"[The wizard] jumped down, and started waving his arms around while he went to speaking and squealing in one of those languages wizards use so the rest of us will think there is something terribly strange and mystical about what they do, kind of like lawyers."
A version of Functional Magic
where spells are cast by speaking
in a particular language. Can be Words Can Break My Bones
or I Know Your True Name
taken to the Nth
degree, where every
word in the language is a "true name", but this need not be the case for it to be a language of magic.
is often paired with Black Speech
, White Magic
is often in Angel song
. In works set on Earth, the language may be a real-but-now-dead one, such as Latin
. The words are often written in the Old Norse runic alphabet
; Hermetic Magic
can use a number of real-life occult alphabets, such as Enochian or Paracelsus' Alphabet of the Magi, instead.
Words Can Break My Bones
and I Know Your True Name
are subtropes. May be the backbone of a Magical Incantation
. If consistently SUNG to make it magic, that's Magic Music
open/close all folders
- The horned denizens of the moon Wreath in Saga speak in this language which is both their native tongue and the means of using magic. Interestingly, this language is always represented in text in a light blue font and is literally called "Blue."
- In Skyrim, the language used by dragons works this way. A loading screen factoid helpfully explains that when two dragons use their breath weapons against each other, they're actually having an intense philosophical debate.
- Extending from this are the Words of Power, which you learn and string together to create magical "Shouts". It is later revealed that every true dragon's name is a three word Shout. This includes the Dragonborn, or "Dov Ah Kiin"—"Dragon Hunter Born/Child".
- The language of the Sidhe seems to be this in the Whateley Universe, although it's hard to tell since the Sidhe were wiped out millennia ago. (It looks like they're getting better.)
- An unusual example in Trinton Chronicles is that there are true and half-dragons who learn to speak two different languages, one for magic and one for everyday speech. The magic one is so ancient in fact that even they don't fully know what it means. Most magic users (who we presume were taught by dragons in the distant past and then passed it along) utilize this language to cast spells and call to the universe to change reality in some way. The language has not been written down in the story to keep it's sounds a mystery but is mentioned whenever someone starts to cast spells. Interestingly some magic uses speak their spells in an odd language that only works when adding the word "manu mea" at the start of each casting.
- Ancient phaetonian primal in Phaeton is like this, and the more descriptive you are the more powerful the spell.
Anime and Manga
- In The Melancholy Of Haruhi Suzumiya, Yuki casts spells by chanting SQL queries sped up and played backwards.
- In Mahou Sensei Negima!, every western mage has a personal magic release key. Most western spells are spoken in Latin, though some of the higher level ones are done in Ancient Greek. Specifically, the main body of your spell must be an actual phrase in Latin (or Ancient Greek), but the aforementioned "key" can be any random string of sounds that tickles your fancy.
- In addition; the Big Bad has an ability called "Code of the Lifemaker: Rewrite", which literally allows him and his minions to rewrite the reality of the magic world at will. Seeing as he may have created it to begin with, it makes sense that he can modify it as he pleases.
- The only divine magic we've seen so far was in ancient Japanese.
- By contrast, most Eastern magic is based on Sanskrit letters, who have individual meaning but are combined in ways that do not form proper words.
- However, the magic writing in the series is in the relatively (and sadly) obscure Armenian language.
- The Golden Age hero Zatara, and later his daughter Zatanna, cast spells by speaking backwards. More specifically, the individual words are spoken backwards, but the sentence structure is still spoken forward.
- Most magic spells in DC Comics work this way, at least when used by The Phantom Stranger and his supporting cast.
- Editor Girl, also known as Kris Simon from the Shadowline-Image comic imprint. Actually, she can't use her own voice, but she has to use a magic pen to edit whatever her opponent is saying (Leaning on the Fourth Wall, that's usually portrayed as Editor Girl correcting people's speech bubbles with her pen). The revised edition of her opponent taunt becomes reality: for example, editing "You'll face my gun, Editor Girl" in "You'll take my gun, Editor Girl" results in Kris' opponent getting the urge to surrender his weapon.
