Question about "magic" in many languages

Discussion in 'Etymology, History of languages, and Linguistics (EHL)' started by Pavielpetrovich, Sep 5, 2013.

  1. Pavielpetrovich Member

    English - US
    A while ago I learned that the Japanese word for magic was "mahou", and it occurred to me that that word looked a bit like the English word "magic."

    I know from my studies of Latin and Greek that the English word "magic" is related to the Latin word "magus" and the Greek word "magos," and etymonline informs me that those words come from an Old Persian word "magush" that refers to a caste of Zoroastrian priests. (Source:

    I did a bit of light reading about Japanese too, and I learned that the character that puts the "ma" in "mahou" is derived from the Sanskrit word "mara" that means "demon."

    Is there any connection between the Old Persian word "magush" and the Sanskrit word "mara"?
    Last edited: Sep 5, 2013
  2. fdb Senior Member

    Cambridge, UK
    French (France)
    māra- is the god of death in Hindu and Buddhist traditions and belongs to the root mar- “to die”. magu- in Iranian is a kind of priest. There is not any real similarity, either in form or in meaning.
  3. sotos Senior Member

    In Japanese sometimes some chinese characters (kanji) are used for their phonetic value. Their relation with the meaning may be remote and obscure. For example, the letter that means "america" is the same that means "rice".
  4. Ghabi

    Ghabi AL/OL/Ar/Zh mod

    Hong Kong
    Hi! In Buddhism māra is anything that disturbs your mental peace, and doesn't necessarily has to do with supernatural beings. In Japanese one still says o-jama shimasu ("I'm going to disturb ...") when entering someone's house etc.
  5. entangledbank

    entangledbank Senior Member

    English - South-East England
    I believe mag- is one of several Indo-European words anciently borrowed into Chinese, but if the Japanese element is not Sino-Japanese, that's not relevant.
  6. Ghabi

    Ghabi AL/OL/Ar/Zh mod

    Hong Kong
    It's from Chinese. māra entered Chinese as *mala (摩羅/魔羅), later abbreviated as *ma (which due to sound change has become 魔 mo2 in Mandarin, is still a productive morpheme in modern Chinese, for example 色魔 "sex offender"). But the question is whether the Sanskrit root √mṛ is related to Iranian magu-, which seems unlikely as fdb suggests above.
  7. aruniyan Senior Member

    The Indian words Maai, Maaya, MaayaJaal may be related with Majic.
  8. Dhira Simha Senior Member

    You may also add to your collection also Skt. maga मग `magian, a priest of the sun'
  9. Lugubert Senior Member

    Trying to transcribe your examples and referring to Platts, McGregor and Monier-Williams, I'm confused. Which Indian words in what languages? Please supply Devanagari and explain how the g in Latin, Greek, English, German, Swedish, ... becomes or arises from nothing corresponding to nothing, y or j in India.
  10. ancalimon Senior Member

    In Turkish magic: büyü < bükü ~bökü

    I'm guessing that it comes from bük meaning "twist, bend, weave, curve" (as in twisting reality)

    I also think that there could be a relationship between magi and büyü.
  11. aruniyan Senior Member

    I take it back, I am not sure about the word magic, as its traced back to Persian noun.

    The word maay(to disappear) is available in all Indian languages. There is also the word mayangu(short a) in Tamil meaning to faint, stun, loosing mind
    may not be related to magic, but seems related with other languages
  12. marrish

    marrish Senior Member

    اُردو Urdu
    Not in Urdu, for sure. In Urdu the word for magic is 'jaaduu'.
  13. ancalimon Senior Member

    Maybe that word is related with Turkish "cadı" meaning "witch"?
  14. momai Senior Member

    "ceħer" in Arabic .
  15. marrish

    marrish Senior Member

    اُردو Urdu
    I think it is because jaaduu is of Persian origins which seems to be shared by T and U. What is the word for magic in Turkish?
  16. ancalimon Senior Member

    Didn't realize cadı (witch) was a Persian loan in Turkish.

    "Magic" is "Büyü" in Turkish as I have written above.
  17. marrish

    marrish Senior Member

    اُردو Urdu
    I'm very sorry for having skipped your contribution about Turkish above. I don't know if cadı is related but the pronunciation, as far as I can read Turkish, and the scope of meaning points to it.
  18. aruniyan Senior Member

    Yes, but Urdu is mostly Farsi, Arabic and some Hindi.

    Hindi has Maaya, Moh etc.. that means illusion, fainting, stunned etc, so there are no loans or cognates in Urdu?
  19. ancalimon Senior Member



    Maay: fainting is related with Turkish: Bay (<May) :to stun, to faint, to pass out, to swoon, to like something very much.

    Is there such a word in Urdu?
  20. berndf Moderator

    German (Germany)
    This claim is absurd. Irrespective of whether you call Urdu and Hindi different registers or the same language or different languages, they are certainly closer to one another that either is to Farsi (and certainly to Arabic which belongs to an entirely different language family).

