Communication Magic

Exploring the Structure
And Meaning of Language

L. Michael Hall, Ph.D.

Communication Magic:  Exploring the Structure and Meaning of Language (2001)/ This book replaces and updates The Secrets of Magic.  This completely revised edition has been expanded and updated. Communication Magic provides the simplest explanation of the foundation of NLP, the Meta-Model.  NLP is all about the "magic" of what we do and can do with words, with language, with the meta-representation systems of abstract symbols.  This book reviews the 25-year history of the Meta-Model, it's growth, development, and the 9 new linguistic distinctions that L. Michael Hall added to the Meta-Model.  Revisit the magic.  Discover afresh or for the first time the heart of NLP and NS.

Table of Contents



Part I: Becoming a Word Magician in Communicating

Chapter 1       The Discovery of Magic


Chapter 2       Locating Linguistic Magic


Chapter 3       "Seeing" Magic As a Magician


Chapter 4       Expressions of Magic 


Part II: The Model for Communication Magic
Chapter 5       The Magic Model: Part I (Deletions) 


Chapter 6       The Magic Model: Part II (Generalizations)


Chapter 7       The Magic Model: Part III (Distortions) 


Chapter 8       The Magic Model: Part IV (Distortions) 


Chapter 9       The Evolution of Magic: New Developments


Chapter 10      Dressing Up For Business: Evolution of Magic (Part II) 


Chapter 11      Magic from the Wizard Korzybski, Part I


Chapter 12      Enriching the Magic from Korzybski, Part II


Part III: Using Magic in Communicating & Living

Chapter 13     Cognitive Magic


Chapter 14     Making Magic Conversational:  Mind Lines


Chapter 15     Seven Directions for Sending a Brain


Chapter 16     Sensory & Systemic Magic:  Magic Beyond Words


Epilogue            And the Magic Continues...     


Appendix A        Meta-Model Changes


Appendix B      The "Is" Biz


Appendix C        Meta-Model Exercises


Appendix D        The Meta-Levels of the Meta-Model


Appendix E        The New & Updated Meta-Model







Touched By Magic

Once upon a time an Ugly Frog was Touched by Magic.
A Wizard waved her wand, said some words,
and then, presto ... poof of smoke ...
the ugly frog discovered that he was really ...
A handsome Prince
with all the resources he needed
to live fully and vibrantly.
For you see, the magic of the words restored him
to his true identity and his true destiny
as it opened his eyes to all the rich resources within.
And so he went on his princely way -- merrily --
totally Transformed and Thrilled...
& repeatedly Telling his story to all who would listen,
which began to cause him to feel really curious
about that magic.
"Just how did she do that anyway?"
"Is there any Method in her Magic?"
"If I could find the Structure in the Magic __
could I then learn to perform Magic like that?"
And these words echoed in his mind.
Now it came to pass in those days
that two modelers were also touched by Magic
& forthwith thereafter began to hold workshops
throughout the Kingdom on the Structure of Magic.
And so as the prince took his place in the workshop,
and not even knowing the extent of his magic skills
having been Touched by Magic,
and so he accessed his most ferocious learning state
because he didn't want to miss any of
the secrets of magic.
So as he began to breath deeply and fully
with a calm relaxation in the growing excited anticipation
of become even more skilled as
a Neuro-Linguistic Magician...



The Structure of Meaning and Magic describes the magic that we can perform with language. It describes the neurological effects of words, symbols, and ideas on our lives and emotions. It shows how mental phenomena which we can't see, hear, touch, taste, or smell can turn life in to a living hell or into an experience of ecstasy and delight.

In The Structure of Meaning and Magic, you will find a model, a cutting-edge model about communicating, thinking, experiencing, constructing realities, and influencing the realities of others. That makes this a dangerous book. Yet when you finish this book, you may not feel that you have just completed reading something dangerous. Yet it is. In the wrong hands, this model can supply the unscrupulous with the human technology for influence and persuasion by which to do immense harm.