- Zigzagged with Doctor Strange, who can cast spells with simple English commands, lengthy rhyming English invocations, or words and phrases which are definitely not English. Of course, he's explicitly a Master of the Mystic Arts.
- Generally speaking, one does not need a special language to work magic in Tamora Pierce's Tortall Universe. However, the most powerful spells are written in "old Thak," the dead language of a Vestigial Empire, and there are also "Words of Power" which are generally unpronounceable and only pulled out for very special occasions.
- In the Harry Potter series the vast majority of spells consist of Latin words, and it would seem that knowing Latin makes it easier to develop certain types of spells. However, there's little mentioned about where spells come from or how they're made.
- The Hindi version translated it as classical Sanskrit.
- Strangely in book 4 there's a passing reference to Hermione inventing a spell whose incantation is in English.
- Every spell has an incantation, most of which are in Dog Latin, others in some distortion of English, Hebrew, or Arabic. While a talented wizard needn't say the incantation aloud to cast the spell, he certainly needs to know it. It's unknown how spells become connected to their incantations, however. What is known is that new spells are still being invented, and that it takes tremendous magical talent to do so, so it's not as simple as picking a word to describe the effect you want.
- At least one fan theory is that spells can be said in any language, but the important things are the wand and the mind to focus the magic. Using foreign words makes it easier to focus on a specific spell, so that saying stuff in your own language doesn't accidentally create disaster (ie. "Could you give me that pot?" -All pots in room zoom towards you-)
- In The Elenium and The Tamuli trilogies by David Eddings the language used in the worship of the pagan gods is the Language of Magic, since magic is asking the gods to do things for you.
- This ends up humorous several times. Once, a group is trying to fool peasants with "magic". One character asks the magical instructor what language it is, to which the tutor replies, gibberish. He then asks where Gibbers are from.
- Another instance involved one of the characters speaking directly, in his native tongue, to his patron goddess for light. She chides him for not doing it right, but provides it anyway.
- Finally, one of the members of the primary church muses that they did not need to go outside their own religion for magical assistance, to the horror and chagrin of the other members present.
- Harry Dresden doesn't really need to use the fruits of his Latin correspondence course for his incantations,since his magic works via focus of intent. In fact In the Dresden universe, it isn't a specific language that's important, but what the words mean to the wizard saying them. magic words are in a language foreign to the user to insulate their mind from the power. The spell languages are in a language that means something to the user but is still unknown enough to insulate the wizard from his or her own power.
- Another reason why foreign or nonsense words are used: you don't want to create a raging inferno by just saying "fire."
- Which triggers a bit of Fridge Logic that he'd use a language with so many nigh-identical cognates in its daughter languages. "Hey, let's take vacation this year in Tierra del BOOOOOM."
- Ian Watson's novel Queenmagic, Kingmagic is set in a fantasy world based on the game of chess, with black and white kingdoms eternally at war. So it's not entirely surprising that, instead of the usual Latin, the magical language in which their spells are cast turns out to be Russian.
- In Poul Anderson's Operation Chaos, magic works much more effectively if the caster uses an esoteric language — esoteric to his/her culture, that is (the hero at one point creates a minor but effective spell in Pig Latin). So student mages come to the U.S. from Africa or Asia to learn spells in American street slang. Simple Law of Similarity, obviously. You can not expect to get extraordinary results from ordinary language.
- In Patricia C. Wrede's Magician's Ward, it's insanely dangerous to try casting a spell in your native tongue, for reasons partly related to the Harry Dresden example above. The amount of danger increases the further along you get in your magic studies. A first-year student casting a spell in their native language isn't likely to have results that are too awful, mostly because they are not yet able to use that much power. A third-year student casting a spell in their native language may be dealing with the consequences for weeks.
- In Dan Abnett's Ravenor Returned, when Kys infiltrates a decoding process, even the partial decoded stuff is enough to make her ill and betray her. It also lets her learn a "word" that kills men; she uses it to escape. This proves to be Enuncia — an immensely powerful Reality Warper.
