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Thaumaturgy

Of all the words in English that refer to the making of magic, this is perhaps the most resonant. It doesn’t have the negative associations of words such as sorcery or necromancy because it referred originally to the production of wonders for positive ends rather than any intent to cause someone harm.

The origin is the Greek word thaumatourgos, miracle working (from thauma, marvel, plus ergos, work). Though it’s not that common a word, it seems to have generated a surprisingly large set of derivatives since it first appeared in English in 1727. There are several words for a practitioner of thaumaturgy, including thaumaturge and thaumaturgist; another is thaumaturgus, which has been given to a number of Christian saints and others who are said to have performed wonders. The verb is thaumaturgise.

The thaumatrope was a Victorian toy, a card with two different pictures on its back and front that magically combined into one when the card was rapidly spun. And aficionados of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels will know that the wizards of Unseen University invented a device with which to measure the intensity of a magic field — what would you call that but a thaumometer?

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Copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.
Page created 20 Nov. 1999

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The English language is forever changing. New words appear; old ones fall out of use or alter their meanings. World Wide Words tries to record at least a part of this shifting wordscape by featuring new words, word histories, words in the news, and the curiosities of native English speech.

World Wide Words is copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.
This page URL: http://www.worldwidewords.org/weirdwords/ww-tha1.htm
Last modified: 20 November 1999.