Magic Words….

It probably won’t surprise y’all to know that I think about magic kind of a lot.

There’s a lot of reasons for this, obviously. First, it’s kinda my job. Worldbuilding.

But it’s also kinda my hobby: I’m a geek for fantasy.

It’s also a pleasantly large part of being a dad. I read my boys books, and we play games, and we talk about those things and all their history and context. (See above: geek.) Quite aside from that, sometimes they straight up just ask me out of the blue about myth or superstition, or faeries.

Just the other day, I saw some of this bear fruit when a friend asked my boys, in a very casual way, what she should do about her dice. They’d been rolling badly, and she wanted to fix them.

(These aren’t specifically her dice. They’re just cool dice.)

They jumped in with both feet. Was she looking to dispel bad luck? Or give a blessing? They talked about holy salt and the Eye of Horace…

I was so proud.

Anyway. To the point. I was thinking about magic the other day. Like I do. For… reasons. Reasons I won’t go into lest this blog become super long.

But I was wondering about how you would describe magic effects in words that were as simple as possible. Like, for example, what if you were going to try to describe magic spells or effect in the same way Randal Monroe did in his book Thing Explainer.

So, for example, for Fireball an description might be: “Flame Explode” Or maybe “Hot Explode.”

Or, now that I’m thinking about it, “Hot Explode THERE.” (As opposed to a spell that just blew up in your face, which is somewhat less desirable….)

As another example, for the dice above it could be: “Make Good Luck.” Or “Add Fortune.”

But see, “Fortune” is a really specific term. A broader way of saying it might be “Change This. Add More Good”

Or alternately: Remove Bad Magic.

See where I’m aiming with this?

So I’m throwing this out to y’all. What classic spells or magical effects can you think of, and how would you describe them in the simplest, most basic?

Curious to see what y’all come up with…


Edit: I’m enjoying the back and forth in comments with y’all, as bouncing these ideas back and forth is what I was hoping to do. Kinda of troubleshooting the entire concept.  That’s the easiest way to knock the rough corners off an idea, in my experience….

To further clarify for those of you who are looking to come in and participate, reading through some of the other comments first would probably be a good idea.

For example, after reading some of the suggestions below, I think “Make” is going to be out-of-bounds. “Create” is a good one though, as “Create” is a big concept, but it really only means one thing, which is “Bring into existence.”

What I’m really looking do to is develop a rough vocabulary of terms that could be assembled into different effects. Almost like computer code, but for magic. (Someone down in the comments made this analogy, and it’s too fitting not to share.)

How about this, moving foward, think of this as a note you’re handing to the universe. What’s more, it’s a universe that doesn’t give much of a shit about what you want or intend. It’s not going to read your mind or ask for clarification.

With that in mind, note that FIAT LUX  (Let there be light) is pretty clear.

But something like “Do thing” isn’t.

PUSH is pretty clear. But PUSH AWAY is clearer.

(Interesting note: “Push away” in Latin is “repelle” if memory serves.)

Anyway, yeah. Thanks for everyone who’s been coming in to try out this odd idea with me. This is fun so far…


This entry was posted in calling on the legions, gaming, naming, Terrible Science. By Pat118 Responses


  1. Don
    Posted November 28, 2021 at 6:14 PM | Permalink

    make locked door open

      Posted November 28, 2021 at 7:46 PM | Permalink


    • Posted November 28, 2021 at 8:48 PM | Permalink

      We sure about “make” here? It seems like what you’re wanting to do is Change a door from locked to unlocked.

      • Avery
        Posted November 29, 2021 at 2:09 AM | Permalink

        Would “unlock” be useable?

        Locked door? “Unlock”

        Because I could see you looking at a person, and saying “unlock” and perhaps they open up about their deepest secrets.

        Or if they couldn’t remember who they were, it would either open up those floodgates completely, or at least enough to remind them?

        But it could be too vague, to where you can’t control what comes out. But it would be nice.

        • Posted November 29, 2021 at 6:22 AM | Permalink


          *persons suddenly and stinkily is cured of their constipation*

          • Posted November 29, 2021 at 2:57 PM | Permalink

            Or, like, all their guts fall out….

            It’s shit like this that makes people afraid of namers.

          • Jason
            Posted December 3, 2021 at 11:22 AM | Permalink

            So are “open” and “close” as commands not specific enough?
            Both are about changing the current state of the object in question, but is there too much interpretive room?

      • Posted November 29, 2021 at 4:28 PM | Permalink

        If it really were like a computer code, a thing we like to do is this: Change lockedness. Instead of just locking, it could both lock and unlock.

        • whiskey-mic
          Posted November 30, 2021 at 1:51 AM | Permalink

          Yes! Efficient, versatile, and context determines intent. Especially useful in binary status situations. Following Pat’s “note to the universe” principle, perhaps “change door lockedness”? Determine which door by looking at it. Or, if your majix are the jam, visualize it!

      • Brian C.
        Posted December 3, 2021 at 7:22 AM | Permalink

        Pm the flip side of this idea, if invisible djinns (Arabic for demons) are behind the magic, being non-specific would be very dangerous. I mean, think about it–what’s really doing the magic? It takes intellect to carry out and control the magic. If a person just “does a spell,” something must be carrying it out because the details and aspects of the spell require a mind and power to do so. Being really broad could really backfire.

        Then again, you’re trying to get just specific enough to have the degree of control you want without blowing s**t up unintentionally, so that’s a good thing. lol

    • Rockinfella
      Posted November 29, 2021 at 1:35 AM | Permalink

      Could it be “open lock” or even “unlock” instead? Does it have to be connected with the door? Could be a general spell to open all kinds of locks.

  2. V3HK
    Posted November 28, 2021 at 6:15 PM | Permalink

    Lucky charm.

  3. Dan
    Posted November 28, 2021 at 6:17 PM | Permalink

    If we’re sticking with D&D…

    Magic Missile: Ouch exactly where I want it.
    Charm Person: You think I’m right.

  4. Manuel
    Posted November 28, 2021 at 6:30 PM | Permalink

    may the vicissitudes of fate flow in my favor

    • Posted November 28, 2021 at 8:48 PM | Permalink

      Hmmm…. seems like the opposite of simple and clear.

      • Joel
        Posted November 29, 2021 at 2:46 PM | Permalink

        I actually like this one. Small change maybe
        ’cause the vicissitudes of fate benefit me/them/etc’

        • Joel
          Posted November 29, 2021 at 2:53 PM | Permalink

          although, it does require ongoing intelligence/intervention to accomplish separate from the spell caster, so probably not in the scope of what you’re looking for

          • Posted November 29, 2021 at 2:59 PM | Permalink

            Yeah. It’s asking the universe to make choices and decisions, and I think it makes it out of bounds for the purpose of this excercise.

  5. Carmen Villaescusa
    Posted November 28, 2021 at 6:40 PM | Permalink

    Heal friend
    Take health from/hurt enemy
    Remove obstacle/distraction
    Create obstacle/distraction
    Make enemy not see (you)
    Create thing
    Destroy thing
    Fix thing

    • Posted November 28, 2021 at 8:54 PM | Permalink

      THIS is more exactly what I was thinking of…

      Seeing these (specificially Make and Create close to each other) helps me realize that “Make” is going to probably have to be out of bounds, as it can mean a lot of things. (Like Create or Change.)

