Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Episode 83: Magic Wand Show Notes

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Bunny Trails

Episode 83: Magic Wand

Record Date: June 29, 2020

Air Date: July 01, 2020


Welcome to Bunny Trails, a whimsical adventure of idioms and other turns of phrase. 

I’m Dan Pugh

And I’m Shauna Harrison

Each week, we take an idiom, or other turn of phrase, and try to tell the story from it’s entry into the English language, to how it’s used today. 

As our world continues to feel more surreal each day, many people are seeking out escapist forms of entertainment. Whether it is Tiger King on Netflix or going back to the music, movies, and activities from childhood, escapism can help people cope during difficult times. 

One of the longest-running forms of escapist entertainment is illusion. Sleight of hand. Magic! 

I don’t know about you Dan, but if I could just wave a magic wand and change our world,, I would. 


Wave a magic wand means to change a situation in a way that seems impossible. To fix a problem as if by magic. 

Tracking down when this phrase entered the language is an interesting journey. We have to dig a little deeper than the phrase on its own, as there are some twists and turns in use over time. So, roll investigation, Dan, for the words magic and wand. 

Nice - Well, with a ____, you learn the following about the word magic. 

Well - It’s a good thing I was the one doing to investigating, because that roll was not going to do it. 

Magic is a word that has existed for a very long time. Centuries. Millennia. 

Magic has the same root as some other familiar words - Magician? Mage?  

This is where DnD fits into this week’s episode. Those who play these sort of role-playing games are very familiar with what a Mage is. The origin of these words is Magi. Oxford English Dictionary gives us these two definitions: 

Magi - 1. Chiefly with capital initial. the (three) Magi: the three ‘wise men’ (see wise man n. 3) or astrologers who came from the East, bearing gifts to the infant Jesus (Matthew 2:1–12); a representation of these.

Magi - 2 a. A member of an ancient Persian priestly caste which became influential in the development of Zoroastrianism. Hence: a person skilled in eastern magic and astrology; a magician or sorcerer.

Magi is an incredibly old term, with the first attestation occurring in a text that only exists in fragments. 

This text was composed sometime in the 11th century and is titled the Harley Glossary

[OE   Harley Glossary

Eoi magi, easterne tungelwitegan.] (this comes from an Old English text and the word tungelwitegan is germanic and translates essentially to planet-knowers, otherwise known as astrologers.)

c1175 Ormulum (Burchfield transcript) - Ormulum means, the Book Written by Orm. Orm was an English monk. 

Maþþew..seȝȝþ. Þatt ta kalldisskenn kingess..Wærenn magy. ȝehatenn.

Magi is the term we are familiar with and has primarily been use after the 20th century, however it is actually the plural form of the word Magus.  

One of the things that I just love about this is that this term has just not changed much. I’m going to share the etymology. Not to bug anyone, though, so I’ll leave the entomology out of things for now. 

Etymology: < classical Latin magus (denoting a member of the Persian priestly class, and, more broadly, priests or wise men of other nations; particularly after usage in the Vulgate and likely influenced by the epithet of Simon Magus, a magician in Samaria (Acts 8:9–24), regarded from Patristic times as a type of the anti-Christian exponent of magic arts) < ancient Greek μάγος < Old Persian maguš

C1450(documentary evidence) (c1380) Geoffrey Chaucer House of Fame 

Ther saugh I Hermes Ballenus, Limote, and eke Symon Magus.]

There is indication that Simon was given the surname Magus as a sign of his field of practice. 

It was around this same time that the word magic came into use in literature. 

Oxford English Dictionary shares the definition for the word magic:

a. The use of ritual activities or observances which are intended to influence the course of events or to manipulate the natural world, usually involving the use of an occult or secret body of knowledge; sorcery, witchcraft. Also: this practice as a subject of study.

c1393 John Gower · The English works 

Magique he useth forto winne His love.

c1395 in Canterbury Tales Prology by Geoffrey Chaucer

He kepte his pacient a ful greet deel In houres by his magik natureel.