- In John C. Wright's Chronicles of Chaos this is one technique of magic.
- Magic in the Second Apocalypse series by R. Scott Bakker uses an original variation on this; the trick to magic is not just speaking in another language, but in saying one string of words while simultaneously thinking a second and different string (not as easy as it sounds; try it). To make it worse, you have to simultaneously understand the meanings of both phrases; the reason being that the meaning of each phrase somehow clarifies and precisely limits the meaning of the other, creating sufficient mental precision to bring about the desired magical effect. (What happens to sorcerers who screw this up — whether nothing happens or something exceedingly bad and unintended happens — isn't specified.)
- It can probably be inferred that nothing happens. If something very bad happened from flubbing a spell, it's unlikely any sorcerers would survive their apprenticeships.
- In Discworld we never actually hear any magic words after the first book, The Colour of Magic, in which they sound vaguely Arabic mystical-cum-Lovecraft. Later books just cut around the spell scenes. However the Animated Adaptation of Soul Music uses bad Dog Latin, probably in reference to all the other settings that use it. "Ovum Krakkus, Totalé Knackus!" (as he breaks the egg).
- There's a tradition of bad Dog Latin in Discworld with two examples of it being considered "wizard talk", although neither character was actually casting a spell.
- In The Lord of the Rings, Gandalf uses Elvish words when "casting spells", but this is not anything specific to the language itself: being an Ainu, one of the angelic order who sung the world into existence, it makes sense he can change the nature of reality with his voice. Also seen with Tom Bombadil and Lúthien (who was half Ainurin).
- Sauron, also an Ainu, does much the same thing, using an incantation in the Black Speech which he had invented to imbue the One Ring with his power.
- The Weirdstone of Brisingamen uses Latin.
- In Ysabeau Wilce's Flora Segunda series, all magick is performed through the language of Grammatica, which also has its own alphabet that readers aren't supposed to understand how to pronounce. Get your grammatica wrong, you get the spell (well, the term used in the books is sigil) wrong. Very skilled adepts (magick users) don't need to actually speak the words out loud...Lord Axacaya is the primary example of this as of Flora's Dare.
- The magic system in The Long Price Quartet is based on language. Poets use language to bind their andats, which are abstract concepts made flesh. They use an extremely intricate custom built language to describe the idea they want to capture. They have to describe it perfectly, with absolutely no ambiguity or imprecision, and then hold that definition in mind for the rest of their lives. Failure to be precise enough tends to be extremely painful. To further complicate matters, once an andat has been bound and subsequently escape, it has to be described in a completely different way to be bound again.
- The Old Speech in Susan Cooper's The Dark Is Rising series, spoken by those of both the Light and the Dark.
- In Robert E. Howard's Conan the Barbarian story "Shadows in the Moonlight", a sample from a talking parrot:
Abruptly the bird spread its flaming wings and, soaring from its perch, cried out harshly: "Yagkoolan yok tha, xuthalla!"
- The Dragonlance series has wizards who, like standard Dungeons & Dragons characters, speak magical words in order to activate their spells. However, unlike most verbal components, Dragonlance wizards can use their magical language in actual conversation. According to Word of God, the examples used in the books are based on a kind of proto-Indonesian language structure, though the words themselves have no real world equivalent.
- Raistlin Majere, in fact, learned the activation word to the light spell in his staff through extensive trial and error. Finally, in frustration, he blurted out "Shirak, damen du!", which translates as "Light, damn you!". After the staff lit up, he went back and realized that "Shirak" (light) was the keyword, while "Dulak" (dark) was used to cancel the spell.
- Subverted in Awakening, the magic system from Warbreaker. While speaking aloud is essential for Awakening, Commands (aka spells) only work if given in the Awakener's own native language. So any language is potentially magical, as long as you grew up speaking it.
- Played with in Mordant's Need - the Imagers all use a specific chant when summoning a manifestation from their magic mirrors, but it turns out that the chant is just a load of meaningless syllables; however, the effort of remembering it puts your mind into the correct Zenlike state to allow the magic to work through you.