      Here, Make is effectively saying, “do a thing” and unfortunately I don’t think that’s going to be specific *enough,* if it were, all spells could just be “Do a thing to a thing.”

      • Carmen Villaescusa
        Posted November 29, 2021 at 6:35 PM | Permalink

        Ok, I think I get it better now. So maybe:


        • Rigamaraw
          Posted December 2, 2021 at 10:04 AM | Permalink

          Blind [thing] would be the shortest way to put it, but perhaps not the simplest.


          Remove sight from [thing]

          It’s an interesting exercise considering how the language would have to change for an object. “Remove” wouldn’t be specific enough for an object by itself or on a person.

  6. Rafferty C
    Posted November 28, 2021 at 6:46 PM | Permalink

    “Jierda theira kalfis” from Eragon comes to mind. “Break their calves” though the power required overtaxed Eragon. He later gets scolded and told to use less exact language, something like “apply pressure to their calves” so he could stop the spell if it’s toll were too great. With a magic system with its own spin, I’d say magic words would probably need just core concepts and connectors/aggregators/quantifiers. In this way Vader’s force choke could be written with something like “hold that air” to prevent air from entering the target’s lungs.

  7. Paris
    Posted November 28, 2021 at 6:47 PM | Permalink

    In the same vein, wouldn’t create bad luck or dispel good luck enter this topic? I would go with clear skies as a classical spell.

  8. Morg
    Posted November 28, 2021 at 7:04 PM | Permalink


    Speed me

    Heal me

    Heal her

    Heal us

    Heal them

    Make me smart

  9. Andy
    Posted November 28, 2021 at 7:08 PM | Permalink

    Naming Is Hard. (Okay, you probably know that…)

    This reminds me a lot of naming functions in computer programming. A function is a small bit of code that does one specific thing. (Very much like a spell, especially to the uninitiated.) If you want readable code, the name of the function should clearly describe what it does. Turns out that’s a notoriously hard thing to do. There are a lot of people out there that have opinions about it. Here’s an interesting post on naming.

    • Posted November 28, 2021 at 9:02 PM | Permalink

      ^ THIS.

      You’ve managed to articulate what I meant more clearly than I was able to manage.

      What I’m looking for is a series of clear commands, each specific, but also broad enough to be useful in many situations.

      So “defenestrate” isn’t a good term. Yes it’s clear, but it only means one thing.

      “Push” would be better, but would usually require terms to provide focus or context.

      • Andy
        Posted November 29, 2021 at 5:10 PM | Permalink

        Sticking with the computer analogy, functions usually have their name which describes the action they perform (PushToObject) and then their parameters (Pushee, Location) that can vary every time you perform the function. So you can cast PushToLocation(author, window). You can even add more parameters (Speed, OffsetFromLocation) to get more detail. PushToObject(author, window, 25mph, -10ft) would be rather rude, for example.

        This brings us to another tricky bit. How big should these functions be? You can keep adding parameters and get a function that does almost everything. Or you can make a bunch of tiny ones that you string together. Getting that balance right is a bit of an art.

    • Posted November 28, 2021 at 9:31 PM | Permalink

      Oh shit! It’s Andy! *waves*

      Of course you’d get what I was aiming toward better than I did myself. You’ve listened to more of my mad rambles than almost anyone else over the years…

      • Andy
        Posted November 29, 2021 at 5:12 PM | Permalink

        I’m watching you, Rothfuss. Always watching. Always.

    • Esther
      Posted November 28, 2021 at 11:03 PM | Permalink

      This is what I think about most of the time when I write code!
      Interestingly enough, this also applies to theater lyrics. Because the audience gets only one shot at understanding the lyrics, they have to be understood in time. Also the words should sound distinct from one another, so they aren’t mistaken for something else. Pass Sally the ball (bad) vs Throw Sally the ball (better)
      I guess the equivalent for that in code is when words end in the same letter then start with the same letter. TossSalad() for example. Though that’s not necessarily a deal breaker.

      And in both cases, being able to get the target audience to form a clear picture in their head is important. If the words are too generic, then it’s easy to get confused or bored. That idea might contradict your challenge of using the simplest words possible… Or maybe just make it more challenging.

      I guess with that, here are some attempts! (sorry for hijacking your comment, I just found it relatable and had to add to it!)

      Fire Eat You!
      Rabbit Appear!
      Get Hugged By Rocks!
      Fast Pointy Ice!
      We Were Never Here! (Pass without trace)
      Light Without Sun!

    • Brandon
      Posted November 29, 2021 at 9:20 AM | Permalink

      Riffing off of the idea of programming, I wonder how your conception of the nature of magic alters how you should/can use language to access it. Programming commands are part of a human written language used to accomplish computational tasks. ‘Read.csv’ or ‘summarize’ move data around and execute mathematical operations because In The Beginning, some humans agreed that those were the best words to communicate to users what the commands would do. But this is problematic when your programming language was written by native English speakers and is supposed to be used by programmers around the world. Often times direct translations of commands are not the words another language speaker would intuitively associate with the operation.

      So if you’re thinking about magic, how far does that analogy go? Are there gods for different peoples speaking different languages, and the magic emanating from each god can only be expressed/accessed using that language? Or is magic an underlying phenomena of the universe, similar to math, that we imperfectly express via language? In that case, might some languages be better suited to some spells, b/c their linguistic conceptualizations more accurately reflect the underlying nature of reality (i.e. the old saw about Inuit peoples having 2 dozen words for snow would make them better at snow magic)? Or perhaps there would be a race to figure out a ‘perfect’ language which exactly corresponds to the real nature of magic, one which wouldn’t be a native language to anyone (like Esperanto). In that sense you might have experimental linguists accidentally blowing up cities by figuring out a new way to structure verbs.

      Vaguely coming around to your actual request, I would expect for very simple commands would be best for accomplishing very simple manipulations of the world. But I would think that more complex magic would require more complex language. E.g. you could try to explain atomic physics with 100 common words, but you couldn’t really express the complexity of the ideas. That makes me think you might have different levels of magical advancement in competing societies based on the combination of their scientific understanding of physical phenomena and their ability to describe it linguistically. Maybe you would have to write an entire symphony or book (or computer code!) to manipulate quantum mechanics in a way that allows for time travel or altering thermodynamics.

      Sorry, that wasn’t too terribly on topic but it’s an interesting idea to think about!

      • Posted November 29, 2021 at 1:34 PM | Permalink

        Isn’t that the basics of LeGuin’s “True Names”?

      • Esther
        Posted November 29, 2021 at 1:38 PM | Permalink

        I love, love this! Yeah I actually recently watched a video explaining how having a word for a certain colors affects how you see colors :

        The video describes how they did a study on the Himba people of Namibia, who don’t have a word for the color blue in their language. They were able to detect a slightly different shade of green among 12 green circles faster than westerners. Westerners were faster at detecting blue from 12 circles, 11 of which were green.

        Language literally affects our perception of the world because of how our brains work. AND… this also really ties into the theme of language having power in NOTW!!!

    • Posted November 29, 2021 at 9:47 AM | Permalink

      Jumping in on this as another fellow coder. The interesting thing about writing code is that almost all code is written on the backbone of older, even deeper code until you get all the way down to 1’s and 0’s, the computer’s “true” language.

