In the Laundry Series by Charles Stross, the Old Enochian language:

  1. Is used to command the feeders in the night which animate zombies Residual Human Resources.
  2. Is used to "invoke a macro" (set off a stored-up spell).
  3. Is used by an irrationally pissed-off Bob when he nearly lays a geas on a telemarketer.

There's two things about this that puzzle me:

A) There doesn't seem to be much in common between the three ways it's been used in the stories.

B) Magic is done via math, so why does a spoken language have any magical effect? Is Old Enochian inherently mathematical (in which case does using it run the risk of K-syndrome)? Did the Enochians alter the fundamental nature of reality so their language has magical effects?


It is a programming language for reality.

The Residual Human Resources are running a rather simple program that makes them attack everyone in the building not carrying a warrant card. If you need them to do anything else, you need to write a program that describes the desired behaviour.

Like other programming languages, it allows subroutines and other ways to access already existing programs, so Bob can write a program that is not immediately run, but can be started by writing a very short program that just fetches the other program from some storage and executes it immediately. This suggests that Enochian behaves similar to a modern scripting language.

Actually running a program written in Old Enochian incurs a risk of K syndrome if the program is running inside the human brain -- so if you need immediate effect and have no better resources, then using "magic" is a risk.

However if you have conductive ink, so you can build a dedicated computer that can run your program by drawing a circuit, or you have a smartphone with an interpreter, then you have no risk because the damage affects the place where the program is run, not the brain that wrote it.

| improve this answer | |
  • Bob implies that the language was created by the (now extinct) Enochians, so unless they created reality it can't be the language of reality, and if they did create reality it would be rather weird for them to go extinct. – Matthew Cline May 12 '16 at 16:29
  • Well, one of many programming languages, probably – Simon Richter May 12 '16 at 16:50
  • I thought it was a deliberate bastardisation of the language in question to make it more programming-friendly, and recognised by the Feeders that animate the RHRs in part because they encountered it when the "real" version was a common language; that there is nothing special about Old Enochian itself. – Darael Jun 23 '16 at 0:22
  • 1
    The "ancient enochian" is a wink to Snow Crash (where it is called Sumerian). WP knows: »The book presents the Sumerian language as the firmware programming language for the brainstem, which is supposedly functioning as the BIOS for the human brain. According to characters in the book, the goddess Asherah is the personification of a linguistic virus, similar to a computer virus. The god Enki created a counter-program which he called a nam-shub that caused all of humanity to speak different languages as a protection against Asherah« – Isotopp Feb 15 '19 at 10:33
  • It is also used similarly in "Broken" by Micah Joel, a relatively unknown sci-fantasy story that uses the same language as an ur-language with direct access to how people perceive and act on what they think is reality. – Isotopp Feb 15 '19 at 10:40

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.