- A running gag in the Rivers of London series is that Peter finds learning Latin harder than actually learning the magic. The words simply a release of a pattern you hold in your mind. They're in Latin because that was the language Isaac Newton used for important works, and nobody's sure what would happen if they started messing around with it.
Live Action TV
- In Dungeons & Dragons most spells have "Verbal Components" that most be uttered to cast spells. The exact form of these "components" is unspecified, and appears to change depending on the spell - indeed, several spells (most notably the Power Word spells) are just their verbal components, so that the words themselves are magical. It's implied that the language of dragons, Draconic, plays a part.
- Words of Creation and Darkspeech are more literal languages of magic. Mortals require a special feat to be able to even say a few words of them, and they have distinct magical properties. Darkspeech, for example, can be used to reduce the hardness value of an object, while words of creation can be used to aid in item creation.
- There's also Truespeech: Speaking directly to the universe to tell it how things should be, to which it generally obliges, temporarily.
- Enochian (the language of angels devised by John Dee, Queen Elizabeth I's court magician) pops up in this context often, usually in roleplaying games with a focus on the divine (like In Nomine or Demon: the Fallen).
- Mage: The Awakening has the High Speech. It's not necessary for magic, but it does give it a nice boost.
- Mage: The Ascension, similarly, had Enochian, but because magic works the way you believe it does, Latin or other ancient languages will work. For that matter, so will the jargon of contract law. However, some seem to be better than others; one sourcebook includes a young mage worrying about an older mage whose house he's broken into using Latin, but the older mage tells him it's Sumerian that should concern him.
- Ars Magica: Latin, for the Order of Hermes, or other ancient languages for other magic wielders both in and out of the Order although they usually need the Gift if they want to play with power. Other languages used based on magical tradition include Gothic for House Bjornaer and Pictish for the Gruagachan. Classic Greek, as opposed to Romaic Greek, is used by members of the Order of Hermes in the Tribunal of Thebes.
- Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay has the Lingua Praestantia, Daemonic, and Arcane Eltharin, all used exclusively for casting spells.
- Warhammer 40K: While not technically magic (except when it is), members of the Adeptus Mechanicus can communicate to each other and to machines via a secret language called Binary, which even the Ordo Dialogos is incapable of translating.
- Syntactic Magic from GURPS: Thaumatology is an in depth version of this with several examples provided.
- Exalted Sorcery is this. While anyone can use magic by performing thaumaturgical rituals, and any being with awakened Essence can channel their power in accordance with their nature, Sorcery is (according to second edition metaphysics) actually the "language" (if one can call it that) which the Primordials used to communicate concepts in order to create the world.
- Everquest included the requirement to learn Dragon languages to master higher level spells.
- Inverted in World of Warcraft, where the warlock ability "Curse of Tongues" forces the target to speak in Demonic, thus making them take longer to cast spells.
- Confusingly, said curse also works on monsters of the Demon type...
- In Fire Emblem 9 and 10 spells are recored as simple pieces of ancient tongue (such as "The light of life! Shine a ray upon my path and...strike my enemy!" or "O light, gather. Open my path...") that are said as part of the casting process.
- In Treasure Of The Rudras, the magic system is based on a Language of Magic, and you can create custom spells by stringing the right syllables together.
- The base syllables are: IG for Fire, AQU for Water, TOU for Electricity, TEO for Wind, SOA for Light, SERE for Dark, PRA for Earth, and NIHI for Void.
- In the Ar tonelico series, all magic uses the Hymmnos language, which most of the time is sung rather then spoken.
- In Enchanted Folk And the School of Wizardry/Magician's Quest Mysterious Times, a magic language is used to cast spells, incantations, and communicate with various magical creatures (though it can also be used when interacting with other players).
- All Ultima games mention magical incantations of some kind (usually something Latin-sounding in the first games), but starting with the fifth installment mages in the Ultima universe started using a standardized set of short words to form their incantations - for example, "In Lor" (literally "create light") illuminates your surroundings, and "An Nox" ("negate poison") cures poisoned characters.