      You have layers of complexity to it, and the deeper you go the simpler and more powerful the commands. 0 and 1 are essentially true/false, on/off. Then there is “machine-level” code, which is a little above the 0s and 1s with various predefined functions, each simple yet powerful. These commands are also faster because they remove any time the computer must “waste” translating the more human-friendly languages into instructions it truly understands.

      Higher-level programming languages have a lot of concepts that make them easier to understand for humans, one of these being the concept of Object-Oriented Programming which I could see mapped into a magic system. I think polymorphism, especially, could be useful to this type of system. Polymorphism is the idea that you can have a basic concept, such as “animal”, and perform actions on the generic idea of an “animal” that would also be applicable to more specific instances of it, such as cat, dog, etc.

      So let’s take what sounds like a fairly simple idea at first, “clean floor”.
      First of all, what is a floor? Where do its boundaries extend? Do we account for different types of floors, such as steel, wood, stone? Would the spell fail if it were cast outside? How would it even recognize the boundaries between inside and outside? What if somebody left the door open?

      Then, what does it mean to “clean”? Generally, it would be to remove unwanted items from an area, those generally designated as “unclean”. But what would those unwanted items be? Items of a certain size or below, such as dust particles, skin flakes, bits of wood, and straw, and food? You don’t want to “clean” your lost keys you dropped under the couch, do you? You wouldn’t want to “clean” larger size items off the floor, because that could start removing furniture, animals, even people!

      And even then, if we are removing these particles, what happens to them? Do they go somewhere? Do they get destroyed? Do they get spread over the yard, tossed in the ocean, launched into space?

      So if we want to “clean floor” it might be an abstraction of a more specific “move detached particles below (x) size from (given structure) to (given bucket)” where the floor, in this case, is the given structure and “bucket” is an abstraction for say, a garbage can. Then you would potentially need variants for say, carpets, open floor plans, deciding how it handles larger messes like dog poop or spilled liquids. And even this isn’t the full version the world would need to understand, because “detached particles” would need to have a minimum size so we aren’t dealing with atoms and the like, and we would need to define the particles to remove as those touching the floor…

      Essentially, this type of system is very fascinating and a lot of it depends on how deep you want to go with your understanding of it, where the deepest levels would be almost incomprehensible for any normal human without tons of excessive practice. But not impossible, since over the years, all those 1’s and 0’s have been built upon by people, creating an infrastructure that lets us have powerful computers, computational analysis, websites such as this one that let us communicate from the world over.

      Went a little overboard there, but this was fun to think about so thanks for the prompt!

      So I’ll end with a few simple* commands:
      Move (object) from (location) to (location)
      Link (structure) with (structure)
      Break link from (structure) to (structure)
      Destroy (object)
      Form (object) from (objects)

      *still not actually simple, but you gotta start somewhere?

    • xjm
      Posted December 30, 2021 at 7:01 PM | Permalink

      I am programmer and this is also exactly where my thoughts went reading the OP, including the above from Andy about parameters and factoring.

      A flaw in most language-based magic systems (IMO) is not being sure one is operating on the correct object. In programming, you pass the object in to the function or method; in verbal magic, you would need a way to do the same. You wouldn’t want to accidentally break the wrong window or set the wrong thing on fire because there was more than one thing that matched what you said. Magic systems that use true names or that require exact visualization mentally always seemed more compelling to me for that reason. Like when you say “Wingardium Leviosa!” and point your wand, which thing in the general direction you were pointing gets levitated? What if you wanted to raise a gas? Etc.

      Also, my speech to text knows “Wingardium Leviosa!”.

  10. Jared S.
    Posted November 28, 2021 at 7:45 PM | Permalink

    I’d use a different language than one I’m used to. I’d worry that if the spells draw power from the words I choose and their personal meaning to me then my own doubt with the words used or the lack of everyday thought behind them might make the spell weaker/chaotic. So learning a new language and tying the spell to that would give it the specificity while growing more comfortable with how I say it would give it strength – at least initially.

    • Posted November 28, 2021 at 9:03 PM | Permalink

      Sounds like someone’s been reading Dresden files. (I love Dresden files.)

      • xjm
        Posted December 30, 2021 at 7:11 PM | Permalink

        Flickum Bicus!

  11. Peter Pevensie
    Posted November 28, 2021 at 7:59 PM | Permalink

    Stop things near me.
    (Force field)
    Move thing

  12. Posted November 28, 2021 at 8:52 PM | Permalink

    I would like to counter all other spells here, so I would say “stoppal”

  13. Leonard Leong
    Posted November 28, 2021 at 9:02 PM | Permalink

    Wish: make happen

    • Posted November 28, 2021 at 9:04 PM | Permalink

      But make *what* happen?

      How would this be different from saying, DO THING?

      • Leonard Leong
        Posted November 29, 2021 at 2:46 AM | Permalink

        Make anything happen?
        Or Do anything?

  14. Birk T
    Posted November 28, 2021 at 9:07 PM | Permalink

    Hey :)

    specifically to the dice I would enchant them with “grant wishes” .

  15. Oldielocks
    Posted November 28, 2021 at 9:08 PM | Permalink

    Simple, like commands to a dog:
    Or Data to the Borg:

    • Posted November 28, 2021 at 9:55 PM | Permalink

      “Commands to a dog” is also a good way to think of this.

  16. Posted November 28, 2021 at 9:12 PM | Permalink

    For Immovable Object: That. Doesn’t. Move.

    For Thunder Wave: Away With You!

    For Detect Thoughts: What are They Thinking?

    For Rautholim’s Psychic Lance: Bestow Migraine

    For Project Image: Now You See Me

    For Invisibility: No One Sees You

    For Illusory Script: Write a Secret Secret

  17. Todd W.
    Posted November 28, 2021 at 9:30 PM | Permalink

    Are you looking for a single word to encompass situations? I think that would be Change.

    Change air here to Very Hot
    Change me from wounded to healed
    Change that person’s feelings towards me from angry to friendly

    That kind of system?

    • Posted November 28, 2021 at 9:38 PM | Permalink

      Yeah. I think CHANGE is going to be one of the major verbs here.

  18. Zach Johnson
    Posted November 28, 2021 at 10:00 PM | Permalink

    When it comes to magic I always like to think that it would be made up of a specific set of base functions, and then executed by the human mind, which would add the abstraction necessary for the nuance of whatever specific situation was called for.

    Create fire.
    Control fire.
    Change to fire ball.
    Move fire ball to location.
    Change fire ball to explode.

    And each one of those steps would be amazingly complex, of course. But at the end of the day, that’s what’s happening.

  19. Esther
    Posted November 28, 2021 at 11:05 PM | Permalink

    Yikes, I commented twice by accident. I had meant to reply to Andy’s comment originally and thought this one didn’t go through. My bad!

    • Posted November 29, 2021 at 3:01 PM | Permalink

      No worries. I’ll trim it out just to keep things tidy….

  20. Seth
    Posted November 28, 2021 at 11:12 PM | Permalink

    Maybe you want to start with the same constraint Randal did for Thing Explainer? If I remember correctly, his goal was to try to explain things in the simplest language possible, so he limited himself to the thousand (“ten hundred”) most common words in the English language.

    • Posted November 29, 2021 at 3:02 PM | Permalink

      Yeah. I probably should have made that clearer in the blog….

      Though honestly, I’m thinking I’d like to keep this vocabulary even tighter than that, at least initially. Maybe… 200 words.

