Magicians' words

George Thompson george.thompson at NYU.EDU
Wed Apr 28 17:13:14 UTC 2004

I have "PRESTO CHANGE." as the headline to a story from the NY Herald of May 26, 1842, p. 2, col. 6.  I did not make a note as to the contents of the story.


George A. Thompson
Author of A Documentary History of "The African
Theatre", Northwestern Univ. Pr., 1998.

----- Original Message -----
From: Michael Quinion <TheEditor at>
Date: Wednesday, April 28, 2004 4:47 am
Subject: Re: Magicians' words

> > I assume you are aware that Shazam is not a traditional magicians'
> > incantatory phrase at all, but instead was introduced in Whiz Comics
> > in 1940 as both the name of an ancient wizard and the
> exclamation by
> > which Billy Batson transformed himself into Captain Marvel.  The
> name> is an acronym for Solomon, Hercules, Atlas, Zeus, Achilles, and
> > Mercury.
> Yes, indeed; I interpreted "traditional" deliberately rather loosely.
> Others in the list may be relatively modern, too, such as "alakazam"
> (early 20th century, at that time meaning "excellent", whose magical
> associations seem to date only from the time of the TV cartoon series
> "The Land of Alakazam", which started in 1960) and "presto chango"
> (which I've found no further back than the 1920s). It would be good
> to know more about "alakazam" in particular, whose origin seems to be
> appropriately mysterious.
> --
> Michael Quinion
> Editor, World Wide Words
> E-mail: <TheEditor at>
> Web: <" target="l">>

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