Another magic trope that is Older Than Dirt, the idea of words that hold magic power unto themselves has been around since Ancient Egypt. Often paired and sometimes lumped with the power of True Names, words of power are common parts of a wizard's bag of tricks.
Words of Power may be a part of a Language of Magic but are distinct in several ways.
- Words of power have fairly rigidly defined effects. With the Language of Magic you can write spells while words of power are the spell.
- While words of power may be part of a Language of Magic, it is not always so, or if they are it may not be explicitly said to be so, or the language in question may be a lost or fragmented one.
Other defining features: words of power tend to be comparatively short utterances short phrases at most that one can fire and forget rather quickly instead of a longer incantation. Offensive-leaning words frequently hit for massive damage and may be a justification for Calling Your Attacks and Invocation.
In a fairly frequent variation of this, the word itself is variable and the character themself has the ability to imbue it with power. Put enough will and maybe some Applied Phlebotinum behind carefully chosen words and you can potentially deliver spiritual hurting as well as physical. In some visual media this is sometimes displayed with a Sight Gag of the written word impacting the character.
A subtrope of Language of Magic. Compare to I Know Your True Name (which was split from this). Contrast and compare Magical Incantation. Compare to Brown Note, which includes sounds, images and larger written works that have powerful negative effects on the audience. Contrast Make Me Wanna Shout, where it's the act of speaking that causes the damage, and the words shouted are secondary if they're even intelligible. See also Ritual Magic. Harsh Word Impact is a metafictional version. Also compare Speak of the Devil and The Scottish Trope. If the words themselves have no inherent power, but a character is still harmed by them, that's Verbal Weakness. Works using this trope will often discuss The Power of Language.
- A more literal version of this is in 666 Satan where the character Spika has an O-Part that can materialize words she shouts into them that are like what she says (for example, when she yells "Spikey" the word "Spikey" in Japanese will appear in block letters with spikes coming out).
- In the 12th Dragon Ball Z movie Fusion Reborn, Pikkon finds out that the hold that Janemba, the reality-warping Big Bad, has over the afterlife is weakened by harsh words. So after he releases Enma Daiou, he joins Goku and Vegeta in the battle, and holds Janemba off by cursing at him, breaking apart his face, then firing ki blasts at him.
- In the 4th part of JoJo's Bizarre Adventure, the character Koichi gets various forms of this as his stand power. What happens is that if his stand hits another person words get written on him or her which start to call out whatever the word is in an increasing volume. Next is when he makes a word and throws it onto something if someone touches the word the effect will take place. (Touching the word Whooosh blows someone away, touching Burn cause someone to catch on fire, and touching Bounce will cause someone to bounce off of whatever the word is one regardless of how sharp the object is normally without harm.
- In part 7, the character Sandman gets a similar Stand, though his also seems to be contagious. It's exactly as confusing as it sounds.
- In the anime (and original manga) Loveless, characters participate in Spell Battles where words do exactly what they say, restraining, cutting, burning, or banishing opponents. The effectiveness of an attack seems to be directly related to the floweriness or complexity of the spoken "spell".
- In YuYu Hakusho, one psychic has the ability to create a territory in which no one can say a taboo word. Anyone who does has their soul ripped out.
- Before that, it was shown that there are spells based on chanting which will backfire on the caster if the target doesn't hear the words being said.
- Levy and Fried in Fairy Tail have this power, except their words must be written rather than spoken. Levy writes in English, while Fried writes in a made up rune language. As a result Levy's effects are simple but quick (instantly create a block of metal, or a trap hole, or fire, or wind) while Fried's are complex ("Nobody in this space can use magic." "Nobody can leave the space until everyone else has been defeated") but take time to set up. Levy later learns Fried's language, giving her the ability to rewrite his spells to cancel or change their effects.
- Elite Mook Yomazu can to this as well, only he writes his in Japanese with his sword. As a result he can abruptly change the effect without rewriting simply by declaring a different meaning of the Kanji.
- The Words of Awakening in Madlax, which induce homicidal insanity.
- Skuld from Ah! My Goddess gains the ability to forcefully "print" her words on people or things. While not very powerful, it appears to involve enough force to stagger people. Both Urd and Keiichi are frequent victims of this, with Skuld's favorite insults for them being "idiot" and "pervert", respectively.
- This appears several times in A Certain Magical Index. In its first form, magicians must first state their magic name to begin using their actual magic. We later see Index in her Johan's Pen mode utter the words "Eli Eli Lama Sabachthani?" literally "God, God, why have you forsaken me?" to power up a spell specifically to destroy Stiyl's Flame Summon. Towards the end, this trope is again invoked when Index interferes with the control spells in place on a golem simply by uttering English letters in certain sequences; they're the initials of each word in a sentence that issues a specific command, e.g. "TTTR" stands for "Turn To The Right", which forces the golem to swing its arm to its right instead of striking her.
- An interesting variation in M×0: Fumi Izuno's magic object is a calligraphy brush, and her ability is that everything she writes with it acquires reality. For example, in the last Magic Class Match, she and another student are seen fighting a golem, and in a given moment, she writes the word "Defense" in the air with her brush; the words immediately turn into a magic shield that stops one of the golem's fists in front of her.
