In alchemy, for instance, these people would study things, observe them, and once they were understood, they were named. The use of the name evoked understanding and the understanding was theoretically a pathway to control. The idea of the atom is a good idea of this at play.
“I give you my word.” You know what that means. It's the most firm promise there is, even stronger than, “On my mother's grave.”
You probably also know people who have invoked their word and broken the promise, whatever it was. They are people of lesser worth.
The signal idea here is the power of 'words', and their special magic.
In many older stories, or stories based on other stories, the hero or villain has a name which has to be protected, and an alias for everyday use. The true name, the original name, is given by the parents at birth, and is only known to a very few. If the name is revealed, the person who knows the name can give commands which have to be obeyed.
You can see it in parental relationships. Nothing instills obedience or causes a pause in behaviour quicker than use of the erring child's full name, with fullstops in between each name uttered. The same applies to animals that are given names in households. A dog can be induced to look guilty with use of its name, or can come running with joy. In the wilds animals can recognise the sounds of their parents or offspring.
It's also evident in the reverse. In many cultures, formal and more informal, names are replaced with nicknames. Knowledge of a true name in these circumstances can weaken an individual. Some informal cultures, for instance gangs, formalise membership with a new name that has the dual function of enforcing adherence to the group culture through the power of the name, while protecting the group and the individual with anonymity. Certain sounds have a very deep-seated power. There must be a neurological basis for it. Hello, Mr Skinner.
Let's take it a bit further back to once upon a time.
Once upon a time, there were magicians like Dumbledore, who wore long robes decorated with symbols, not unlike those on the periodic table. They were called occultists, derived from the root 'occulta' or something like that. What they did was they developed understanding of things that were hidden to us. In alchemy, for instance, these people would study things, observe them, and once they were understood, they were named. The use of the name evoked understanding and the understanding was theoretically a pathway to control. The idea of the atom is a good idea of this at play.
In the same way a word leads to control of the material, it can also be used to control the non-material. If you catch a child or a pet doing something undesirable for instance, you are quite likely to say the words 'no' or 'bad' in a loud, scary voice, leading to tears from the child and guilt and depression in the dog. That's just one example among many. Words produce emotions.
As language skills advance, sequences of words are put to various uses, for instance to make a parent head over the fridge and produce something to eat or to express dissatisfaction or to achieve some kind of relief. Words produce sequences of events and sometimes the sequence of events is far more complex than the word. Test this out with the word 'coffee' uttered with a longing look at someone friendly.
All of this seems obvious, but if you look at it through fresh eyes, you get to the point where you have certain sounds uttered in certain sequences produce specific results, you have something that is very close to the magical spells in story books. The problem with 'abracadabra' or 'abracadacarba', more precisely, is that it is just too imprecise.
There is nothing more powerful than words. Not even Chuck Norris.
Let's get back to here and now. Words are losing their magic. Iconography is beginning to replace entire sentences, People are beginning to speak in grunts. Simplified English may lead to opportunities to find beauty is sparse language but it strips away vocabulary and the potential for construction of magic.
Perhaps there will be a new occult form to language, those who can speak and those who can barely make sense. It's a pity, but it does seem to be the way of the future.