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Abracadabra!

Abracadabra!

Listen to this 'Talk of the Nation' topic

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Rabbit, hat. It's magic! Source: Mirela Schenk/iStockphoto.com hide caption

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Source: Mirela Schenk/iStockphoto.com

As a kid, I was unimpressed by magic tricks, probably because I never saw any good ones.

On Halloween, year after year, my neighbor would pull a quarter from my right ear. One of my dad's colleagues, who must have learned his tricks from the same book, magician, or crazy uncle, had a similar gimmick. He'd grab my nose, then he'd tell me that his thumb, wedged between his index and middle fingers, was it. Hilarious? Maybe. Convincing? Hardly.

After I read Adam Gopnik's most-recent article, "The Real Work: Modern Magic and The Meaning of Life," in The New Yorker, I developed a new appreciation for the craft of magic. As it turns out, a good trick takes practice and dexterity, and an understanding of the supernatural, of course.

Gopnik will join us today, with Jamy Ian Swiss, one of the illusionists he profiled. If you're a magician, we want to know what trick got you hooked. How old were you? Where were you? Who did the trick? And what made it so great? If you have a general question about magic, you can post that here too.

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What's my question? (Thanks for asking).

"What does 'Abracadabra' mean?" I'm pretty satisfied with Ambroise Bierce's answer, in The Devil's Dictionary, which you can read after the jump.

By Abracadabra we signify
An infinite number of things.
'Tis the answer to What? and How? and Why?
And Whence? and Whither? — a word whereby
The Truth (with the comfort it brings)
Is open to all who grope in night,
Crying for Wisdom's holy light.

Whether the word is a verb or a noun
Is knowledge beyond my reach.
I only know that 'tis handed down.
From sage to sage,
From age to age —
An immortal part of speech!

Of an ancient man the tale is told
That he lived to be ten centuries old,
In a cave on a mountain side.
(True, he finally died.)
The fame of his wisdom filled the land,
For his head was bald, and you'll understand
His beard was long and white
And his eyes uncommonly bright.

Philosophers gathered from far and near
To sit at his feat and hear and hear,
Though he never was heard
To utter a word
But "Abracadabra, abracadab,
Abracada, abracad,
Abraca, abrac, abra, ab!"
'Twas all he had,
'Twas all they wanted to hear, and each
Made copious notes of the mystical speech,
Which they published next —
A trickle of text
In the meadow of commentary.
Mighty big books were these,
In a number, as leaves of trees;
In learning, remarkably — very!

He's dead,
As I said,
And the books of the sages have perished,
But his wisdom is sacredly cherished.
In Abracadabra it solemnly rings,
Like an ancient bell that forever swings.
O, I love to hear
That word make clear
Humanity's General Sense of Things.