- Aphorism is about a supernatural high school where each student must choose a kanji character whose meaning, combined with the power of the student's imagination, will later be used as the student's weapon in various battles and trials.
- Eu from Is This a Zombie? is so powerful that she never speaks because her very words can affect reality. She can even kill someone just by speaking the word "die". The only defense against her words is to be unable to hear them.
- Arias can kill lesser demons in Blue Exorcist by reciting a "Fatal Verse", a segment from the bible and other holy scriptures. The problem is that there is a different verse for each type of demon (thus you must memorize which verse kills who), and the Aria becomes defenseless until finishing reciting.
- Kotoha from Yozakura Quartet can create any object, as long as she knows what it's made of, with her words. And she is a MASSIVE fan of WWII Weaponry.
- Played literally in Bobobo-bo Bo-bobo - the Cyber Knight Poet can use attacks that come from flying kanji he summons, which spells out the attack name.
- Medaka Box: This seems to be the concept behind the "styles"; by utilizing wordplay, puns, metonymies, and other ways of manipulating words, the users can potentially manipulate or damage anyone. This includes the Invincible Villain Ihiko
- Scratchmen Apoo from One Piece has this as his devil fruit power, his body is a musical instrument and his words can become reality, combined with Japanese having a huge amount of onomatopoeia, and you have a frighteningly effective fighter.
- The Haiku Poet Warrior from Hunter × Hunter has the ability to invoke powers and consequences through reciting a haiku poem. During his introduction of the Yorknew City arc, Kurapika and a group of other hunters are all gathered together into a room while waiting for their client to show up. They all get ambushed by a group of mooks, and later learn that it was someone in the room who set it up. By invoking a Haiku, anyone who lied about being the perpetrator would die. The perp confessed, but it was set up as a test of the group's skills for their job. His haikus have the ability to have more direct, tangible effects as well.
- Not exactly words per se, but the Anti-Life Equation in the DC Universe removes the free will of anyone who hears it. During Final Crisis, Darkseid uses it in a terrifying manner when he enslaves three billion people at once.
- It's revealed that the Anti-Life Equation goes as follows: Loneliness + Alienation + Fear + Despair + Self-worth ÷ Mockery ÷ Condemnation ÷ Misunderstanding x Guilt x Shame x Failure x Judgment, n=y where y=Hope and n=Folly, Love=Lies, Life=Death, Self=DARKSEID. Darkseid actually modified the Equation. Originally, Self=Nothing.
- In Superman and Batman: World's Funnest, where Bat-Mite and Mr. Mxyzptlk fight their way through the DC Multiverse, Darkseid finds the equation is in fact Bat-Mite + Mxy. He starts laughing...
- In the Douwe Dabbert story The Witches of the Day Before Yesterday, the dark dunes are controlled by three witches who keep saying "Wij zijn niet van gisteren" ("We weren't born yesterday"). Finally, Douwe figures it all out and declares that they were born the day before yesterday, turning the witches into salamanders.
- In The Invisibles, the Ancient Conspiracy has suppressed knowledge of the hidden letters of the alphabet and the words that use those letters. Among other things, one of these words works as the universal off switch for the human brain.
- In Ex Machina, Mitchell's powers work like this, as do Pherson's and Suzanne's.
- Zatanna can do just about anything by reciting words and sentences backwards. Her cousin Zatarra can also do this although he can't directly affect living things.
- Nico from Runaways can use the Staff of One to create any magical effect she can describe (usually in one or two words). However, each description can only be used once. However, she can get the same effect more than once by using synonyms and different languages.
- Johnny Thunder summons his Thunderbolt by uttering the words "Cei u" which in English sounds just like "say you". Initially Johnny was unaware of the Thunderbolt's existence and would inadvertently cause all sorts of mystical effects.
- In the Pony POV Series Loose Canon spinoff Dark World Drabbles, it's revealed after the defeat of Future!Discord and Nightmare Eclipse, Diamond Tiara (who had been half of Discord's first set of Co-Dragons along with her mother) is reformed and becomes Fluttercruel's Redeeming Replacement as Element of Cruelty. While her predecessor got the ability to create weapons from her body, Diamond's Personality Powers with the Elements cause opponents to feel like they've been cut when she insults them, the deeper her insult cuts them the more painful the 'cut'. She theorizes she may be able to actually cut if she hits hard enough, but this isn't confirmed.
- Hop To It has an akuma named Femme Defamation who can attack people with insults that manifest as giant rocks, but which won't affect anyone who can't understand them. It gives Jack an advantage because of her limited grasp of French - until she happens to give away that she's an English-speaker, which Femme Defamation has no problem adapting to.
Femme Defamation: You have such funny sayings in your language. One of my favorites is how does it go again? Ah, yes. Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me. How quaint. Well, let me tell you, girl. I can make words hurt a lot, you mangy, plebeian, insignificant, hideous chipmunk-cheeked freak! (As she talks, rocks appear around her, which are then propelled at Jack, who gets knocked unconscious.)
