My 8th grade student “Luna”* is obsessed with all things fantasy and so when I asked her what words she would like to investigate, the word magic was on the list.

We discussed what magic was and looked it up in the dictionary. We discovered that the word can be used as a noun, a verb, or an adjective. Luna worked to make a sentence of each type.

We brainstormed similar words and decided the base was probably <mage>. We began mapping out our thinking on the table top whiteboard in my office.

We used Word Searcher to find words that contained the same base, and ruled out words that, although seemed possibly promising, turned out to not be etymologically related. These words were image, imagination, and magistrate– along with their derivatives.

As you can see, the final, single, silent, non-syllabic <e> is replaced by a vowel suffix. This is shown with the red slash on the final <e>. In order to keep the /k/ sound when a vowel suffix is added, a <k> is added sometimes. We learned that at one time, long ago, the -<ic> ending was spelled <ick> and sometimes when someone wants the word magic to look more–well, magickal–it might be spelled with the old spelling.

Next we used the Mini-matrix Maker to make a matrix.

We explored the etymology of the word magic.

We also considered the pronunciation of the words and how unexpected changes happen in different related words.

mage /māj/

  • Long <a> because of single, silent, non-syllabic <e>
  • Soft g because it is followed by an <e>

magic /măj’-ĭk/

  • Soft <g> because it is followed by an <e>
  • Hard c because it has no vowel after and <-ic> at the end of a word is poronounced /ĭk/

magician /mə-jĭ’-shən/

  • First and third vowel sounds are schwas and middle syllable has stress.
  • Soft <g> because it is followed by an <e>
  • <c> has /sh/ sound when followed by <ian>

magicians /mə’-jĭ-shənz/

  • First and third vowel sounds are schwas and middle syllable has stress.
  • Soft <g> because it is followed by an <e>
  • <c> has /sh/ sound when followed by <ian>
  • Final <s> represents a /z/ sound.

Luna made the observation that in the Harry Potter universe “nomag” is American slang for non-magical people, the equivalent to “muggle” in the U.K. A fitting observation for this exploration.

Further discussion and investigation into the grammar of the words gave us this information. Luna made sentences to help her remember.

  • mage: noun “someone who performs magic”
  • magic: noun, verb, or adjective
  • magics: plural noun or third person inflectional ending (“She magics the moonbeans.”)
  • magical: adjective
  • magician: “Someone who performs magic”
  • magicked: past tense verb or adjective (“The magicked beans grew a bean-stock.”)
  • magically: adverb
  • magicians: plural of magician
  • magicking: present verb (“He is magicking the stones to turn them into bread.”) or noun (“She is an expert at magicking.”)
  • magic wand: a stick used to perform magic

While looking at the dictionary, we also noticed the link to the thesaurus and explored synonyms and antonyms.

Luna and I both agreed that being bewitching and charming was much more fun than being normal and unremarkable. Next up, Luna wants to investigate sorceress.

*Student names and details have been changed.