  21. Sean
    Posted November 28, 2021 at 11:48 PM | Permalink


  22. Red
    Posted November 28, 2021 at 11:53 PM | Permalink

    Looking through, the verb “Create” gives me pause. Let’s take the spell Create Water. Does it merge Hydrogen and Oxygen atoms from the air or does it distill the water from the nearest liquid (i.e. your blood maybe?) I think the format of Create X From Y is safer. A simple prepositional or infinitive phrase attached to a Verb Noun spell can hopefully avoid a lot of self inflicted harm.

  23. Kai
    Posted November 29, 2021 at 12:01 AM | Permalink

    There is something powerful about four letter words and occasionally particularly accomplished three words. Sometimes even understated five letter words.

    Any kind of ward/protection spell: “safe”

    Restraining spell/magic hand: “hold”

    Dispel magic/curse: “free”

    • Auri Rodrigues
      Posted November 29, 2021 at 3:38 AM | Permalink

      Stay happy and free :)

  24. Danny
    Posted November 29, 2021 at 12:07 AM | Permalink

    Have you thought about adding a binary yes/no, +/-element to the system? Thereby you could easily create spells and counter spells…

    For example:

    Person wanting to do magic focuses their mind on a candle: “yes create fire” would then light the candle while “no create fire” could be used to extinguish it.

  25. TJ Witherspoon
    Posted November 29, 2021 at 12:49 AM | Permalink

    My first thought was y = mx + b magic where you build a formula for your desired result and more complex magic is like more complex math? Objectively speaking “Apply radiant heat to self.” could warm you in a blizzard or cook you in an instant. Maybe the spell can be bound by certain words, and the magnitude/scope/scale can have words too. Maybe also introduce a safe word to cancel something getting outside the desired future condition. In forestry we prescribe a series of activities (harvest or thinning or prescribed burn or leave alone)and a timeline for those events to occur to achieve desired future conditions. Fun brainstorm!

  26. Rockinfella
    Posted November 29, 2021 at 1:45 AM | Permalink

    I think one important word that I didn’t see mentioned by others is “reverse”. It can be combined with other and give you the opposite effect. This basically doubles all your other commands.
    Want to destroy something? “Reverse create”
    Want to unlock something? “Reverse lock”
    Want to mess with relativity? “Reverse time”

    From your post and comments I get the feeling you’re working on a point and click or text based adventure. Keep us updated!

  27. Posted November 29, 2021 at 1:47 AM | Permalink

    If you’re going to draw metaphors from programming, it’s time to talk about control structures!

    Control structures allow you to shape the flow of your spell/program. They allow you to declare that IF X is true (“If the destination of my teleportation spell is in solid rock…”), THEN Y should happen (“…then the spell should abort.”)

    One of the most useful control structures in the loop. Loops let you take a group of instructions and repeat them a certain number of times or until certain conditions are met. The book Wizard’s Bane (Rick Cook, 1989) describes a programmer who falls into a world of magic; he quickly figures out that he can take the runes for a simple “gust of wind” spell, put them into a loop, and get an instant hurricane. (Turning the hurricane off again turns out to not be so simple.) So add a way to say “DO … 10 TIMES” or “DO … UNTIL X.”

    A good magic language should also support functions. Functions let you take a group of instructions inside your program and give them a name by which they can be called. Functions can call each other, and they can be put into loops and if/then structures; they make your spell/program much easier to understand, troubleshoot, and modify.

    The soul of programming is breaking complex problems down into small pieces that can be understood individually, and then describing those pieces in words that are easy for both humans and computers to understand. Magic is going to be more difficult because it interacts directly with the physical universe instead of the simplified, made-up universe inside the computer; I expect that will make precision and clarity even more important than it is in the tech world.

  28. Ben R.J. Dictus
    Posted November 29, 2021 at 2:19 AM | Permalink

    There is the free pdf ‘Magic Spellcharts’ which I found very usefull

  29. SapphireHarp
    Posted November 29, 2021 at 2:26 AM | Permalink

    Just to spitball a few other phrasings… It’s interesting how it allows different conceptions of creating the same effects, which can bring different implications.

    Heal – Negate Past Harm
    Heal – Alter Person Healthy / Whole
    Sending – Person Hears Words
    Sending – Create Word Sounds To Person
    Sending – Person Learns Message

    End and stop would be great verbs to use.

    I’m wondering about the implications of having “create” in a lexicon. It almost feels like a handwaving shortcut. If the magic has a conservation of mass kind of limitation, then create [out of thin air] loses a lot of power. That pushes the notion from ‘Create Box’ to requiring something like ‘Dirt Moves Into Box Shape There’.

    I feel like Ann Leckie did some parallel thinking in The Raven Tower that might be interesting, though kind of tangental.

    Also, I’m not going to be puzzling over this instead of sleeping tonight. Really, I’m not….

    • Amstrad
      Posted November 29, 2021 at 6:30 AM | Permalink

      I think that if you want to effectively seem to create something from nothing you could lean on the idea that at it’s most basic level all matter is built with the same blocks and create magic is about rearranging those blocks into the structures you want. In which case, unless you’re in a completely empty void, there’s always some sort of matter to work with, even if that matter is literally just ‘thin air’.

  30. Emma
    Posted November 29, 2021 at 2:51 AM | Permalink

    This aligns with my job as well. I’m a technical writer. I used to write for aircraft. When you write for aircraft, the audience can be of any nationality and have any mother tongue. It’s also crucial that misunderstandings do not happen.

    Why don’t you look into Simplified Technical English for inspiration? For short, it’s a subset of English where each word can only have 1 meaning and every sentence must be short and correctly structured.

    In that context, BREAK CHAIN would work. DESTROY OBJECT would be too vague and likely to backfire.

  31. GreenThreat
    Posted November 29, 2021 at 4:28 AM | Permalink

    Based off your edit on the block, I interpret that you want something like “command words”, I hope that’s right.
    Some of these have already been mentioned but I’ll list them anyways and try to go off that:
    – Create, Change, Remove, Find, Summon (a “create” for living things), Protect (For spells like Shield or Sanctuary in 5e)

    With damaging spells it gets more difficult. Should all damaging spells use the same Verb? Should be differenciated between direct target spells and aoe?
    – “Attack” is a very versatile Verb for direct target attacks (“Attack x with fire”, “Attack x with laser”) but it might be too broad.
    – “Shoot” could also work (“Shoot fire at x”)

    What about non-damaging targeted effects (e.g. “Haste” or “Slow”)?
    – “Affect” was the first word that came to mind but I’m not sure how to describe magic concisely with that..

    Anyways, that’s everything that immediately came to mind but I’ll keep thinking about it if that’s the right direction :)

  32. Jose Sarmento
    Posted November 29, 2021 at 6:01 AM | Permalink

    Not sure you are asking about spells in general, or about the dice in particular.

    For the dice, considering your books, and drawing from the comments about Make, I think the verb *has* to be “Shape” :)

    So “Shape Good Sum” would be my suggestion (if your kids’ friend wants “lucky dice”), or “Shape Fair Sum” (if she wants even-odds dice)

  33. Jose Sarmento
    Posted November 29, 2021 at 6:06 AM | Permalink

    …also, not sure if links are cool, but concerning “verbalized spell effects”, this always comes to mind:

  34. Michael
    Posted November 29, 2021 at 6:20 AM | Permalink

    Possibly related (?) observation: in Dennis McKiernan’s works, good magic sounds like Latin, while bad magic sounds like Greek. I always thought that was a cool idea.