- This is Marinette's champion power in Iron Kissed. Her transformed form has a hand fan with five feathers, and each feather can be expended to cast a single-word spell ("Reveal", "Burn", "Heal", etc.).
- The 1984 film adaptation of Dune turns the "Weirding Way" from a super-powered martial art into a method of using words as a weapon, with technological assistance. It took Paul's line "My name is a killing word" and made it literal: saying "Muad'Dib" while holding one of the "Weirding Modules" converts the sound into a sonic blast.
- In the novel, one of the powers of the Bene Gesserit is the Voice, a manner of speaking that can compel obedience from a person that the speaker understands sufficiently. Paul, being the Kwisatz Haderach, develops this ability to the point where he can indeed kill with it, and threatens to use it on the Reverend Mother Mohiam during the climax unless she stops opposing him.
- Monty Python and the Holy Grail has The Knights Who Say "Ni", keepers of the sacred words "Ni", "Peng", and "Neee-Wom", which appear to cause unbearable agony (or at least mild discomfort) to those who hear them. The Knights themselves suffer similar effects when anyone says the word, "it".
- Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo - the magic words of the Fairy Godmother in Disney's Cinderella.
- Bedknobs and Broomsticks give us the spell of Substitutiary Locomotion ("giving life to things without"): Treguna Mekoides Trecorum Satis Dee. Which sounds really creepy when the things the spell animates (like empty suits of armor) start repeating it...
- In the silent movie The Golem, it is a scroll inscribed with a magic word (Aemaet) that brings the Golem to life. This is consistent with the traditional Golem lore.
- David Eddings:
- The Redemption of Althalus, where the Books of Deiwos and Daeva are the source of the good guys' and the bad guys' magic respectively. Fun fact: the words themselves are Proto-Indo-European.
- In The Belgariad/The Malloreon series, it's explained that the word is nothing more than a release for the will, hence the magic is the Will and the Word.
- In The Elenium/The Tamuli, the magic turns out to be nothing more than a prayer to the gods for assistance, which takes the form of magic. The Church Knights, given special dispensation to take on non-church tutors in mystical arts are the primary users. This leads to the hilarious revelation later that they probably didn't have to go outside their own religion. Normally, the prayer must be spoken in the god's chosen language, but Sparhawk, by virtue of having more direct contact with several deities, usually uses more direct methods to get the results he wants. This is to the point that when he starts reciting a formal prayer in the fifth book, his patron takes time out to question his sanity.
- In Christopher Paolini's Inheritance Cycle the elven language is the Language of Magic and spells are more or less words of power taken from it. Want a big fire or an explosive arrow? Just yell "Brisingr!" and you're all done. (So long as you've got access to magic, that is. It won't do you much good otherwise.)
- Yeah... Just don't try to bless babies until you learn more about sentence structure.
- Then, in the final book, Galbatorix learns the name of the ancient language, giving him complete control over all magic. Good thing he uses it stupidly.
- In Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson, words literally can break bones - the human body and brain can be traumatized by carefully selected words. Of course, it's not that simple - not just any words can kill, but only those linked to "deep connections" in the brain. The language Sumerian works on anyone; binary also works on computer hackers.
- Jadis (the future White Witch) in The Magician's Nephew knows the Deplorable Word, the word which ends all life in a world - and spoke it to end the world of Charn where she ruled. Luckily for us, it doesn't work in this world.
- Numair in The Immortals knows and uses words of power: he once used one to turn an enemy mage into an apple tree. It is not quite a Dangerous Forbidden Technique but very much discouraged because it can create unintended havoc—anything performed by a word of power has an opposite effect somewhere else in the world. (Pierce did eventually write a short story about the tree who became a man. He had a lot of trouble adapting.) Good thing he's with the good guys.
- The magic words of the Harry Potter universe probably fit here, although the words alone aren't enough; you've got to be a wizard with a wand and you've got to say them just right and in some cases you've got to have the right willpower behind it. It's not otherwise explained much or known if they're part of a Language of Magic but most of them are pseudo-Latin.
- Magic can be performed without saying the words but just thinking them, which Snape tried to teach in Half-Blood Prince. It's hard though, so many wizards still use incantations when outside of areas in which a non-verbal spell is required, like a battle.
- It's even possible to cast spells Wandless, but for an adult wizard and barring instinctive, unconscious magic, it is implied to be VERY difficult to do.
- Avada Kedavra, the Killing Curse, was based on a twisted interpretation of Abracadabra, as mentioned below. Some translations simply use Abracadabra, in cultures probably where the words have not come to be known as a cheesy magician's catch phrase.
- More specifically, the Taboo on Voldemort's name goes hand in hand with this trope. A single utterance of a man's name causes the trio to be whisked away perilously to Malfoy Manor and its impending danger.
- Handled in two ways in Chronicles of the Kencyrath:
- Brenwyr is a "maledict": if she curses something or someone, the curse becomes real. (At one point, she strikes a table and says "Rot you!". The table promptly crumbles to dust.) She also totters on the edge of being Ax-Crazy.
