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The Nomenclature of Magic

March 12, 2010

I am very proud, today, to unveil a little project I’ve been working on.  It all started a few weeks ago when I was jotting down a few notes for my ever-present-novel-in-progress (i.e. that which I blather on about) in my ever-present notebook, in the few minutes of quiet before a class. 

I had been thinking a lot about the role of the magic-using class in my book (yes, it’s a high fantasy book with a heavy influence of magic), which lead me to think about the magic system and the terminology and nomenclature of magic.  In large measure, I reasoned, the two were the same: what you call a thing says a lot about how you define a thing.  So the nomenclature was very important in giving the magic system a certain feel and flavor.

For instance, I could call one group of magic users Wizards, a fairly generic term for a magic user.  What would that mean to the reader, if I called these people wizards?  Now, what if I contrasted Wizards with Mages, another generic term?  In the reader’s mind are the two words interchangeable?  Are there subtle differences in meaning?  What else could I call a magic user that would offer a more specific flavor?  Considering these questions, I turned to Google to help me find the answers.

But, to my surprise, the Internet appeared to have a sizable and gaping hole in it.  Nowhere, that I could find, was there a single repository of all knowledge on what we call those who use magic and what we call what it is they do.  Nay, not even on Wikipedia, that encyclopaedia of all things noteworthy enough to have an entry in encyclopaedia edited by ordinary readers.

Knowing that this was a travesty to the very foundations and purpose of the Internet, I slowly realized that this task fell to me: to correct the injustice and make available to the world a complete and comprehensive Lexicon of all terms and words that touch on the magicy-arts, especially as pertains their portrayal in fantasy literature, mythology, and folklore.

Now, this is a heavy task, perhaps yet too heavy for one man to complete alone.  And that is where you, dear reader, come in.  On my site, today, is a new page, A Magical Lexicon.  On that page, as of this writing, are over 300 terms relating to the practice of magic, the supernatural, and unexplained, mostly as it relates to fantasy and folklore.  Of these, over 70 are already defined.  Periodically (I plan to do this on a weekly or biweekly basis, most likely on Fridays), I’ll be adding definitions for the remaining 250+ terms, most likely 2 or 3 each week.  However, I’m not yet confident that the almost 350-ish terms I have already are truly exhaustive of all terms that touch on the practice of magic.  You, dear reader, have the opportunity to suggest additional terms (and potential definitions) that you feel warrant a place on this list.  My definitions aren’t meant to be encyclopaedic – that’s what encyclopaedias are for – so I’m trying to just touch on the various uses of the words and how they might be used in a magic system, but for a fuller explanation of each word, I encourage you to do more research on it.

Of particular interest, I hope to add to this list terms and words that are unique to fantasy fiction – words that have come up in use in fantasy to describe the various aspects of fictional magic systems but which either don’t exist outside of particular works of fiction, or which don’t have a magical meaning outside of fantasy fiction.  However, my knowledge of fantasy fiction is limited to that which I have read (or seen, in the case of film and television).  So, at some point I’ll be adding terms that appear in places like “The Wheel of Time”, and “Harry Potter” or “A Wizard of Earthsea”, as my memory serves me.  But there are countless other popular fantasy novels that I have not read.  The experience of you readers will come in handy here, once again.

You’re my only hope to complete a truly comprehensive Lexicon of Magical Terms.

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