    Jaaduu (जादू) is also the Hindi word for magic.
    Last edited: Nov 4, 2013
  21. fdb Senior Member

    Cambridge, UK
    French (France)

    Avestan yātu-, Middle Persian jādūg, New Persian jādū all mean “sorcerer”, though the NP word is also used for “sorcery” (MP. jādūgīh). All of these words are essentially negative (sorcerers are wicked, and in a Zoroastrian context are servants of Ahreman), as opposed to magu- (the Zoroastrian priest and etymon of “magus, magic, magician”). Turkish cadı (with c = /dʒ/) and Urdu/Hindi jādū are both borrowed from New Persian.
    Last edited: Nov 4, 2013
  22. aruniyan Senior Member

    As far as I see, Hindi and Urdu differs by the percentage of Persian and Arabic? Hindi is more Indian and Urdu is more Persian and Arabic?
    Yes जादू is magic. available in Persian but cognate with Sanskrit yAtu.
  23. fdb Senior Member

    Cambridge, UK
    French (France)
    Of course: Iranian yātu- is cognate with Skt. yātu-. But the phonetic development to jādū can only be explained via Middle and New Persian.
  24. imti New Member

    According to my research the origin of word magic is Arabic word مُعْجزہ (Mjzہ)
    Last edited by a moderator: Nov 6, 2013
  25. berndf Moderator

    German (Germany)
    Can you please substantiate this? Just about everyone else seems to agree on an Iranian origin.
  26. إسكندراني

    إسكندراني Senior Member

    أرض الأنجل
    عربي (مصر)ـ | en (gb)
    This means miracle not magic.
    The usual Arabic word for magic, as mentioned already, is سحر siHr, and its meaning includes acts of deception and trickery to fool the observer, as well as 'black magic' where spirits (djinn) are contacted, curses cast and such.
    The word مجوس (madjuus) exists but does not mean magic, only Zoroastrian.
  27. marrish

    marrish Senior Member

    اُردو Urdu
    OK, we have it that it is the loanword from Persian in Urdu and subsequently in Hindi. Given that this forum is not only about Etymology but also about the History of languages, your rebuttal is good for both. In Indo-Iranian Languages Forum we have dealt with it many times. Urdu was first and then came Hindi on basis of it. Anyways, good comment.
  28. Wolverine9 Senior Member

    American English
    That depends on whether you mean the spoken or the written language. Spoken Hindi and Urdu were and still are largely the same, so one cannot say that either came before the other. If your comment is from the perspective of writing, then yes, written Urdu predates written Hindi.
  29. marrish

    marrish Senior Member

    اُردو Urdu
    Returning to the topic at hand, the term in both spoken Urdu and Hindi (historically Modern Standard Hindi has been implemented only for a fraction of time of Urdu's existence) is jaaduu or jaaduu-Tonaa. It's evident that it's a P. loanword and it by itself shows the pertinency of Urdu expressions in the spoken language, whatever it's called. In my Hindi experience I've never heard of 'abhichaar', I heard ''shadDyantra'' but it is something different. And yes, I heard maijik often enough for it to be mentioned here :)
  30. Qureshpor Senior Member

    Punjabi, Urdu پنجابی، اردو
    This is interesting. I thought "jaaduu" was magic/sorcery and "jaaduu-gar" was a "magician/sorcerer".
  31. ThomasK Senior Member

    (near) Kortrijk, Belgium
    Belgium, Dutch
    As a lurker I find this very interesting, but I am not sure I can follow: has evidence been given here for the claim that the mag- root is common to many of the above-mentioned languages? (Thanks in advance for any answer)
  32. fdb Senior Member

    Cambridge, UK
    French (France)
    No. magu- is Iranian. In all the other languages the "magic" word is derived from Old Persian maguš, via Greek magos.
  33. Canbek Member

    Kurdish-Can't speakproperly-Turkish
    I.E :magh= might, power-----Avestan/Old Persian: magus, maeg, megan,moghu= Zoroastrian priest and magus(s marked)=magician--------to Pahlawi: magu=Zoroastrian priest-------to Persian: moğ=Zoroastrian priest.... ....From Avestan/Old Persian to: 1- Arabic:majûs=Zoroastrian, 2- Greek:mağos------to Latin:magus---to English+French:magic....In Persian it also forms " majûs" and in Kurdish "mecûs(î)" however, a loan word from Arabic " majûs" which is actually a loan word from Avestan/Old Persian " magus".
    Last edited: Jan 3, 2014
  34. fdb Senior Member

    Cambridge, UK
    French (France)
    Most of this has been discussed already and there is no need to repeat it. Just this much: Old Iranian magu- means “priest”, not “magician”. maguš is the Old Persian nominative singular (š is the case ending). This was borrowed already into Achaemenid Aramaic as magūš-ā (later Aramaic mγūšā), and into Greek as magos. Arabic majūs is borrowed from Aramaic, not directly from Old Persian or Avestan.
  35. Canbek Member

    Kurdish-Can't speakproperly-Turkish
    1- ) I thought it might be a printing error and checked the spellings... Old Iranian " magus" or "maeg" or "megan" or "moghu"= Zoroastrian priest... If we consider it as " Mohgu" rather than "magus" than it becomes In Pahlawi in " Magu" form, which becomes "Moğ" in Persian...Means Zoroastrian Priest.

    2-) Considering the Aramaic language's official and culturel status and dominance in Achaemenid Empire, It would be quiet right to accept your statement of " Arabic majūs is borrowed from Aramaic, not directly from Old Persian or Avestan."...However, I also consider that " Magi" was a powerful not only a priestly cast, but also one of the main tribal components of Media-Medes era...Before the Medes Empire found, say around seventh century BCE, these tribal components were existed starting from tenth century BCE...So, Magi priests might have had an influence over some people in Lower Mesopotamia even in Arabic Peninsula...Aramaic became noticable around 8 th century and dominant in Iran in sixth BCE...Word could be borrowed during Neo-Assyrian era, before the advent of Aramaic language and its dominance...But, I'm unable to provide further evidence...So,my source hasn't mentioned Aramaic, rather pointed out Arabic as a borrower from Old Irani...In this case,I admit, your argument looks more realistic.
  36. franknagy

    franknagy Senior Member

    The Hungarian language has has own words derived from varázs (=[women's] attractive force ) varázsló = magician, and varázslatos=magic[al], varázserő= magic power.
    The treated magic is used in Hungarian as mágikus, the magician is mágus.

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