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ab·ra·ca·dab·ra (ăbrə-kə-dăbrə)
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n.
1. A magical charm or incantation having the power to ward off disease or disaster.
2. Foolish or unintelligible talk.
interj.
Used by a magician just before completing a trick or an illusion.

[Late Latin magical formula of unknown origin.]

Word History: The word abracadabra is first attested in a poem about medical matters attributed to the Roman author Quintus Serenus Sammonicus, who lived around the second century AD. In one of the poem's prescriptions for magical cures, the letters of the word abracadabra are written on papyrus in an inverted triangle and worn as an amulet around the neck. The top line of letters in the triangle consists of the word abracadabra, and one letter is subtracted from the end of this word in each line below it: abracadabr, abracadab, abracada, and so forth. At last only the letter a remains to form the vertex of the triangle. As the letters disappear, so supposedly does the disease or trouble.
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abracadabra

The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition copyright ©2020 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
 

Indo-European & Semitic Roots Appendices

    Thousands of entries in the dictionary include etymologies that trace their origins back to reconstructed proto-languages. You can obtain more information about these forms in our online appendices:

    Indo-European Roots

    Semitic Roots

    The Indo-European appendix covers nearly half of the Indo-European roots that have left their mark on English words. A more complete treatment of Indo-European roots and the English words derived from them is available in our Dictionary of Indo-European Roots.

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