From this point on, the word Magic was used to describe everything from activities, behaviors, events, fields of practice to people, animals… pretty much anything that didn’t seem anything or anyone that didn’t fit their ideal of normal or plausible. Sometimes this was positive and sometimes negative. It received an association with evil later on, fueled mainly by certain religious groups - christianity in particular. 

Now let’s take a look at the word wand. 

When it entered the lexicon, wand meant a stick or rod. It’s first attestation also occurred in the Ormulum.

c1175 Ormulum (Burchfield transcript)

Þatt he swa swiþe mikell follc Draf all ut off þe temmple. All att hiss wille wiþþ an wand.

 7. Wand a. A rod or staff borne as a sign of office; esp. a tall slender rod of white wood, sometimes of ebony or silver, carried erect by an officer of the royal household or of a court of justice, by a verger or beadle, or by an official whose duty it is to walk before a judge or other high dignitary on occasions of ceremony.

c1430 Generides This quote is taken from A royal historie of the excellent knight Generides compiled in 1865 for the Roxburghe Club

That day in stede of a white wonde A staf he bare thoo in his honde.

This use helped lead to the concept of a wand being a device used as a sort of focusing tool for magical practice. 

Oxford English Dictionary gives us this definition. 

Wand - 11a. A magic rod; the staff used in enchantments by a fairy or a magician. Now the most prominent sense. 

Historical Figures of the Old Testament by Hans Holbein published in 1547

  • “With a light soft step came she there stealing on, … “upright and beautiful as a magic wand.” 

1697 - King Arthur: An Heroick Poem. In Twelve Books by Sir Richard Blackmore

All these she stampt, with more of Magic use,

And from the Mass prest out the potent Juice.

The green Enchantment in a Caldron flow’d, 

To which she pour’d a Bowl of humane blood. 

Then did the Sorc’ress in the Center stand, 

And drew dire Circles with her Magic Wand :

She mutter’d with her Voice mysterious sounds, 

And terms with which the Hellish Art abounds.

In the collection of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow writings titled, Songs and Sonnets from Longfellow, published in 1581, in the sonnet Maidenhood

I wish I could just read this entire sonnet, it’s so beautiful. But I will share a few lines to give some context.

“Childhood is the bough, where slumbered

Birds and blossoms many-numbered; -

Age, that bough with snows encumbered.

Gather, then, each flower that grows, 

When the young heart overflows,

To embalm that tent of snows.

Bear a lily in thy hand;

Gates of brass cannot withstand

One touch of that magic wand.

Bear through sorrow, wrong, and ruth,

In thy heart the dew of youth, 

On thy lips the smile of truth.”

 The Diaboliad, a Poem. Dedicated to the Worst Man in His Majesty's Dominions. The Second Edition. [By William Combe.] • 1677

This book was a satire on Lord Irnham.

The winged God thrice wav’d his magic wand. 

Medulla Poetarum Romanorum, Or, The Most Beautiful and Instructive Passages of the Roman Poets - Being a Collection, translations by Henry Baker in 1737

The Hero enters Circe’s dire Abodes:

Again she does th’ enchanted Bowl demand,

Again prepares to wave her magic Wand:

Poems Chiefly by Gentlemen of Devonshire and Cornwall Volume 1 • 1792

Oh! should the stern relentless fates

Compel him to the scenes he hates, 

Drag him from each enchanting view, 

On which her tints of roseate hue 

Loveliest Imagination cast;

Let Memory, parent of the past, 

Wave o’ver his head her magic wand! 

The Gentleman's Magazine, Volume 93, 1803

Wave, wave your magic wand, all potent susceptibility, until my recollection of past events subside in a calm return to present occurrences! 

1902 Proceedings Oklahoma Bar Association 

Shakespeare..struck from the rock of nature with the magic wand of his genius a new Hippocrene fountain at which every child of letters has since drunk of its inspiring waters.

From this point on, the phrase has been used either figuratively, or in reference to a literal Harry Potter-type of wand. 

A Quick Thank You

This week’s episode is sponsored by our Patrons, with special thanks to our Logomorphology Interns Pat Rowe and Mary Lopez. Your support makes Bunny Trails happen week after week. 

