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I am writing for a fantasy setting, and there needs to be a similar concept of a “master” magician. There is a guild, “apprentice” and “journeyman” still work well, and then there needs to be a step above that for someone who has completed their training.

Importantly, a “master” in this sense is just someone who has completed all the training and knows all the things you have to know. They aren’t necessarily the greatest or the best; they’re just just fully qualifed. In its original sense, “masterpiece” just meant something that demonstrated those qualifications, not the greatest work of one’s career (cf. magnum opus). The masterpiece is akin to a doctoral dissertation, a black belt, or what have you—a significant accomplishment, but one that should ideally be the beginning of your career, not its pinnacle.

Except there are two problems:

  1. “Masterpiece” is widely used to refer to the pinnacle of one’s career. “Magnum opus” would be better for that, but I can’t change the way people use words. Especially when “master” is paired with “masterpiece,” it leads many readers to thinking the person is among the best in the world, or of all time. I just want someone who is fully qualified and capable rather than a student.

  2. “Master” is currently the subject of debate about its appropriateness, considering the relationship of a master to slaves.

Both of these are problems for me. I would like to avoid them if I can, but to do that, I need a good alternative.

So, does anyone have any good suggestions for sentences such as these?

  • He was an apprentice to the local _____ wizard, Carl.

  • Upon completing his enchantments and demonstrating the new spell to the guild, she was awarded the rank of _____, able to properly call herself a magician now and sell her spellcasting services.

My goal is to write this story, describe this setting, in such a way that no one has any reason to question the word choice. I want something that captures the meaning I want, doesn’t lead readers astray, and doesn’t lead to anyone feeling uncomfortable or argumentative over something as simple as word choice. If all I have to do to make the story work better for more readers is find another word, I want to find the other word.

For the sake of making this a useful question, “master” is off the table. It is patently obvious, I think, that I am aware of it as an option. The purpose of this question is to find other options, so that each may be considered. The word “master” is not an alternative to “master” and is therefore not a valid answer to the question.

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    Best of luck with your novel! Oct 18, 2020 at 16:28
  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – tchrist
    Jan 20, 2021 at 23:38

7 Answers 7

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Virtuoso could work:

A person highly skilled in music or another artistic pursuit.

It fits the fantasy flavor. Virtuoso is a rank of spell caster in The Sims 4: Realm of Magic (the level above “master”). It’s also used to describe real world magicians:

To become an actual virtuoso magician (and not someone that can just fool the public into thinking you are), you have to understand the breadth of expertise that it would require. [...] Shin Lim has probably had the most stunning rise in a short time. But he is not a virtuoso in a broad range of magic.

This doesn’t help you with a synonym for masterwork/masterpiece but you can go with a completely different term, such as tour de force:

A feat demonstrating brilliance or mastery in a field

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  • I very much agree with another commenter's comment that 'virtuoso', while typically applied to someone who is a musician or a trailblazer or a great in an artistic pursuit as opposed to, say, a scientific or political one, does probably work and would probably suffice the best/most; however, unlike 'master', which is in good, common use in British English and American English, 'virtuoso' may not be understandable to some laypeople or lay audiences so you, the speaker, may have to articulate it's meaning to those people who need it and who may not understand it's meaning. Nov 26, 2020 at 22:41
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primary or main appear the most common and appropriate (rather boringly). For the relationship you describe, with a "master list" that all others are synchronised to, the relationship may be defined as main/replica or primary/replica or primary/secondary: GitHub proposed the use of "main" while Django now uses "primary/replica".

Alternatives such as provider/consumer and source/replica are also used. (Personally I think primary is good as it indicates clearly the status as number one authoritative source, while main has too many other associations to be a clear name.)

Wikipedia's article on Master/slave technology includes a discussion. It says that "slave" is more often considered offensive than "master" but offers various alternatives for both. The BBC have also written on this.

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From the OP's comment left below one answer:

someone who has completed all qualifications and training, but not necessarily the best

I suggest the word adept. The dictionary definition does not say much in the context, but it is a term used in magical societies to indicate someone who has passed their basic training and can work towards higher levels. The term was used by the Order of the Golden Dawn for their 2nd degree members.

This works for your second example

she was awarded the rank of adept, able to properly call herself a wizard

An adjective (other than master) qualifying a magician is more difficult. I suggest grand but with the definite article, as a title:

He was an apprentice to the Grand Magician, Merlin.

Alternatively you might consider synonyms for 'magician' which imply mastership

  • magus

  • sorcerer

Incidentally I think it is more usual to say masterpiece than masterwork.

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  • Right, so at the very top you could end up with someone called The Grand Wizard for example.... Hmmmm.
    – Jim
    Oct 18, 2020 at 18:28
  • @Jim it's for fiction.... Oct 18, 2020 at 18:29
  • Adept is a decent suggestion, thank you and +1. However, you misread the example sentence—it was “a ____ magician,” not “the ____ magician.” The intent was it to just be another place the requested word might go—not seeking another word for someone who is the best of the best. I think using the name “Merlin” caused this confusion, so I have changed it to the far less gradiose “Carl.” Anyway, grand, like supreme, doesn’t help me. I’m not overly worried about how to name the best there is—whoever that is doesn’t factor into my story.
    – KRyan
    Oct 18, 2020 at 18:41
  • I did not misread it. I covered that in the answer: it isn't easy to find an adjective that works that isn't master, or others that you are rejecting. Perhaps there isn't one, which is why I suggested a shift to using a title. Oct 18, 2020 at 18:44
  • I notice you have taken up the 'masterpiece' suggestion in your edit. Oct 18, 2020 at 18:49
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If a master data list is the list from which other lists are generated, then it can be considered the original data list relative to those other lists. Merriam-Webster, def. 1 and 2 under original (adj.):

1 : of, relating to, or constituting an origin or beginning : initial / the original part of the house

2a : not secondary, derivative, or imitative / an original composition

b : being the first instance or source from which a copy, reproduction, or translation is or can be made

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I suggest "Supreme" ["highest in rank or authority"] and "Supreme Magician" in the first and second examples. To the best of my knowledge, supreme has no PC connotation and is a better word for your purposes than, say, "supereminent" (one of the synonyms suggested by Merriam-Webster at the above link).

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  • Supreme isn’t the sense I want: I am looking for a description of someone who has completed all qualifications and training, but not necessarily the best there is. Thanks for the interest, though!
    – KRyan
    Oct 18, 2020 at 16:50
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Seems to me that "expert" comes pretty close:

a person with a high level of knowledge or skill relating to a particular subject or activity

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How about an offbeat word? Methinks, Houdini would be a good choice here.

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  • @Eric Weiss; I don't think you can get out of it.
    – Elliot
    Dec 5, 2020 at 3:56

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