- The Book Bound in Pale Leather contains Master Runes, which work independently of who reads them. Just copying them is dangerous and will drive you crazy.
- In the Left Behind book Glorious Appearing, Jesus comes to Earth and kills all of the bad-guys just by proclaiming who He is and reciting Bible verses that cause them to explode in horribly graphic manners. Anvilicious much?
- In the Dresden Files wizards choose either nonsense words or a dead language as a link to their power, and those become their spells.
- They COULD pick words in their own language, but this is dangerous, since using a language you can't speak creates a mental barrier that helps protect the wizard from energy backlash.
- It's also possible to cast spells without using words at all, and simply shaping the magic with your mind, but it is also incredibly painful. Harry equates it with all his bones being lit on fire at once.
- The UnWords of Enuncia in Ravenor probably count. The head of the Secretists uses several to very brutally murder a number of people including (if memory serves) the head of Special Crimes; and Patience Kys uses one to escape while being held prisoner by the Secretists. Bonus points for having the UnWords actually hurt the people saying them as well.
- Miranda Windwood Rose, from the short story of the same name by Janni Lee Simner, is a magic name, letting the owner hear and see magic. This leads to the main character being an outcast.
- In The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, those who study Earthpower learn various words of power that the cause pain to anything "wrong."
- Variation in Discworld, overlapping with Numerological Motif: the number between seven and nine is associated with powerful magic, and wizards generally avoid referring to it directly. In The Colour of Magic, one chapter has the characters in the temple of Bel-Shamharoth, a Cthulhu Expy, where no one can refer to said number for fear of waking him.
- Kate Daniels knows a few.
- In the Myst novels, the backstory of the "magical books" is fleshed out; we learn about "mighty words," which if used in the proper context (that is, with the right ink and on the right paper) can modify the linked world. And Earth was originally reached by the D'ni through such a Book.
- Though the linking process works more akin to a magical search engine, the book seeking out the world that best fits the description given, the words used can also change a world once the link is made, and are described in terms of this trope. In The Book of Atrus, Anna explains about 'levels' of words, the simplest being a description of a thing, the next being a modifier of such a description, i.e. a meta-word. She never says what the third level is, but it's implied to be the performative word, one which alters what it describes.
- Quantum linguistics in the Doctor Who Expanded Universe, used by the Great Old Ones. Remarkably similar to the magic of the Carrionites in "The Shakespeare Code," below.
- in The Book of All Hours by Hal Duncan - the Cant, the metaphysical language of the Vellum. Humans transform into Unkin when an event in their lives causes them to hear the Cant from underneath reality, echoing from the Vellum. Unkin can then use it to reshape reality, warp and change spacetime itself as well as the Vellum.
- In The Lord of the Rings legendarium, where the world was essentially sung into existence, words and song have great power. Many of the most significant magical acts in the series are not of the fire and brimstone variety, but rather acts of word or song that influence the nature of their surroundings in the speaker's favour. Names also have a power, and Treebeard warns Merry and Pippin against giving out their right names lightly. Gandalf explicitly says he used a "Word of Power" to seal a door against a Balrog.
- A form of this in Tales of Kolmar. Servants of the Goddess Shia in times of great peril can be blessed by Her for an instant, and in that instant She speaks through them, using words they don't understand and don't need to have ever heard before. Nobody knows what they mean, but nothing can stand against them - and when they're spoken in this way, it's said that someone close to the Servant, someone they value dearly, dies within seven days. However, someone can know these words and even say them without either effect. The Goddess speaking these words is the big thing here, not the words themselves.
- Casey Fry's Death Speaker has a type of creature called a DeathSpeaker who kills whoever hears them utter a single sound. Made worse that these creatures are just humans who are mute until they can suddenly speak at ten-years-old, and they have no control over their power.
- The overlord of the Redeemers in Star Trek: New Frontier knew words that could do things from inflicting severe pain, to forcing a person to reveal everything they know (which was actually used, and it wasn't a pretty sight). Their one weakness is that they can be blocked by Starfleet Universal Translators because they're from a language the Translators don't recognize.
- In The Folk Keeper, the Power of the Last Word is the ability to compose rhyming verse to which forces fae creatures such as the Folk to submit to the will of the speaker. Pre-composed or previously used poetry will not work; the Power of the Last Word can only be exercised through original and spontaneously inspired verse.
- In the second book of the Abarat series, protagonist Candy Quackenbush abruptly learns a specific word of power: "Jassassakya-Thüm". When she says it, it shakes or breaks whatever she focuses on (or if she is not focusing, everything around her). And it will keep shaking and breaking until she inhales it again. In fact, the longer the word is "loose", the stronger it gets.
- A variation on Babylon 5: Telepaths, in addition to scanning minds and planting thoughts or visions, can also effectively hit the target's "pain button", making every nerve in their body burst with blinding pain for a few moments. This is typically accompanied by them simply glaring at the other person and hissing "Pain!" It is only allowed to be used in self defense, and it is only used when more effective means, such as guns, are unavailable.