All of our patrons get access to a monthly bonus episode, as well as behind the scenes chats with Shauna and I. But best of all, our Patrons get to know they are helping provide a safe place for your brain for 30 minutes every week. You can find more at

Pop Culture and Modern Examples

No Magic Wand: The Idealization of Science in Law by David S. Caudill and Lewis H. LaRue, published in 2006 We find the quote: 

  • However, science is not pure, and sometimes political values are relevant. One should always use the best science available and in the best way, whether one is a legislature, an agency, or a court. However, we should not imagine that science is a magic wand that with one wave can solve all social problems; to do so is to idealize. 

Book - Ten Beach Road by Wendy Wax · 2011

  • Three women find an unexpected sisterhood in this perfect beach read. Madeline, Avery, and Nikki are strangers to each other, but they have one thing in common. They each wake up one morning to discover that their life savings have vanished along with their trusted financial manager—leaving them with nothing but co-ownership of a ramshackle beachfront house.

  • ‘She wished she could wave a magic wand that would produce her daughter’s hoped-for “happily ever after,” but the days when a word from her or a kiss on a skinned knee could make it all better were long gone.’

Raffi - Magic Wand Song - Posted on YouTube in 2018

  • A renowned singer known by his first name alone, Raffi was a pioneer in quality recordings for children on his independent label, Troubadour. For millions of fans, Raffi’s music was the soundtrack of their childhoods, and they took his signature song “Baby Beluga” to heart. These “beluga grads” now share his award-winning music with their own children. Raffi has been described by the Washington Post and the Toronto Star as “the most popular children’s entertainer in the English-speaking world” and “Canada’s all-time children’s champion.” 

  • If I could wave a magic wand… 

I would dream love, I would dream love

For the world we share

If you could wave a magic wand… 

Would you grow strong, would you live long?

If we could wave a magic wand… 

All would be fed, all would be loved,

All around the world.

All would be safe, all would be free

Lauren Pierce Bush is the CEO and co-founder of FEED Projects. She is also known for her previous career as a fashion model and designer. 2017

“If I could wave a magic wand, I would love for all children around the world to have good, nutritious meals every day.”

Molly Ferguson @mollyfergg on Twitter on June 26, 2020

Does anyone else ever wish that they could wave a magic wand and have their MC come to life off of the page? Just me? Jeez, I must be desperate for some friends

She added the “Rolling on the floor laughing” emoji and the hashtag: WritingCommunity

And to further this thought adventure, James M. R. Ocean @MrJOcean replied: 

Would you still wish that if they knew you were their creator and were responsible for everything in their lives/world? Every beautiful moment, every meal, every horrible thing you put them through?

Mayo Clinic posted on Twitter on June 28, 2020

Bariatric surgery can be life saving for those who have exhausted other #weightloss options. But these procedures don't wave a magic wand over the problem. Learn about weight regain after #bariatricsurgery and tips to prevent it:

The phrase is used in a lot of self-help, counseling, and educational resources. Most of these instances are one of two versions. Either to express that waving a magic wand is not possible, but here are some practical steps that will help. Or a mental exercise: 

Think about what you would change about your life - career, marriage, etc. in six-month’s time if you could just wave a magic wand and make it happen… 

What are things you could do today that would be a step towards that same outcome? 

Now... make a specific plan and start taking action. 

Wrap up...

Wave a magic wand is frequently used as a way to express the desire for easier methods, quick fixes, or the undoing of unpleasant occurrences. However, while that desire exists a common rejoinder of sorts is recognition that we do not have a magic wand and therefore acceptance of the circumstances. This moves those circumstances into the realm of things within our control. Rather than wishful thinking, people focus more on identifying, planning, and doing the work necessary to impact things in seemingly impossible ways. I love that. It’s what we need right now and what I see in younger generations. There is huge change that can be affected when a large number of people work together on a goal, which truly is incredible. And it is just really cool that those efforts now are often towards improving our world. 




That’s about all the time we have for today. We hope today’s episode provided a small escape from the stress of life. Please spread the word if you enjoyed the show. We’d love to help more people unwind for half an hour. 


Thanks for joining us. We’ll talk to you again next week. And until then remember... 

Words belong to their users.

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