': verbal spell components, are sometimes required. A mundane person speaking the words will have no effect at all: you have to have magical power/knowledge for the spell to work.
* Verbal spell components spoken by {{Muggles}} have no effect in ''TabletopGame/MageTheAscension'' and ''TabletopGame/{{Shadowrun}}''.
[[/folder]]

[[folder: Video Games ]]
* ''{{Myst}}'': Gehn tries to use the D'ni art of writing linking books without really understanding the full effects of the phrases that he uses, resulting in links to unstable worlds.
* In ''VideoGame/TalesOfTheAbyss'', Tear needed to understand the meaning of the fonic hymns before she could use them whether she knew the words or not.
* The Thu'um in ''VideoGame/TheElderScrollsVSkyrim''. It is possible for ordinary mortals to learn it, though it takes a lifetime of training and effort to master it. Anyone without that training would not be able to make the Shouts do anything. The Dragonborn can take shortcuts because he/she has the soul of a Dragon, and even the Dragonborn has to study the words of power and absorb the souls of other Dragons first.
[[/folder]]

[[folder: Web Original ]]
* This [[IceCreamKoan koan]] from the JargonFile:
-->A novice was trying to fix a broken Lisp machine by turning the power off and on.
-->Knight, seeing what the student was doing spoke sternly: "You can not fix a machine by just power-cycling it with no understanding of what is going wrong."
-->Knight turned the machine off and on.
-->The machine worked.
** In RealLife of course, millions of people fix machines just this way, every day. Half the trick to successfully solving a problem by power-cycling is remembering that there is a difference between power-cycling and rapidly hitting the power switch/button; the other half is knowing when you've got a problem you can solve by power-cycling.
* In the WesternAnimation/{{Ben 10}} "Hero High" series by [[http://www.fanfiction.net/u/485015/Mr-Evil Mr. Evil]], Alexander Sovereign, while studying Gwen's magic, realizes that the words she speaks to use her magic mean nothing. He points out they are only a way to focus the power to what she wants it to do and after training long enough can use the magic to do what she wants without words.
[[/folder]]

[[folder: Web Comics ]]
* Mentl in ''TheChallengesOfZona'', when he arrives in Erogenia, begins to learn about his own innate magical abilities, which are tied to his abilities as a musician. As a result, he is able to use [[ThePowerOfRock lyrics to his favorite rock-and-roll songs]] as powerful spells; he once incinerated an attacker by singing "Great Balls of Fire" by Jerry Lee Lewis, and a counterpart of his from the future incorporated the lyrics to [[Music/TheBeatles "Get Back"]] as a time-travel spell.
[[/folder]]

[[folder: Western Animation ]]
* ''WesternAnimation/JackieChanAdventures'':
** Jade attempts to use a cult's spell against them by repeating the words they use to cast it, and fails because she's not a member.
** In another episode, [[BaldOfAwesome Captain Black]] once read Uncle's books and in trying to perform a spell turned himself into a [[FrogsAndToads frog]].
[[/folder]]

[[folder: Real Life ]]
* [[http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cargo_cult Cargo cults]], Pacific island tribes whose islands were used as bases by various militaries in WWII. From the islanders' point of view, these military people didn't have to farm their own food - instead they built an airbase and called for food and other supplies to be brought down in cargo planes. After the soldiers left, the islanders tried to call for supplies themselves and built their own airbases; but since they were only copying appearance and didn't understand the underlying technology, the planes never came.
* A more explicitly word-based version is "[[http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cargo_cult_programming cargo cult programming]]", when novice programmers copy code snippets without understanding what the snippets mean, thus risking a totally different result from the original.
* It's not uncommon for children to try to do something they've seen on TV. If what they saw was a result of some kind of special effect (or was part of an animated show), then they will inevitably fail. For example, what [[DragonBallZ DBZ]] fan didn't try to use the [[{{Kamehamehadouken}} Kamehameha]] when they were a kid?
[[/folder]]

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