40

How did Avada Kedavra, the Unforgivable Killing Curse, get its name? Most spells' incantations sound similar to their effect, with their names influenced from Latin.

However, Avada Kedavra, influenced by 'Abra Cadabra', sounds more like a silly phrase a magician in a kids' birthday party would say before pulling a rabbit out of a top hat, not much like a wizard about to commit murder.

Also, unlike the rest, influenced by Latin, Abra Cadabra is actually in Hebrew, which means "I will create as I speak".

  • 4
    Just to clarify are you looking for your answer in universe? – TheLethalCarrot Jun 13 at 8:43
  • 8
    Are you asking why JK Rowling named the curse Avada Kedavra or why the character's in universe came up with that name for the incantation? – TheLethalCarrot Jun 13 at 8:48
  • 23
    @MorZamir No, in many cases it's absolutely not the same. See What does "in-universe" mean? – Rand al'Thor Jun 13 at 11:18
  • 15
    As an example of in-universe vs author intent: plainly the author intended it to sound like "abracadabra". But in the world of the novels -- a world where wizards exist but are secret -- we could make the argument that muggles say "abracadabra" at kids birthday parties because it has been passed down in old folk tales about real wizards, and the sounds have gradually shifted as the tales were re-told. That argument is not made in the books, but it is a sensible in-universe explanation of the similarity. – Eric Lippert Jun 13 at 18:04
  • 3
    (And it actually would be a pretty good argument as "B" and "V" sounds often swap with each other in the evolution of real-world languages.) – Eric Lippert Jun 13 at 18:06
56

J.K. Rowling answered in an interview why she used Avada Kedavra as the incantation for the killing curse. She answered that "It is an ancient spell in Aramaic which means “let the thing be destroyed”." so it is sort of the other way around to your interprettion regarding abracadabra.

There is a lot of Latin in the spells in your books Do you speak Latin?

Yes. At home, we converse in Latin. [Laughter]. Mainly. For light relief, we do a little Greek. My Latin is patchy, to say the least, but that doesn’t really matter because old spells are often in cod Latin—a funny mixture of weird languages creeps into spells. That is how I use it. Occasionally you will stumble across something in my Latin that is, almost accidentally, grammatically correct, but that is a rarity. In my defence, the Latin is deliberately odd. Perfect Latin is not a very magical medium, is it? Does anyone know where avada kedavra came from? It is an ancient spell in Aramaic, and it is the original of abracadabra, which means “let the thing be destroyed”. Originally, it was used to cure illness and the “thing” was the illness, but I decided to make it the “thing” as in the person standing in front of me. I take a lot of liberties with things like that. I twist them round and make them mine.

J.K.Rowling Official Site, Sunday 15 August 2004, J K Rowling at the Edinburgh Book Festival (Archived)

  • 55
    I was immediately skeptical of Rowling's claim here, and she is in fact wrong. aramaicnt.org/2014/01/29/abracadabra-is-not-aramaic Or, see Wikitionary: en.wiktionary.org/wiki/abracadabra Looks like Rowling isn't just bad at math, but etymology too. :) – Shamshiel Jun 13 at 9:56
  • 24
    @Shamshiel To be fair, her mistake is pretty excusable, since it seems like a relatively common misconception. My guess is that accuracy wasn't really the goal for her when wiring the story. It's a bit like asking her about dragon anatomy, and then blaming her for confusing the tibia and the femur. – Misha R Jun 13 at 13:28
  • 40
    +1 because even though she might be wrong about the root word, it seems pretty clear that it's where she got the name of her spell. – PlutoThePlanet Jun 13 at 16:02
  • 11
    I always wondered if she swapped the Bs to Vs so that the "kedavra" part could also be a pun on "cadaver". – anaximander Jun 13 at 19:33
  • 16
    @ba: Just because it's not actually Aramaic doesn't mean that Rowling didn't learn of the saying from a claim that it is Aramaic. Rowling is answering where she got the inspiration from, not whether the source of the inspiration ended up being right or wrong after all. Even if it turns out that the Aramaic claim was willfully fabricated and a hoax, does not change how Rowling found the phrase. – Flater Jun 14 at 8:44

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.