- Technomages claim they can also make anyone do certain things just by speaking certain words. The trilogy of novels about them, though, implies that it's all bullshit. There's a reason the Vorlons refer to them as "fabulists". While they are powerful in their own way (especially those who have managed to unlock the most basic spells and know how to work in harmony with the tech), they tend to rely more on theatrics and misdirection, like a typical stage magician.
- Doctor Who:
- "The Christmas Invasion": The Doctor ends Harriet Jones' career with six words. "Don't you think she looks tired?"
- "The Shakespeare Code": The Carrionites use words to shape reality; the right words said in the right way at the right time have dramatic effects. Unfortunately for them it works both ways, and the Doctor's enlisted the best wordsmith around: Shakespeare. He improvises a sonnet right then and there to defeat them. They get an assist from J. K. Rowling too, via Martha: turns out that Expelliarmus! just happens to fit the end of his incantation to banish them nicely.
Close up this din of hateful dire decay.
Decomposition of your witches' plot.
You thieve my brains, consider me your toy
My doted Doctor tells me I am not!
Foul Carrionites fester, cease your show.
Between the points Seven six one three nine 0.
Banished like a tinker's cuss,
I sing to thee EXPELLIARMUS!
- "Mummy on the Orient Express": The Doctor faces the Foretold, an ancient mummy that can only be seen by those it is about to kill. They have only 66 seconds to live once the lights dim and it appears. Legends say there is a word or phrase that will banish the Foretold. After the Doctor becomes its next victim, he deduces the Foretold is a soldier from a long-gone war, being kept alive by technology and forced to drain the life force of those it appears before. Because of this, the Doctor realizes the words are "We Surrender." It works and the Foretold is able to move onto what-comes-next.
- The Loverica Bugster from Kamen Rider Ex-Aid is from a Dating Sim, and as a result is immune to physical attacks...but being shotdown hurts. A lot. When Nico insults him and tells him he's not her type, she gets several critical hits and sends him flying.
- An episode of Samurai Sentai Shinkenger/Power Rangers Samurai has a monster that can read a person's mind, find the most derogatory and damaging insult that person has ever been called, and repeat it to them, converting the emotional pain they suffer from the insult into physical pain. He's only defeated when it's revealed one of our heroes has gotten so used to being insulted in her life that the monster's power can't affect her. Interestingly, the monster is based on a Japanese Obake that, itself, suffers from Words Can Break My Bones...in reverse: it "feeds" off of a person's inner thoughts, repeating them in the open when they latch onto someone, and only by emptying your mind of all thoughts can you drive away (or even kill) the creature.
- Of course, the Shinkengers themselves indulge in this trope with their "Mojikara", or "word magic"; essentially, they use traditional Japanese calligraphy (written in the correct brushstroke) to create or invoke certain things, such as summoning a horse by writing out the kanji for "horse". (The Samurai Rangers do the same, but their "Samurai Symbols of Power" were never acknowledged as an actual written language.) The team's Sixth Ranger, unfortunately, sucks at penmanship, so he does his mojikara through cell phone text messages.
- In Jewish lore there are ramifications for speaking the True Name of God or erasing the written version. There is also the folklore of the Golem of Prague where the word emet was used to bring life to a piece of earth.
- The Bible: The Book of John starts out with "In the beginning was the Word..." This is the authors way of stressing the primacy of Jesus, as the Word of God incarnate.
- In Greek it's "Ἐν ἀρχῇ ἦν ὁ λόγος." Granted, "word" is one possible translation of "λόγος", but so are "argument" and "study" (hence any English word that ends in "-logy") and probably a few other meanings besides.
- The medieval theologian Erasmus translated it as "sermon," which may be seen as a sign of how important Scholastic works on religion were getting to be at the time.
- And then there's the parodies. In the beginning was the Word...
- There is also Jesus Christ basically scolding a storm, getting it to abate, bringing people Back from the Dead by asking them, healing people by saying it would be so, or expelling demons by ordering them to leave. This is because, as the Son of God, he has absolute authority over the world, nature, life, and everything else (save the free will that was given to humanity by God).
- And it is also mentioned that one could do the same, even simply tell a mountain to move and it would do so, if one has faith as small as a mustard seed.
- In Greek it's "Ἐν ἀρχῇ ἦν ὁ λόγος." Granted, "word" is one possible translation of "λόγος", but so are "argument" and "study" (hence any English word that ends in "-logy") and probably a few other meanings besides.
- One of the ideas behind Ancient Egyptian magic was the very real potency of words and especially names. Their religious rituals also made use of the principle.
- Dungeons & Dragons
- The most famous examples are the "Power Word" spells, including the ones for Blind, Kill and Stun. Power Word: Kill is as bad as it sounds: target within range with certain amount of HP/hit dice drops dead, no saving throw.
- Similar and related are certain rune spells such as Symbol of Death - yep, it's at least as nasty if you step on it.
- The dark speech, as introduced in the Book of Vile Darkness, is capable of damaging solid objects and driving people insane, as well as forming a component of seriously nasty (by D&D standards) magic.