  35. Phillipp
    Posted November 29, 2021 at 6:48 AM | Permalink

    The RP System Ars Magica (5e) has a concept kinda like that. Magic works by combining a (latin) verb with an object. The Verbs are Creo (i create), Perdo (i destroy), Rego (i control), Muto (i change) and intellego (i perceive). The objects (or forms) are Corpus (Human Body), Mentem (Human Mind), Animal (Animals), Herbam (plants), Vim (magic itsself), Ignem (Fire, Heat), Aquam (Water), Terram (Earth), Auram (Air, Wind), Imaginem (Illusion, Pictures).

    So, a fireball is cast with “Creo Ignem” “I create Fire”. Same with raising the temperature in a room. Cooling it would be “Perdo Ignem” and so on. Levitating a stone ist “Rego Terram”…

    I really like Ars Magica as it has one of the most flexible magic systems.

    • Phillipp
      Posted November 29, 2021 at 6:50 AM | Permalink

      Healing f.e. is done by Creo Corpus. Returning something to a more (natural) perfect state.

    • someguy
      Posted November 29, 2021 at 8:18 AM | Permalink

      This feels similar to the formal type of magic used in the Rivers of London books.
      A base spell effect (e,g Lux to create a light) which can be modified by additional verbs, adjectives etc.. which build on the central spell and modify what it does.

      More complicated things = more modifiers = better wizard.

    • J.
      Posted November 29, 2021 at 10:37 AM | Permalink

      Weird. I specifically searched for “Ars Magica” references and somehow I missed your comment…

      To add something new, I remember the use of this kind of magic in the 90s tv series “Conan the Adventurer”, Greywolf used to call “rego aurus” every time he wanted to make his carpet levitate. He also strung several pairing for more complex spells, I always found that very interesting.

  36. Ángel
    Posted November 29, 2021 at 6:51 AM | Permalink

    Using Latin, probably reminds to Harry Potter spells… good enogh but already used. If you want something new, better to use something totally different and unexpected, what about common words?, for example, “But Taborlin knew the names of all things, and so all things were his to
    command. He said to the stone: ‘Break!’ and the stone broke.”

  37. Elmo
    Posted November 29, 2021 at 7:00 AM | Permalink

    While I like the comparison with programming languages, this opens the whole problem we have with AI. Computerphile has a few videos about the “AI ‘Stop Button’ Problem” – it boils down to: How do you formulate something for a machine that does not result in catastrophic failure?

    Asimov’s three laws do not work, because we can’t begin to define what a “human” is, even for ourself – how can you expect a robot to follow a rule if you can’t define the terms?

    In order for this to fly from a logical standpoint, you’ll need someone who can make a intelligent decision as to what is meant when you invoke a spell. This may leave you only with miracles from a god, or a very finely defined lexicon with definitions (like key words in programming languages) what counts as “human”, “healing”, “push”, “create” or anything else you want to use.

    Or every Magic user needs to define their own lexicon. Then they all die by bad-genie-logic when they try to fly, but haven’t defined their position relative to the earth and smash into the nearest mountain as the planet moves under them away…

  38. Art
    Posted November 29, 2021 at 7:23 AM | Permalink

    Discharge energy or discharge power for a sap spell maybe

  39. Adam Stadnick
    Posted November 29, 2021 at 8:56 AM | Permalink

    I like the idea of ‘Manifest’ rather than ‘Create’, personally. Although that might be too many syllables. I used to RP a dwarven sorceror and had dwarven language for every spell I cast, and it worked pretty much like this concept.

    I agree with the above commenters about programming (since I write scripts for my job on a daily basis anyway), and your own thoughts on words like ‘Make’. This is going to depend HEAVILY on people’s interpretations of words, e.g. does the word DESTROY mean that something is rendered into its component parts, or does it vanish into nothingness, or does it split apart at the atomic level? Spellcaster intent may be a huge factor in this, although I think you’re looking for more universal terms. ‘Change’ is probably going to be HEAVILY used, and you’d need to add modifying terms to clarify. To warm up leftovers, you might say Change Meat Temperature Hotter, and have to use the command several times.

    I hope this gives you something to chew on (I got a little carried away): Naming conventions for Microsoft’s scripting language Powershell are similar in construction to what I think the collective wisdom above has produced. The format is Verb-Noun -withthisoption, e.g.:

    Create-Coffee -in MyCup -include sugar,milk -roast dark

    The construction of these commands (their term is ‘Commandlet or CmdLet for short) requires that you define each of the parameters with a type. Powershell is very object-oriented, so if we translate this into the Create-Coffee analogy you can make a parameter like ‘MyCup’ be a reference to an ACTUAL CUP (as opposed to a name), or even make a COLLECTION of cups, e.g.:

    foreach ($cup in $MyCoffeeCups){
    Create-Coffee -in $cup -include sugar,milk -roast dark

    This would create coffee in ALL cups in the $MyCoffeeCups collection with identical attributes.

    A real world scripting example would be the distinction between passing my name (“Adam Stadnick”)
    as a word or name, and passing my corporate user account “astadnick” as a complete object, say, to change my first name to Bob.

    A working example would be:

    Change-PersonName -person $astadnick -newname “Bob Stadnick”

    If this function was written to work on objects instead of names, that would work, but this would fail:

    Change-PersonName -person “Adam Stadnick” -newname “Bob Stadnick”

    Even more interesting, the concepts of ‘true’, ‘false’, and ‘null’ are special values. You can’t name a variable ‘$true’, or redefine ‘$true’ as something else.

    For context on that, DECLARING a variable is identical to naming it – you literally state “this variable equals THIS thing now” and if it already exists, it just becomes the new thing, instantly. So:

    $author = “Pat Rothfuss”

    but if, partway through my script, I change that to

    $author = “Patrick J. Rothfuss”

    then all subsequent references will use the new name, forever. So I can’t have $author mean both things, I would have to do something like $authorshortname and $authorlongname

    All of this is to say, there are some interesting possibilities for failure modes with this language idea! What happens if you direct a spell at someone’s name rather than the person? What if you modify the WORD ‘cup’ instead of filling it with a beverage? What if you wanted to make the sky bluer, but instead the spell attempts to make every written instance of the word ‘sky’ blue? Depending on how flexible you want it to be there’s a host of options there.

  40. Telth
    Posted November 29, 2021 at 10:01 AM | Permalink

    If you’re looking for spells as a programming language I would very definitely recommend the author of Ra QNTM that has written extensively about this

  41. Bardán
    Posted November 29, 2021 at 10:04 AM | Permalink

    This is starting to sound a bit like Ben aaronovitch’s magic, where people end up connecting simple syllables (from Latin, since newton wrote the big bad codified system in Latin) to simple effects and then stringing those syllables together to do more complex things.

    So I don’t know, you have a syllable for “hot” which heats up the air in front of your palm, and then maybe a syllable for “go” and another one for “there” and another one for “fast”. (Plus maybe two more for “protect” and “hand”). And you’ve got a fireballish situation. But you could easily modify it to go slowly, or go outwards from you in lots of directions, or make it gentle and put it under a kettle or something.

    And the more meticulous and careful you are p, and the more you can predict and mold all these effects, the more precise and specific you can be with magic. So blowing holes in someone is relatively simple, but healing a rare blood condition is like hour upon hour of very careful chanting before the whole crazy mechanism is finally realeased and you realize you mispronounced “iron” about twenty minutes in.