Why take the chance of arming the unscrupulous and dishonest with the model and techniques here? Because by hook or crook (in other books, in trainings, by trial and error experience) they can find such techniques anyway. I have written this for defense against such. After all, awareness of the magic of language gives us a "heads-up" about dangerous spins and manipulations.

On the surface, this book is about how to communicate more effectively, precisely, and even magically. It is a book about how to effectively use your unique gift of language in a way that expands your mental maps and enriches your life. This book highlights the dangers of impoverished language that limits and undermines success and happiness.

The Magic of Language Elegance

Everyday, in just about everything we engage in, we use language. We use language to get along with others, to engage in business, to negotiate, to persuade, to sell, to solve problems, to express our creativity, and a thousand other activities. And sometimes, languaging works in seemingly magical ways. Sometimes a single word can set off an argument, break loyal bonds, violate friends, and ignite legal proceeds. Sometimes a word can turn a person around, create a new sense of hope and meaning, and heal a wounded heart. Words work powerfully in these ways.

Languaging uniquely defines how we use symbols in our everyday experiences. The pervasiveness of language as well as the centrality of our language skills explains why our use of language so crucially determines our effectiveness, self-management, and happiness. This book focuses on these things and about how to use language with both the magic of precision and the magic of hypnosis. It's about developing greater skills at the persuasion arts. In this book, you will be invited into a mindful understanding about several things:

At a deeper level, this book invites you to take a journey-- a journey into the wild and wonderful realm of "mind," into neuro-linguistic and neuro-semantic reality where mind-body works as a system in response to symbols. That may sound complex. And certainly, from the point of view of a neuro-biologist or neuro-scientist, there are all kinds of complexities about this that we have not begun to fathom. Yet, how language actually affects our mind-body system on a day to day basis is simple. You can test it. Test it simply by trying on some of the patterns, using the secrets, and noticing whether it empowers you as a person, enhances your life, or doesn't create any magic for you.

The Magical Things You Can Do With Language

Since language operates as one of the meta-processes above and beyond ("meta") primary experiences, there's all kinds of things that we can do with language.

Austin (1955) recognized the "performative" role of words and described such in his classic William James Lecture at Harvard, How To Do Things With Words. For Austin, much of our language use involves performative language; "to say something is to do something, or in saying something we do something" (p. 108).

Church (1961) took that idea further,

"Words do not have meanings, but functions. The 'meanings' assigned to words by dictionaries are abstractions drawn from the way words function in various contexts." (p. 217)

Though stated here in either-or terminology (for words have both meanings and function), Church emphasizes the functional role of words. What are all the things we can do with language, with symbols, verbal and non-verbal? What are some of the things you do with words every day as you move through the world?

Gather information
Understand another's perspective 
Seek clarification when confused 
Bond with another person 
Dis-bond with another 
Express endearment to another 
Reinforce behaviors & responses 
Extinguish behaviors & responses 
Create patterns of persuasion 
Experience a catharsis of emotion 
Confess faults and problems 
Take responsibility for myself 
Shift responsibility away from myself 
Update mental maps about reality 
Hypnotize people into various states 
Engage a person about something 
Disclose various depths of things 
Soothe, nourish, and comfort 
Joke, create humor, jar consciousness
Learn something new
Inform another
Influence people
Unload emotional stress
Validate, affirm
Advocate a position
Problem solve
Formulate a problem
Apologize for hurts
Negotiate an arrangement
Confuse someone
Universalize problem
Show off
Express intentions

Re-Visiting the Secrets of "Magic"

We will begin with a very powerful and profound model about language called "The Meta-Model." This model was first developed and popularized by a linguistic (Dr. John Grinder) and a student of mathematics and computers (Richard Bandler). They discovered it as they over-heard two therapeutic wizards use language in magical ways to expand and enrich the lives of their clients.