- The Various Splatbooks feature tons of variants on this trope. Warlocks can shatter objects, disable flight, and turn people into frogs just by saying single words of the black speech. The Dracolexi Prestige Class can light people on fire just by speaking Draconic. But the one class that takes this trope to the extreme is the Truenamer from Tome Of Magic, who can temporarily reprogram the universe. Theoretically.
- Fourth Edition introduced the bard power "Vicious Mockery", which causes psychic damage and is described in fluff as a string of vulgarities and insults, allows a player to literally talk someone to death.
- I prepared Explosive Runes this morning.
- Every spell with a verbal component fits the trope. Though most of the damaging ones also require a physical component, there are few non-attack, purely spoken spells that can be cleverly used to break bones.
- Tenebrous's/Orcus's last word was so powerful that the utterance could instantly slay even deities. In fact, it was so powerful that unless you were a true god, usage of this word would eventually burn you out. After Tenebrous's shenanigans, a cabal of greater deities greatly lessened the power of the word.
- 3E and 3.5E have a whole family of spells that do this to creatures of the opposite alignment. A cleric who casts Holy Word (seen in action in The Order of the Stick #859) causes any non-good creature within 40 feet to suffer an escalating series of effects depending on the difference between the caster level and the victim's hit dice. If the two values match, the subject is merely deafened, whereas if the difference is ten or more, the subject is deafened, blinded, paralyzed, and killed instantly. Also, non-good extraplanar creatures are immediately banished. Holy Word's counterparts for the other alignments are Blasphemy (affects non-evil subjects), Dictum (affects non-lawful subjects), and Word of Chaos (affects non-chaotic subjects).
- The Words of Power from GURPS: Thaumatology are described as "the ultimate symbols of which all others are merely shadows". Despite their enormous power the Words are cheap (in game terms) to learn because they're impossible to control. "Fire" might do anything from inspire poetry to create a massive explosion or even do both at once.
- The rules also note that a word of power has a reasonable chance of doing the speaker a serious mischief on the way out.
- Vampire: The Requiem gives us the Spina bloodline (a line of gentleman/gentlewoman knights who respect the code of the duel and proper combat) and their unique Discipline of Courtosie. At its highest level, it allows you to sass someone so hard, they take damage.
- Exalted charms can cause this in many different ways. A tongue-lashing can cause very real damage and in the case of some specific charms and combos, a person can be harmed or killed by just reading a letter.
- Hollow Earth Expedition. A character who knows the Atlantean language and has the talent Atlantean Power Words can order opponents by using one word commands in Atlantean. If he has the Atlantean Commands talent as well he can issue complex multi-word commands.
- In the Warhammer Gaiden Game Mordheim, the Chaos ritual Word of Pain involves the Chaos Magister speaking the name of his dark god. The power of this forbidden name is so great that everyone within earshot, whether they are enemies or fellow worshipers, is stricken with pain.
- In Jacob Marley's Christmas Carol, Scrooge's contempt is so withering Marley reels back as if struck, and he's forced to retreat.
- Bookworm Adventures makes sense given that it's a word game to begin with.
- Mischief Makers also takes the literal approach: you shake negative words to turn them positive and attack with them.
- Scribblenauts and Super Scribblenauts allow you to create any object or objects by writing its words. Some of the words create harmful things (dragon, sword, fire, atomic bomb).
- Ditto Psychonauts: in the boss fight against Straw Critic Jasper Rolls, he attacks you with the physical embodiment of derogatory adjectives like "tedious" and "monotonous". (It's a Journey to the Center of the Mind, this stuff can happen there.)
- And all this happens after Raz remarks that "sticks and stones might break my bones, but words will never hurt... me..."
- In Treasure of the Rudra, magic is based on entered words... and possible effects for entries that don't have a specific precoded effect involve the word simply attacking enemies, such as flying at them from offscreen or being dropped on them by an eagle.
- In Ultima and Ultima Online, spell systems use a series of these, fragments of a Language of Magic that are each imbued with a different power according to their meaning. Spells are made by combining them with material reagents.
- In World of Warcraft, many of the spells priests learn are like this. Shadow Word: Pain, Power Word: Shield, and Shadow Word: Death, for some examples.
- VVVVVV. Words can literally kill you.
- Towards the end of Alan Wake you go into a weird abstract world with a bunch of typewritten words that hover in mid-air. Shining your light on them cause them to manifest the things they represent. For instance, "Exit" will create a way out of the area, or "Red Box" will spawn a supply chest. In the DLC they introduce considerably more dangerous ones, like "Taken", "Birds", and "BOOM!"
- The scrolls in the Diablo series work this way, with the written words becoming the spell as they're spoken (and consequently, disappearing). The magic books from the first installment may be similar, as they too disappear when used.
- In Baldur's Gate all casters say three short words in latin before any spell depending on the school, which read less like magical gibberish and more like an invocation.