  42. Posted November 29, 2021 at 10:26 AM | Permalink

    This is similar to the magic system I worked out for my RPG.

    While the players can use pre-defined spells, they can also build custom spells out of individual components.

    I even ended up making a magic language with a syntax and grammar to go along with it all.

  43. J.
    Posted November 29, 2021 at 10:28 AM | Permalink

    What I always loved about Ars Magica is how you describe spells by using 5 verbs and 10 nouns, and you could improvise any effect by using a combination of one verb and one noun. I’d approach your magic system in a similar way, start with a grammar (it can be something more complex than verb+noun), and then find what’s the smallest lexicon that covers the widest range of effects. But I’d start with a basic grammar and then extend it.

    For those unfamiliar with Ars Magica, your spells were grouped in 50 classes (5 techniques x 10 forms):
    5 techniques:
    * Creo: Create
    * Intellego: Know
    * Muto: Transform
    * Rego: Control
    * Perdo: Destroy

    10 forms:
    * Animal: animals
    * Auram: air
    * Aquam: water
    * Corporem: body
    * Herbam: plant
    * Ignem: fire
    * Imagonem: images
    * Mentem: mind
    * Terram: earth
    * Vim: power

    Fireball: creo ignem
    Fly: rego auram
    Lightning bolt: perdo auram
    Water to Ice: muto aquam

    You get the idea :-P

  44. Simon
    Posted November 29, 2021 at 11:19 AM | Permalink

    I’ve always liked the lookaway spells in Seanan McGuire’s October Daye books, as far as simple description of effect goes.

    Magic, too often, becomes an expression of the will of the caster, not so much a wild anarchic force of nature that can be briefly ridden or diverted with aspirational intent and unintended consequence. The latter is way more fun to read about.

  45. DoppioKy
    Posted November 29, 2021 at 12:23 PM | Permalink

    I built a bard the other day, and she has:
    – Near me sleeping
    – Near that stop fights
    – Near that no strange feelings
    – Near that no sound
    – That thinks pain and attacks worse
    – That thinks pain and leaves
    – That does no work
    – Those three fight worse
    – I attack better

    …this exercise makes me realize that D&D spells are a bit cumbersome

  46. Me
    Posted November 29, 2021 at 2:08 PM | Permalink

    Sanderson’s Warbreaker commands using breath and visualization — simple commands with modifiers following the initial intent of the command issuer.

  47. Posted November 29, 2021 at 9:48 PM | Permalink

    Definitely! Change is the essence of magic is it not?
    I use magic if I want to change the existing condition to a condition more to my liking (hopefully). Magic is a way of bypassing the rules – physics, nature, etc. that make things difficult or take to long to accomplish in the normal/natural fashion.
    In simple terms: magic = change.
    This is a notion I’ve played with before. Magic is the antithesis of the status quo.

    I have a question about a basic part of this discussion: To what or whom are you speaking these words? Is it, more or less, to yourself? Or is there some kind of sentient force outside of you that the words affect?
    I might be asking this badly, but I hope you get my meaning.

    • Posted November 30, 2021 at 3:28 AM | Permalink

      I get what you’re saying, and for this particular thought experiment, you would *not* be saying these things to yourself.

      • Posted December 6, 2021 at 9:07 PM | Permalink

        Good, because talking to yourself is indicative of bigger problems.
        Stop talking to me!
        I’m not talking to you!
        You’re in my head. Who else you talking to.
        I was talking to Pat.
        Well, you’ll have to do it through me!
        Says you!
        … Pardon me. I have to straighten this out. I’ll be back later, when I dump this bloke.

  48. Dofen
    Posted November 30, 2021 at 5:41 AM | Permalink

    Oh this reminded me of an old interactive fiction game, (Especially the Fiat Lux comments) that had a magic system something like this. If you aren’t repulsed by interpreter games I recommend trying out suveh nux, its a short game that demonstrates something like this.

    • Luke Bergen
      Posted November 30, 2021 at 8:46 AM | Permalink

      Reading through these comments and especially the coding analogy, I think a critical piece of this is minimizing the amount of “you know what I mean” that we expect the universe to infer. E.g. “do the thing” isn’t great because the universe would then have to ask “what thing?” Which is wiiiiide open.

      Going purist, even “unlock” asks the universe to understand what a lock is and how it works. Maybe instead “unbind” is better because the idea of “bound up, incapable of movement” is less “humany” than “cause this mechanism to be configured a certain way (you know the way that I’m talking about)”

      • Luke Bergen
        Posted November 30, 2021 at 8:48 AM | Permalink

        Whoops. Sorry Dofen. Meant to reply at top level.

  49. Name of my wind
    Posted November 30, 2021 at 8:15 AM | Permalink

    I had a big thing written up but my comment keeps getting rejected.

    The magic system in U ltima Online works off of this concept – there are combinations of base words (action or subject) that you speak in game to cast a spell.

    For example, “An Ex Por” = “Remove Freedom Movement” = paralyze spell

  50. Lil
    Posted November 30, 2021 at 8:19 AM | Permalink

    In certain jobs, one can be instructed to write at a fifth-grade level so as to be understood by a larger audience. While sometimes words outside of typical vernacular are clearer, they somewhat remove the clarity they provide by their lack of common use and understanding. Even words like “vernacular” are not going to be understood by everyone and neither do they need to be.
    If a “code” of the sort is created, I believe it should be using words anyone could understand. If it is similar to code putting simple words like “move” and then further defining it by saying “move 3 feet north” would work best. Words, like extrapolate or sesquipedalian, do not belong in a magical code. Words should act as a function where measurements and directives are added. I’m all for unpronounceable fantasy words, but words like move, amplify, change, shift, and fire would be better. Unlike code, I don’t think there is the need to simplify everything beyond commonly understood terms like fire, it does not need the be like the Wikipedia description of fire “rapid oxidation of a material in the exothermic chemical process of combustion, releasing heat, light, and various reaction products.” That’s too much.
    And that is my slightly nonsensical thoughts on a magical code, I do think a magical code would be ideal for RPGs or make an interesting mechanic in a story but also removes some of the sense of wonder in magic and instead makes it more like something you would learn in a class despised like math despite the amazing things you can do with it. I just think the key is if I am using magic I do not want to have to use a dictionary or a Latin to English dictionary

  51. Luke
    Posted November 30, 2021 at 8:52 AM | Permalink

    Re-posting top level (sorry for double post).

    Reading through these comments and especially the coding analogy, I think a critical piece of this is minimizing the amount of “you know what I mean” that we expect the universe to infer. E.g. “do the thing” isn’t great because the universe would then have to ask “what thing?” Which is wiiiiide open.

    Going purist, even “unlock” asks the universe to understand what a lock is and how it works. Maybe instead “unbind” is better because the idea of “bound up, incapable of movement” is less “humany” than “cause this mechanism to be configured a certain way (you know the way that I’m talking about)”

  52. Brad
    Posted November 30, 2021 at 9:41 AM | Permalink

    I feel like the more specific the command, the better the system will work.. So I would recommend words like: bend, slide, fall, explode, crumble, etc as a command to something present in the area. Like for your fireball analogy, I would use “fire collide with [location].]” if the wasn’t any fire near I would have to tell something combustable to ignite first.
    The vocabulary for the action would have to account for what could happen too. If you were trying to cause dice to roll more preferentially, you would need to tell it where to shift its weight or what side(s) to give fortune/favor because the different games prefer different rolls. Also, if you were wanting a dam to break, but needed to get away, telling it to crumble would be better.
    Hopefully this helps because it seemed like you were considering consequence too in this system.