We will start there, but we will not stay there. We will look at how the Meta-Model grew and developed over the years, how it evolved and changed. We will explore how it moved beyond the confines of psychotherapy into business, management, coaching, persuasion, parenting, and a hundred other arenas. We will also examine some of the future possibilities of this model.

When Bandler and Grinder first listened to Fritz Perls (founder of Gestalt Therapy) and then to Virginia Satir (founder of Family Systems Therapy) they noticed magical transformations that occurred through just talking. But they also heard something else. They listened to the language in a special way--in terms its structure and form. They noticed that the magic had structure.

That got them thinking.

"Could the magic be nestled inside the structure of the words?"

"Could the marvelous transformations arise, not from the theories that Perls or Satir proposed, but from the unique ways they talked?"

Taking their cue from this wild idea, they modeled the linguistic forms and published their findings in two books, The Structure of Magic, Volumes I and I (1975, 1976). As a linguist, John Grinder had already written a book on the linguistic forms and structures of Transformational Grammar (1974), a book, by the way, which is remarkably similar to The Structure of Magic.

I didn't encounter the Meta-Model of Language until the late 1980s when I trained with Richard Bandler. I then used it to reproduce the genius of Perls and Satir in my own psychotherapeutic practice. That lead me to write my doctoral dissertation on languaging, to become a NLP trainer, and to co-found the field of Neuro-Semantics.

The Structure of Meaning and Magic not only surveys the Meta-Model, it also updates it. We will first revisit the original model and then we will observe how it has grown and evolved. Later I will suggest additional pieces to the model from General Semantics and Cognitive Psychology.

The Magic of Becoming the Boss of Your Words

As we adventure into the magic of our own neuro-linguistics, we will examine the Meta-Model and work with the profound simplicity of that model. In fact, this may fool you. I didn't realize the profundity hidden inside this language model when I first encountered the Meta-Model.

Actually, when I first read about the Meta-Model, I really didn't think that much of it. I liked it. Sure, I thought it had some merit for enabling me to speak more precisely. But it didn't ring any bells for me. Having studied the biblical languages (Koine Greek, Hebrew, Latin) as well as Transformational Grammar and General Semantics, the Meta-Model did not leave a very good first impression.

"Yes, I know that stuff; nothing really new."

Today I stand amazed that a person can hold a magic wand in his or her hands and not know it!

I got my attitude adjustment about the Meta-Model during my training with Richard Bandler. I heard Richard say, almost in an off-the-cuff manner, something to the effect that everything in NLP, every model, every technique, and every distinction that makes a difference arises from the Meta-Model.

"Oh really?"

He commented that to not know the Meta-Model inside out, backwards and forwards, and to understand it as a model for modeling subjective experiences would effectively prevent one from ever becoming truly proficient (let alone a master) with the technologies of magic in the field of NLP.

That caught my attention. I knew the power of NLP on creating profound transformation, but I had not fully appreciated its foundation in language, in linguistics. That mental frame then gave birth to numerous questions:

When I first began entertaining such questions I didn't know the answers. So I returned to the Meta-Model, to The Structure of Magic, and to freshly discovering the secrets of magic.

Later, after I found the secrets, I began exploring for more and additional expressions of such neuro-linguistic magic. That led me back to Alfred Korzybski who founded General Semantics, then to Cognitive Psychology, Cognitive Linguistics, and to a multitude of other fields, authors, and models. Eventually I wrote my dissertation on how language works in seemingly magical ways (Languaging, 1996).

As we journey back to revisit magic, set your mind to avoid making the mistake that I initially made when I discounted the profoundness of the Meta_Model because it seemed so simple on the surface. There are secrets of magic within. Let them haunt you, seduce you, and pull on the strings of your heart and mind until they reveal their secrets to you. By all means, don't miss the profound nature of the simplicity of the magic that lies before you in the pages of this book. Truly you hold a magic wand in your hands that provides you significant keys to the secret of magic.