Abjuration: "Manus, Potentis, Paro" = "A hand, powerful, I prepare"Alteration: "Praeses, Alia, Fero" = "Protecting, another, I bring this forth"Conjuration: "Facio, Voco, Ferre" = "This I do, I call, to bring you forth"Divination: "Scio, Didici, Pecto" = "I know, for I have studied, with my mind"Enchantment: "Cupio, Virtus, Licet" = "I want, excellence, allowed to me"Evocation: "Incertus, Pulcher, Imperio" = "Uncertain, beautiful things, I command"Illusion: "Veritas, Credo, Oculos" = "The truth, I believe, with my eyes"Necromancy: "Vita, Mortis, Careo" = "Life, and death, I am without"
- The Elder Scrolls
- Nirn's dragons are the divine children of the chief deity of the Nine Divines Pantheon, Akataosh, the Dragon God of Time. (They also may be fragments of his actual being, and serve of a role similar to being very destructive angels.) They inherently speak a Language of Magic which gives them small scale Reality Warping powers. Essentially, they "make real" whatever they speak in this language. For example, when a Dragon is "breathing" fire, they're technically commanding fire to come into existence, and battles between dragons are essentially very loud debates.
- In the ancient past, the dragons and their Dragon Cults took over much of Skyrim. Seeking a way to defeat the Dragons and their Cults, the ancient Proud Warrior Race Nords prayed to the Divines for aid. Their prayers were answered and they were taught how to use the language of the Dragons themselves, which they called the Thu'um (or the "Voice"). Led by the Tongues, masters of the Thu'um, the ancient Nord armies vanquished the dragons and their Cults, then forged an Empire that covered nearly all of north Tamriel. A succession crisis would eventually tear it apart, and then the use of the Thu'um as a weapon of war dropped dramatically after their defeat at the Battle of Red Mountain, following which one of those Tongues (Jurgen Windcaller) founded the "Way of the Voice" to use the Thu'um only honor the gods.
- In modern times, the Greybeards continue to follow Windcaller's "Way of the Voice." They live in a monastery known as High Hrothgar near the top of the Throat of the World, the tallest mountain in Tamriel. So powerful is their Thu'um that they are usually sworn to silence in order to not destroy everything around them simply by talking. Even their faintest whispers are known to shake the mountain on which they live. They Greybeards accept anyone who wishes to learn the Thu'um and follow the Way of the Voice. It is explained that anyone can learn to use Thu'um, but it takes a great deal of training, mostly to learn the true meaning of the words in the shout. Anyone can try speaking it, but you need to put your soul into it for magic to happen.
- Skyrim is the first game in the series in which the Thu'um is seen in action. The Player Character is a legendary Dragonborn (or Dovahkiin), a rare mortal blessed by Akatosh with the immortal Aedric soul of a dragon. Akatosh creates those who are Dragonborn to be the natural predators of the Dragons, being capable of ending their Resurrective Immortality by absorbing their souls and using those souls to increase their mastery of the Thu'um. After being revealed as a Dragonborn, he/she will be summoned by the Greybeards to High Hrothgar for training. When they call for the Dragonborn, all of Skyrim can hear it.
- Others in Skyrim are revealed to be able to use the Thu'um as well. Ulfric Stormcloak, leader of the Stormcloak rebellion, studied with the Greybeards and used the Thu'um to win his duel with High King Torygg, kickstarting the Skyrim Civil War. Additionally, many of the Draugr Elite Mooks (the ones with the words "death," "over," or "lord" somewhere in their names) were the leaders of the ancient Dragon Cults and can use the Thu'um as well. Miraak, the first Dragonborn and Big Bad of the Dragonborn DLC as well as the Bonus Boss Ebony Warrior can also use the Thu'um.
- Online introduces Daedric Titans, dragons who have been corrupted by Molag Bal, the Daedric Prince of Domination and Corruption. While stated to be only a "crude imitation" of the "true" Thu'um, Titans possess the ability to speak a spell of flaming essence-drain that can debilitate an opponent with a single word.
- In Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 Phoenix Wright can use his iconic "Hold it!" and "Objection!" as attacks that can stun opponents. His level 3 hyper combo consists in him accusing the opponent of being "the one who actually committed the crime", finalizing with a "Take That!" Balloon. This happens to be the second most damaging move in the whole game, only losing out to Vergil's Level 3.
- In Lollipop Chainsaw, Zed the Punk Zombie can attack by weaponizing profanities. He does this by blasting you with giant versions of the words he shouts out, like COCKSUCKER! or PISS OFF!, to demonstrate a few (as seen below in the video).
- In Manhunt 2, Daniel Lamb's mind can be destroyed if Dr. Pickman completes the following quote within earshot: "What seest thou else in the dark backward and abysm of time?"
- The Bizarre Adventures of Woodruff and the Schnibble: The nine Syllables originally known by the seven Wisemen.
- In Planescape: Torment, the museum/art gallery has a "statue" which is actually a wizard who was petrified just before he could start cursing some enemy. A player can potentially restore him, whereupon he completes his tirade. The resultant profanities are so utterly vile they kill you instantly. (In this game, more an inconvenience than anything else.) Doing this is one of the ways the player can enhance Morte's Taunt special attack.
- At the beginning of Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga, Cackletta infects Peach (Actually Birdo) with a bizarre condition where anything she says will manifest as swear-like symbols that fall down from her speech bubble and explode upon hitting the floor. Cackletta describes it as "an explosive vocabulary."