  53. Posted November 30, 2021 at 9:59 AM | Permalink

    Roll Over.

    Wait a minute… What was I answering.

  54. Brian
    Posted November 30, 2021 at 11:17 AM | Permalink

    I’d just use words my 2-year-old would use. He understands what he means and he projects that to me even though I might otherwise never know if another adult was saying it. I think the universe can be like that as well, once a person tries to communicate with it often enough.

    Improve Dice rolls = dice bring good
    Remove curse on dice = no bad dice
    Fireball = throw hot
    Heal = put hurt better

    • Jacob
      Posted November 30, 2021 at 12:37 PM | Permalink

      Piggy backing this from my 2 year old:

      Heal = Mommy/Daddy Kiss
      Create food and Water = Hungry/Thirsty
      Haste = Zoom!
      Charm Person = I love you
      Banishment = Go Away!

  55. Dustin
    Posted November 30, 2021 at 11:18 AM | Permalink

    Is it best to ignore time constraints for this project? Create Water, becomes an infinite fountain without a limiter. If you are assuming a being/universe is able to create, it is possible that it wouldn’t be hard for it to have it persist as well. For accuracy it might be, Create Water for 6 seconds, but it really might be easier to ignore it.

    Silence: Create Sound Void or Create Sound Void for 1 minute.

  56. ShotWhoWasNot
    Posted November 30, 2021 at 1:18 PM | Permalink

    I believe the simplest way I could describe fireball without losing any context would be,
    “Hot explode projectile,” or, “Launch hot explode projectile.”
    “Hot explode there,” makes me think of almost placing an explosion somewhere rather than launching one.

  57. Sam
    Posted November 30, 2021 at 2:42 PM | Permalink

    There’s a tendency in these comments to approach things from the computer science perspective, effectively treating magic as a scripting (excuse me: scrypting) language and generalizing from there. And while that’s an interesting approach (especially because it begs the question as to what universal machine is executing the script) with a lot of prior art since programming language design is an entire field, I wonder if it’s maybe a false start. You can go the opposite approach, of course– treat programming as a kind of magic rather than magic as a kind of programming– that’s how you get the Laundry series. But as that axis leads to Magic as Physics and Magician as Engineer, at which point the magic can sometimes stop feeling… magical.

    I think it maybe makes more sense to view magic as a *performance*, in which case the fundamental questions are: Who is the audience? What are the themes? How’s the acting?

    If your audience has been following along, and the effect you want to produce flows naturally from the story you’re telling, and you’re an accomplished “actor” then maybe you don’t need to use *any* words, since the audience can fill in the blanks. As the master of your craft, you show rather than tell, you’ve got through lines you can reference as shorthand, fan-favorite catch-phrases that can sidestep reams of chant, and since the audience cheers and whistles when a favorite performer walks onto the stage in the first place, they’re warmed up and attentive.

    …Whereas a neophyte may need to elaborately describe the effect they want to induce, with loads of unnecessary exposition because what they’re attempting to pull off is poorly timed or confusing or maybe just badly performed. They haven’t found their own voice so they’re borrowing bits from other performers; they speak in cliches and tropes and maybe they know some of the jargon but they don’t use it naturally. Plus they’re no headliner.

    In that context, if you’re good enough, maybe to cast a fireball all you need to do is loosely gesture towards your target, mug for the camera and joke “This guy, amirite?” and your fans *get it* and then you roll damage.

  58. Rae Rae
    Posted November 30, 2021 at 3:08 PM | Permalink

    OK, I rarely post on these topics, being a happy lurker, but I also spend silly amounts of time thinking about magic .. So here goes

    First, I got totally lost with all the coding stuff .. It literally does not compute for me so sorry if I’m on a complete tangent :)

    I think the problem with any set of specific words for the control of magic is the fact meaning in any language is fluid, often relying on context, tone, and inflection.

    This of course is not an issue if the power is guided by the internalized intent of the caster. If this is the case any words are sufficient. Want to kill an orc with a fireball fire? ‘Burn orc’ or ‘Throw Russell’s would be sensible, but I kind of like ‘fry gribbly’, which is not at all descriptive but has personality.

    However, if the words themselves have power, and that power will be activated by the words the focus would need to be on making sure power use is not accidental. Having words of power in a specifically magic language would do this. Personally, I would make it a final language so that pitch and cadence play a part in this.

    So you have a list of command words which are then translated into the language of magic. This solves the issue of real world meanings. The command words would be used with directive words , or possibly gestures, to give direction, subject, or effect

    My list of command would probably start with something like:
    FORM … Takes over from all create, make etc commands. Essentially used for any situation where various elements need to combine to FORM something specific … FORM shield, bridge, water, bread, fireball (unmasking is problematic for a number of reasons
    MOVE … Push, pull, raise, lower etc
    BREAK/MEND …. For objects, spells, people … BREAK lock, MEND sound
    CLOAK/REVEAL .. For silence type effects, so CLOAK sound, sight REVEAL magic, thoughts

    I won’t to on but the principle could be carried into common specifics like make light, reveal magic, break spell

    The real disadvantage of this though is the need for verbalisation. Perhaps accepts can verbalize silently?

    Anyway, hope this all made sense :D

    How you ‘discover’ the language is a World build issue, usually divinely resolved, although this has limits in a World that has no deities but where magic is a resource. My best explanation in this case is that particular words are discovered to have power and are recorded and passed on but drop out of common usage.

  59. sirius
    Posted November 30, 2021 at 3:47 PM | Permalink

    Yeah, ok. But what’s up with Kvothe? Ever gonna take it forward?

  60. Spankerton
    Posted November 30, 2021 at 7:13 PM | Permalink

    I think this is a super cool idea that has made my day much better. I also think this seems like a fool’s errand because all you ever do is describe words using more words.

    Instead of “I charm you”, you can say “breathe for me”. And that’s cute. I like that. But why would one result in a spell and not the other?

    If you’re trying to construct an artificial formal language, that could work, but you’d have to be mindful of Godel’s incompleteness theorems, which state that

    1. Such a language will not be able to express all true things,
    2. That it could express things that even to an omnipotent entity are neither true nor false, and
    3. That it would not be able to describe itself.

    (if I’m paraphrasing correctly)

    The other consideration is that such a language would be enormous, especially if you want to be able to say anything useful. Famously, the proof for 1+1=2 took Bertrand Russel well over a hundred pages. Your computer’s source code is in the millions of pages.

    And that’s probably understating it because:

    “What’s code?”
    Well, it’s a shorthand that another program can turn into ones and zeroes to feed into the CPU.

    “What are ones and zeroes?”
    Well, they’re shorthands we use to abstract away the reality that a computer is essentially wires with different voltages.

    “What’s a wire?”
    Well, it’s a special configuration of matter that isn’t overly attached to its electrons.

    “What’s matter?”
    Nothing. What’s the matter with you?

    This definitely feels like a turtles all the way down situation.

    Speaking in such a language would either be impossibly tedious, or it would have unintended consequences, in which case it’s no better than “I charm you”.

    Hopefully this isn’t too negative. I had a good time thinking about it. Thanks for the post, Pat!