- The Thu'um in The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. It is the language of the godlike Dragons, which they use to bend reality at a whim. Mortals can learn the Thu'um as well, though they need to devote their entire lives to mastering it and most can never speak normally when they reach that point. The Dragonborn doesn't have this problem since he/she is technically a Dragon too. Interestingly, mortals were able to invent a Shout that embodies concepts that are wholly alien to Dragons "Mortal, Finite, Temporary". Yes, mortals invented words in the Dragons' language that the Dragons themselves don't know.
- The Dragons likely knew those words but cannot truly understand the meaning of them, and are therefore incapable of using them in a Shout. It's similar to a human trying to wholly understand the concepts of Immortality, Infinity, and Permanency.
- In Elf Blood, most magic-casting characters use a symbolic language called Eldarin when reciting a spell. It's actually just a very simple direct substitution code. Some fans can read it fluently.
- Gipsy is not an actual spellcaster: She manipulates reality through what can only be summed up as 'true mathematics'. Although recently her 'spells' resemble C-like function calls more than mathematical formulae.
- In El Goonish Shive, Japanese fills this role for special techniques when practicing "anime-style martial arts".
- In xkcd, computer programming languages occasionally fill this role. A recent guest strip by Bill Amend of Foxtrot fame demonstrates the power of Unix.
- Draconic in Nahast: Lands of Strife, though it doesn't seem to be necessary once you're skilled enough.
- In Sluggy Freelance most magical spells are written using a bizarre alphabet straight out of Pete Abrams's imagination (as seen here). How they're pronounced is anyone's guess.
- In Sorcery 101, spells are cast by giving one's aura verbal instructions, generally using Latin. Not because there's something special about Latin, but because it's easier to learn magic when you don't actually know what you're saying.
- In Wapsi Square, knowledge of the Lanthian language gives a person certain powers, and it can be used to command many Lantian artifacts.
- In Bob and George, the Author uses it to revive Dr. Light.
- Latin is used as a magical language in Gargoyles, although the comics reveal that knowledge of Latin is not sufficient to cast spells.
- Word of God states that older languages are better suited to spellcasting — while it's theoretically possible to cast a spell in English, it would take more than just a direct translation. In the episode "Golem", the spell to awaken the eponymous creature is in Ancient Hebrew.
- Not just theoretically possible: The Magus managed it in "Avalon," although it severely exhausted him. Of course, he was drawing power directly from Avalon itself, which was explicitly different from his normal magic.
- In Teen Titans, Raven apparently uses one of these; normally all we hear is "Azarath, metrion, zinthos!" the mantra she uses to focus her will so she can safely use her inborn magical abilities, but on occasion (most notably in "The Prophecy") she'll go into an extended incantation in what sounds like the same language.
- The Recursive Adaptation Teen Titans Go!! explains this a bit more in an issue where the team's powers are swapped around between them. Beast Boy ends up with Raven's powers, but when her usual incantation does nothing for him, she explains that it's because the words don't mean anything to him. Keep in mind, also, that the first word, Azarath, is the name of Raven's home dimension.
- In The Real Ghostbusters, when an episode needs to bust out the truly powerful ancient spells, it's almost always Sumerian that the spells are written in. One episode comments that only three people in the entire world can read these kinds of spells, and Egon is one of those three.
- Subverted in an episode involving a ritual to summon the Old Ones.
Ree-kah, rah-kah, firecracker, sis-boom-bah, old ones, old ones, rah-rah-rah.
- Various dead languages are used for ritual purposes by new religious movements and practitioners of "magick", such as Latin, Hebrew, Sanskrit etc. Sometimes ConLangs are used, ranging from unimaginative letter substitutions to sophisticated creations like the Voynich manuscript (which has never been deciphered).
- A notable example being Enochian, the so-called angelic language invented by John Dee.
- Programming languages are essentially this trope made real.