- The Parodius series has a megaphone powerup that spouts random silly phrases which, upon contact to enemies, does tremendous damage.
- The Correspondence in Fallen London is a writing system which has this effect. Attempts to study it tend to set things on fire, ranging from the material it's written on to would-be cryptophilologists themselves. Writing Correspondence symbols in lead seems to mitigate the issue, but only to an extent. It's also known to make the reader's eyes bleed. Sunless Sea, set in the same universe, goes even further with it: There's monsters out there in the Unterzee that are fluent in Correspondence, and have been known to sink frigates just by talking at them.
- A quest in Sunless Sea takes it further and mixes it with I Know Your True Name. Namely, finding your own "Burning Name" which will send you on a very long and *ahem* reality-challenged quest to go to a rather exotic locale. Performing the ritual involves speaking your Name (which burns you. horribly.) and having every single member of your crew constantly singing a song that protects you from the Alien Geometries stopping you from just zailing there.
- Counterfeit Monkey takes place in a world where it's possible to remove letters from words to transform objects and even living beings into new ones. There's even a 't-inserter' that's sought after by the rebel faction because of how incredibly versatile the ability to insert the letter t in any word can be.
- Sagume Kishin in Touhou 15: Legacy of Lunatic Kingdom is an interesting case: the opposite of what she says always comes true, reality itself making sure that everything that comes out of her mouth is a lie. This makes her a Reality Warper, but it also means she speaks little and very carefully.
- Cuphead has Hilda Berg, a zeppelin woman who, among her attacks, can shoot the word "HA!" at you.
- Gordon Frohman of Concerned only survived falling down from the Citadel because he had Buddha mode on (apparently he could use Half-Life 2 cheats by saying them out loud). It didn't prevent him from getting fatal injuries, only from succumbing to them. Of course, saying "buddha" again in such a situation is ill-advised. He learned this the hard way...
- The word path in Juathuur is one of the three types of magic.
- Mottom, one of the Seven in Kill Six Billion Demons can explode heads into flower petals with a whispered word. It's probably a devastating ability, but we've only seen it used on another of the Seven, and it didn't take.
- Towards the end of Problem Sleuth, Demonhead Mobster Kingpin's third form can only become vulnerable to damage by raising his "Sick Burn" meter with insults.
- Torg of Sluggy Freelance gives Zoë a fancy necklace he found in an Egyptian pyramid that turns out to carry a curse that causes its wearer to transform into a camel when someone in earshot says the word "shupid". Fortunately, the effect can be reversed by speaking another magic word, "kwi". Unfortunately, the necklace, upon being put on, turns into a tattoo on the wearers chest, and cannot be removed.
- In Rice Boy, the titular character learns to speak a word in the Thrill language. It allows him to cut anything in half.
- The SCP Foundation has a few of these in its ranks... notably SCP-1425, the book "Star Signals", which causes reality to degrade as more and more people use the Black Speech it contains. It nearly becomes an X-Keter Class Event, if not a complete breakdown of reality as we know it. SCP-701, The Hanged King's Tragedy, also seems to work as a magical rite, with madness coming along as the actors read, rehearse and eventually perform the script.
- "Sim Sim Sala Bim" - the magic words Hadji used all the time on Jonny Quest.
- American Dad!!: "Say Agathor backwards".
- Played with and subverted in The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy. While no magic is involved, Billy does tell Spurg the whole "sticks and stones" thing. Then Spurg shows Billy that he indeed has with him sticks and stones.
- Raven's magical exclamation on Teen Titans: AZARATH METRION ZINTHOS!!
- However, its shown that its not an intrinsic property of the words that have power, but rather that they mean something important to Raven herself.
- In the Bugs Bunny cartoon "Transylvania 6-5000", the vampire Count Bloodcount can turn himself into a bat by saying "Abracadabra", and turn himself back by saying "Hocus Pocus". Bugs keeps saying the words at random, even making up a song about them, causing the Count to turn into a bat and back at the most inopportune times. Bugs then starts getting creative.
Abraca-pocus. (Count turns into vampire with a bat's head)
Pocus-cadabra. (Count turns into bat with vampire's head)
Newport News. (Count turns into Witch Hazel)
I can do better than that. Walla-Walla Washington. (Count turns into two-headed vulture.)
- Topping it off, Bugs himself grows bat wings just by singing "Abraca-pocus".
- In the short Yankee Dood It, the word "Jehoshaphat" has the power to turn elves into mice, and Sylvester the cat tries to make his master repeat the word so he can make lunch out of an elf. The word "Rumplestiltskin" is used to change him back.
- "Abracadabra" came to us from as far back as the 2nd century AD, believed to be Aramaic (a Semitic language related to Hebrew) in origin, or maybe Arabic, used as a charm against misfortune. In Arabic the meaning was "let the thing be destroyed," while the thing being destroyed was typically illness, or possibly "let it be as I have said." It might also have come from Aramaic first, where abra (אברא) means "to create" and cadabra (כדברא) which means "as I say."