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Is there a difference between the two? I see it used regularly in the tech community to mean automatically.

Has the word been adopted into any recognised dictionary?

For example:

That was the day I officially stopped caring what version Chrome is. I mean, I care in the sense that sometimes I need to check its dogtags in battle, but as a regular user of Chrome, I no longer think of myself as using a specific version of Chrome, I just … use Chrome. Whatever the latest version is, I have it automagically.

-- Jeff Atwood (The Infinite Version)

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Look at the programming language haskell. It does a lot of stuff automagically. It's really a way to just say it works, without a technical reason as to why. –  Matt May 23 '11 at 19:37
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There's a "law" coined by Artur C. Clarke in the early '70s which says "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." –  André Paramés May 23 '11 at 22:44
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4 Answers

up vote 60 down vote accepted

This comes from computer jargon, and the jargon file lists it.

Automatically, but in a way that, for some reason (typically because it is too complicated, or too ugly, or perhaps even too trivial), the speaker doesn't feel like explaining to you. See magic. “The C-INTERCAL compiler generates C, then automagically invokes cc(1) to produce an executable.”

This term is quite old, going back at least to the mid-70s in jargon and probably much earlier. The word ‘automagic’ occurred in advertising (for a shirt-ironing gadget) as far back as the late 1940s.

Automagically implies certain 'magic' going on behind the scenes.

In Atwood's example it might be a bit too much or just appropriate. It depends on when it was written: today automatic updating is common, but it did not use to be. In the days when it was not common the term "automagically" fits very nicely.

It also fits well to describe the change, if the process required user action before, you can say that now it happens automagically.

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@Treffynnon, you are welcome. Jargon file is a nice resource, it is not too big and reading through it provides some really valuable linguistic background for programmers' culture and language (of course the early days of it) and I can only recommend it. –  Unreason May 23 '11 at 13:24
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As a long-time computer geek who has actually submitted items to the jargon file, I'd say that if Atwood is using the term in a reasonable manner, he must be referring to Chrome automatically updating itself and any plugins without any user interaction. Most technical users would object to this, since they'd want to be notified and probably have to give approval for an update -- even Apple's very-consumer-oriented App Store requires you to OK an update. –  Wayne May 23 '11 at 16:09
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I'd defend Jeff's usage of the term here, Chrome doesn't 'just autoupdate', it does it in fancy ways, to achieve something that many people would not believe was reasonably possible if they weren't doing it (Like 70-oddkb updates, for example) –  Phoshi May 23 '11 at 16:31
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+1; This answer briefly touches on the jargon usage of the word magic which is very different from what you would expect via Harry Potter. The key to understanding automagically is in understanding magic. –  MrHen May 23 '11 at 19:59
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@MrHen, that's why I did provide link in the quote. @senderle, folk etymology is good, remember as Borges said, words are symbols of shared memories. –  Unreason May 24 '11 at 1:44
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The meaning reported from the NOAD is the following:

(especially in relation to the operation of a computer process) automatically and in a way that seems ingenious, inexplicable, or magical.

As per the origin, the dictionary reports it's 1940s, from the blend of automatically and magically.

The meaning of the word is different from the meaning of automatically, and the word is generally used in a specific context.

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+1 Thank you for the dictionary reference. –  Treffynnon May 23 '11 at 15:41
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There's an implication of a deep appreciation of the cleverness of whatever secret process makes the system work. So it goes beyond just, "I don't understand how this works", to "This is really cool, even though I don't understand how it works".

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I always understood it to mean "This is cool,I understand it or think I do, but I can't be bothered explaining it to you as you might not get it anyway" –  WOPR May 24 '11 at 9:30
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It's not a serious word. It's used jokingly, implying that something happens both automatically and as if by magic.

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No, it is not used jokingly, see my references (though humor, irony and wit is common, still most of the jargon entires have very well defined meanings and were/are common in serious communication). –  Unreason May 23 '11 at 13:19
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This word has a considerable history in computer geek circles and really is distinct from "automatically" in that it also implies cleverness or even "deep magic". –  dmckee May 24 '11 at 2:15
    
Guess I move in different geek circles. ;) –  Liv May 24 '11 at 8:44
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protected by tchrist Sep 26 '12 at 18:52

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