  61. Daniel Cronin
    Posted December 1, 2021 at 6:06 AM | Permalink

    effervesce /insert thing you want to effervesce)

  62. Rigamaraw
    Posted December 2, 2021 at 10:22 AM | Permalink

    Make good luck or create good luck would need to be bound to the object, i.e. the dice, no?

    Create good luck for [object] isn’t great either as it implies the luck is the object’s and not the owner’s/user’s.

    Create good luck might also be instantaneous and not permanent, which wouldn’t help with the dice problem.

    Attach good luck to [thing] forever

    In that case, where does the luck come from? This is why naming is so dangerous.

  63. Alexandre Schemes
    Posted December 2, 2021 at 1:41 PM | Permalink

    I always remember one part in Chronicles of the Emerged World, by Licia Troisi, where she wrote about one golem that had a runeword somewhere on their body that spelled something like “Undead”, so to turn it of, Nihal (main character) understood that she had to scrap the Un part of the runeword for the golem to be dead.

    Now about the example asked: “Go Nuts” (for an enrage spell or confusion spell)

  64. Todd Camnitz
    Posted December 4, 2021 at 8:58 AM | Permalink

    To make formally explicit the fundamental struggle of this task (many other comments get at this idea, especially when talking about higher and lower level programming languages), there are two things we’re trying to reconcile:

    Thing 1 – the true, literal state of the world
    Thing 2 – our linguistic approximation of thing 1

    There is, in real terms, a massive gulf of sometimes unknown magnitude between these two things.

    Pat wants a simple and clear vocabulary of magic.

    While this vocabulary will be interpretable by other people, it’s the world that needs to do the interpreting. This is what makes all the programming analogies so strong.

    Because almost all language is an approximation of real states of being, it’s basically impossible to avoid ambiguity from the world’s perspective.

    I think this is why lots of magic systems either lock their functionality behind something like “true/full understanding,” (naming) or incorporate the caster’s intent/belief in some way (sympathy). These mechanisms bridge the essentially unknowable (so far) gap between what’s actually happening in the world and our understanding of it.

  65. John
    Posted December 4, 2021 at 10:27 AM | Permalink

    A couple considerations come to mind. First, the magnitude of the effect must be intrinsically bound to default parameters of the system. Consider the spell REPEL. One can take two different approaches to the default parameters of actor(s) and actee(s).

    The “safe” approach is to assume no actor or actee unless specified and so casting the spell does nothing unless other parameters are specified. However, given the scope of possible parameters one might imagine needing to define (duration, delay, force, power source, etc.), even the simplest of spells gets will get mired in meticulous details which would seem to defeat the purpose of this exercise.

    Alternatively, we could assume a default where specified parameters serve more as limiters rather than enablers. The danger here is that a simple spell like REPEL essentially tries to rip the entire universe asunder. Perhaps you contain this impact with the default that the caster provides the power of the spell and therefore the caster kills themself before the universe does, but again you end up with long spells by virtue of casters not wanting to inadvertently kill themselves.

    To truly get the impact of distilled language, one has to bake in assumptions that parameters of the spell are defined by the will of the caster. In such a way BURN could light a match, set the world ablaze, or anything in between. However, the effect of the spell is just as much a parameter of the spell as who it’s directed at or the strength of the effect, so why not just simplify all spells to a common utterance of ABRACADABRA, SHAZBOT, or even just making a fart sound… your will’s got your back. Hell, maybe an utterance of any kind is actually unnecessary. Obviously one might have to define other limitations to the magic system to prevent everyone from being a walking, talking Infinity Gauntlet, but consider the minimal language goal complete.

    Now if you want to be not quite so minimal so as to force the incantations to have comprehensible expression, it seems to me that the most work lies first in defining an exhaustive list of fixed and definable parameters of all magic thereby limiting the types of magic to those things that fit within those parameter restrictions, and from there defining a syntax for expressing the definable parameters. That’s more work than I have in me right now though.

  66. Nick S
    Posted December 6, 2021 at 10:07 PM | Permalink

    I thought about this in terms of the different magic schools, and these are a few verbs that came to mind for each.
    Conjuration: create, move, entrap
    Necromancy: kill, heal, harm, revive, drain
    Evocation: burn, freeze, dissolve, shock, brighten
    Abjuration: shield, protect, negate, repel, deny
    Transmutation: change, slow down, speed up, reshape, become
    Divination: know, reveal, watch, predict, learn, find
    Enchantment: command, influence, confuse, control
    Illusion: disguise, pretend, conceal, trick

  67. David Putnam
    Posted December 8, 2021 at 10:28 AM | Permalink

    Considering your magic has been based on an intuitive deeper knowing/understanding you could include molecular, atomic, nuclear, quantum ideas.

    elemental (molecular) bind air = water/rain
    elemental slow water = ice
    elemental speed water = steam
    ato (atomic) unbind air = small explosion
    ato unbind gold = medium explosion
    nua (Nuclear) unbind gold = town destroying explosion
    quant (quantum) unbind gold = stops time or something super weird.

    I don’t know enough about quantum physics to come up with good ones but maybe worth looking into.

  68. Sandra
    Posted December 9, 2021 at 3:26 PM | Permalink

    A versatile command in magic (that is also used to train dogs) is: “Mimic my movement”. You do a physical motion and ask the dog to imitate. It gives you the versatility of using body language to supplement the written word (maybe this is cheating). From this, you would be able to magically control another person’s body. I don’t know if it would mean they would mirror you, or match your right/left correctly. Maybe more accurate would be “Mirror my movement” versus “match my movement.” The affected party would then be still if you were still, sit when you sat, etc.

  69. Monique Stephenson
    Posted December 9, 2021 at 8:37 PM | Permalink

    There’s a series I like called Magic 2.0. It’s a very light-hearted, comedic series about a bunch of nerdy programmers who discover that the world is a computer program, and perform “magic” by manipulating a file that describes everything in the world. Putting things in terms of programming is what makes the most sense to me. Similar to what some others said, I think even simple spells would be immensely complex if they only depended on words. To make it as simple as possible, you would need some kind of selector “spell” that targeted the object or person you were trying to affect, and then spoke words that triggered manipulation of that person/object’s characteristics – for instance, Teleporting someone from one location to another could be “Change latitude, longitude and altitude to be x, y, and z over a duration of 0 seconds” although this still assumes definitions of geographic coordinates…hmmm…

  70. Henry
    Posted December 15, 2021 at 3:25 PM | Permalink

    Late to the party here, but I’ll give this a shot.

    Counterspell: Prevent that magic.
    Dispel: Undo that magic.
    Lightning bolt: Increase voltage between there and there.
    Shield: Strengthen air immediately around me.
    Power Word Kill: End that life.
    Teleport: Move us from here to there.

    Verbs like prevent, undo, increase, strengthen, end, move are what spring to mind for me.

  71. Posted January 10, 2022 at 2:35 AM | Permalink

    I like the series Magic 2.0. It’s a light-hearted, comic series about nerdy programmers who realize the world is a computer program and do “magic” by changing a file that defines everything in the world. For me, thinking in terms of programming makes the most sense. Like others, I believe simple spells would be extremely complex if only words were used. For example, teleporting someone from one location to another may be “Change latitude, longitude, and altitude to be x, y, and z over a duration of 0 seconds” while this still assumes definitions of geographic coordinates… hmmm…

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