The Magic Hidden Within

The reason for revisiting the magic discovered 25-years ago is not merely for historical interest about its source. I have another agenda. I want to update the Meta-Model. In this book you will find a new extended version of the Meta-Model, one written not only for therapists, but for everybody who wants to use language in magical and persuasive ways.

I have not written about the structure of magic only to improve science and sanity, but also to use it in our everyday speaking and writing. If you have a magic wand, you might as well use it, shouldn't you? So given that, here are a few caveats as warning ahead of time regarding some of the unique languaging practices in this book.

You will discover, in the following pages, that I have incorporated numerous linguistic devices from General Semantics. When you first come upon them, they may strike you as weird. Magic is like that. Alfred Korzybski (1933/1994) developed these as linguistic mechanisms to help promote a more non-Aristotelian language system and orientation. His aim in doing so was to promote "Science and Sanity." These extensional devices include "etc.", an emphasis on verbs, eliminating "to be" verbs, using quotation marks, and hyphening terms.

I've sprinkled the magic of "etc." frequently within this text. I did that on purpose, not as a bad linguistic habit! Let this extensional device remind you that "I have not said all," that I "could have said a great deal more." This helps to avoid the absolutism in assuming that a given statement utters the last word about something. Let the magic of "Etc." evoke curiosity and thoughtfulness in you as you read. Let it cue your brain to begin wondering about all the things that have been left out.

I've also used the magic of verbs. Verbs get things done! And, given the dynamic universe of processes that we live in, verbs allow us to more accurately map the world. Verbs gives us the magic of a functional, behavioral, and dynamic language; it replaces the old static Aristotelian world-view and language forms. Expect to find "emote" and "emoting" for the thing-like term "emotions," "somatizing" for experiencing psychosomatic results (i.e., headaches, stomach aches, ulcers, etc.).

There's magic in saying "is," and yet, for the most part it is an unsane type of magic. It solidifies things. It freezes things in time and space, it identifies, etc. The General Semantics device of E-Prime seeks to prime (or eliminate) English all forms of "is," especially the "is" of identity ("He is a failure") and the "is" of predication ("She is rude"). Originally, I wrote the first edition of this book using E-Prime. Many didn't like it, "too weird" they said.

Putting quotation marks around words enables us to call special attention to terms whose magic can easily be misunderstood. I typically will write "mind" to avoid the false-to-fact understanding that "mind" can exist and operate apart from "body." The quotation marks calls attention to the use of a word and invites consideration least it evokes some semantic damage.

I've also sprinkled dashes here and there to caution about the black magic of "elementalism." Treating a single element of a process may allow us to talk about it, but that's the trick. We can only talk about it. It does not truly exist by itself. It can't. Semantic damage occurs when we forget that the element only exists in thought and language, and not in reality. We can talk about "mind," conceptually, as if it exists apart from "body." We speak about "space" as if it exists apart from "time." But that's just talk. The magic of sprinkling little dashes here and there keep the world connected: "the time-space continuum," "the mind-body organism," "neuro-semantic" reality, etc.

Ready for Magic

Are you ready for a touch of magic? Would you like to touch the people in your life with the magic of precision, clarity, or resourcefulness? Language skills can give you that power. Language skill and understanding puts a magic wand in your hands so that you can communicate more effectively and clearly. It allows you to use the magic of precision to match the messages you're sending with those that your hearer receives. It endows you with the magic of induction or trance so that you can communicate in ways that invites your listeners to step into new conceptual worlds. It allows you to become a marvelous storyteller, hypnotist, and persuader. It puts into your hands the skills and tools for detracting high quality information from the people who are trying to get their messages over, but who don't know the secrets, principles, or structure of magic.

Magic lies at your fingertips. It lies in the language that you use to think, to imagine, to hope and dream, to formulate and solve problems, to express yourself, to bond with others, to make your dreams come true.

May your journey into magic... into the magical model that we call the Meta-Model enrich your use of this magic wand.

L. Michael Hall
January, 2001

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