Magical Foreign Words

When a language other than the character's main one is used to invoke magic or other Applied Phlebotinum. Can be a case of Gratuitous Foreign Language, or may just be a case of a second or archaic language being appropriated for the task (exempli gratia Latin).

Note also that fluency is not required— in fact, language used this way often seems to have had a few go rounds in the Babel Fish. The key here is that the language itself is not a constructed language; it's a case of simply using the "otherness" of a foreign tongue for the target audience to invoke an air of mystery or cool.

When Language of Magic and As Long as It Sounds Foreign meet, you get this.


  • During the first volume of the ongoing Gravel, Bill is talking to a magician named Sykes who notes that many of his peers considered him quaint for treating the archaic terms he uses to count sheep as magical. Given at the time they're talking, Sykes is the most senior member of one of Britain's foremost occult orders...


  • Justified in Patricia C. Wrede's Mairelon the Magician and sequels. It doesn't matter what language incantations are in, as long as it's not the native language of the spellcaster; if you try to cast a spell using your own native language, it becomes uncontrollable.
  • Similarly justified in The Dresden Files; since Wizards tend to form mental associations with their magic, foreign language incantations are used so that they don't accidentally link a spell to a word that might come up in casual conversation. Harry Dresden himself uses Latin (learned through a low-quality correspondence course) while other Wizards have used Japanese, Aztec, or even nonsense words made up for this purpose.
  • Poul Anderson's Operation Chaos states that "exotic tongues are necessary for the more powerful spells—which is why so many African and Asian students come here to learn American slang...."
    • In the first section of the book, the protagonist cobbles together an emergency spell using Pig Latin.
  • "Wizard talk" in Discworld is Canis Latinicus. The Animated Adaptation of Soul Music comes up with a suitable Canis Latinicus invocation for the Rite of Ashk-Ente, which was never actually described in detail in the books.
  • Harry Potter also uses Canis Latinicus for magic words.
  • In Off to Be the Wizard, the wizards in 12th century England use Esperanto for spells. When Martin asks Phillip why not Latin, Phillip explains that some people in 12th century England actually speak Latin (as demonstrated earlier by Pete the barkeep). In fact, Esperanto is a constructed language, but one that was supposed to be the unifying international language. No one in 12th century can be expected to speak it (although a few words are borrowed from normal languages). In fact, no one in any century can be reasonably expected to speak it, according to Phillip ("Seriously, William Shatner, and that's about it"). True to this trope, no wizard bothers to learn Esperanto grammar, just using a caveman's version of English grammar and plugging in Esperanto words.
    • A couple of Victorian-era magicians in the sequel Spell or High Water use stereotypical "magical" words for their spells, including "Abracadabra".
    • Realistically, though, there's really little practical reason to use Esperanto other than to seem mysterious to the Muggles. The shell used by the 12th century wizards requires some very specific paraphernalia to work. This includes a conical hat, a robe with cuffs of a certain distance, and a staff or a wand of a specific length. Since all spoken phrases do is trigger pre-recorded macros, any new macro can be set to trigger on any word or phrase in any language. In the second novel, Martin sets a teleportation spell to trigger on the completely made-up word "Bamf". The key is to pick a word or phrase that a wizard isn't likely to say in a casual conversation. This is pointed out by Phillip to Martin, who complains that the Esperanto word used to trigger flight is the very uncool-sounding "flugi".

Live Action Television
  • Kamen Rider and Super Sentai often see use of Gratuitous English; such that when Samurai Sentai Shinkenger chose to go with mainly Japanese for its attack names, it stood out. Kamen Rider usually has the devices do this, though Kamen Rider Double is notable for the Fusion Dance duo that make the headlining rider using Gratuitous English and German to "sync" themselves for the Maximum Drives.
    • Shinkenger's aversion became a straight example when it was adapted into English as Power Rangers Samurai, as the magic system is still based in Japanese kanji.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer had spells in English sometimes, but often used this trope as well. What language they used could vary—-often the demon's back story would tie it to some particular culture, and the spell would be in that language. Latin was also common for generic magic.
    • And then you get Willow - "Via, concursus, tempus, spatium, audi me ut imperio. Screw it! Mighty forces, I suck at Latin, OK? But that's not the issue. I'm the one in charge, and I'm telling you open that portal, now!"
  • Merlin uses Old English.

Manga and Anime
  • A standard trope in many Anime and Toku productions.
  • In Fate/stay night, all of Rin's incantations are in German— though not necessarily good German.
  • In Cardcaptor Sakura. All the card names are in English, and the final word of the incantation to turn the key into the wand is "Release!". Not carried over into the English dub for obvious reasons.
  • One Piece frequently uses foreign languages when characters are calling their attacks— including those involving Devil Fruit powers and normal acts. Just among the main characters we see attack names in English, French, Spanish, and Italian.
  • All magical spells in Mahou Sensei Negima! are done in Latin or Ancient Greek, with a few done in Sanskrit, all of which are surprisingly well done. The rule of thumb is that the older the language is, the more powerful it is.
  • A lot of the spells/magic attacks in Sugar Sugar Rune are in French.
  • Most of the characters in Kamichama Karin use Latin for their attacks and suchwhat.... except for Karin, who instead springs for Gratuitous English.
  • Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha: Is a spell of Mid-Childa origins? Chances are good that it will be in English. Is a spell of Ancient Belka origins? Chances are good that it will be in German.
  • The incantations in Sailor Moon are usually Gratuitous English but come from everything from Chinese to Portugeuse as well - you'd think it would have been from the lost language of the Moon Kingdom, but the foreign babbling just sounds more stylish.

Real Life
  • Real Life quasi-example: The incantation "hocus-pocus" is thought to be derived from the Latin "Hoc est corpus meum (This is my body)," from the Roman Catholic Mass. It is thought that, at the moment the officiating priest utters the phrase, the bread and wine are supernaturally transmogrified into the actual body and blood of Jesus Christ. Latin was / is, of course, a language that very few people outside of a few specialized professions know.
    • "Abra cadabra" is derived from the Hebrew "Avra v'davra," which translates to "I make and I do." (Yeah, kinda loses some of the mystery in translation.)
      • Actually, a more faithful translation would be "I create as I speak." The Other Wiki gives the Aramaic origin of "ibra k'dibra," "ibra" meaning "I have created" and "k'dibra" meaning "through my speech." Mystery regained.