History of Sleight of Hand

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History of Sleight of Hand

Postby mrgoat » January 24th, 2006, 8:12 am

British folk can enjoy free access to the excellent Oxford English Dictionary online that has full history of words and phrases.

(sadly they seem to have locked it to UK IP addresses for some reason). Here is the entry for 'sleight of hand'. Never would have thought it was from 1400!!!


Dexterity or skill in using the hand or hands for any purpose; expertness in manipulation or manual action.
[c1400 Destr. Troy. 10306 Achilles..flange at the knight, [and] Slough hym full slawthly with sleght of his hond. c1425 Non-Cycle Myst. Plays 24 Of hand to have such slight, To make ship less or mare.] c1460 Towneley Myst. xxiii. 157 Let now se who dos the best with any slegthe of hande. 1700 T. BROWN tr. Fresny's Amusem. viii. Wks. 1709 III. 70 There's nothing to be learn'd there [at gaming-houses], unless it be Slight of Hand,..sometimes at the Expence of all our Money. 1760 JOHNSON Idler No. 90 {page}3 By slight of hand, or nimbleness of foot, all these wonders can be performed. 1825 MCCULLOCH Pol. Econ. II. ii. 87 A peculiar play of the muscles, or sleight of hand, is necessary to perform the simplest operation in the..most expeditious manner. 1862 Fraser's Mag. July 75 A power not fitful or got forth by any sleight-of-hand, but resolutely worked for.
transf. and fig. 1700 T. BROWN tr. Fresny's Amusem. 50 Here Fools by Slight of Hand, are converted into Wits. 1829 CARLYLE Misc. (1840) II. 56 Were the public once to penetrate into this his [a playwright's] sleight of hand, it were all over with him.

b. In reference to jugglery, conjuring, or performances of a similar kind.
1622 FLETCHER Beggar's Bush III. i, Will ye see any feats of activity, Some Sleight of hand, Legerdemain? 1690 Lond. Gaz. No. 2539/4 William Bradshaw..pretending to slight of Hand and swallowing Knives. 1770 LANGHORNE Plutarch (1879) I. 395/2 Some of them were forced to get their bread by showing tricks of sleight of hand. 1853 C. BRONT Villette xxii, You know my skill in sleight of hand: I might practise as a conjuror if I liked.

2. With a and pl. A dexterous trick or feat; a piece of nimble juggling or conjuring.
c1605 ? ROWLEY Birth Merlin IV. i, I must keep some other company if you have these sleights of hand. 1699 R. L'ESTRANGE Erasm. Colloq. (1725) 22 While they pretend to lay one gift upon the altar, by a marvellous slight of hand they'll steal away another. 1717 tr. Frezier's Voy. 166 The Experiments that have been seen made..are fraudulent Sleights of Hand. 1851 LONGFELLOW Gold. Leg. II. Vill. Ch., To make a murderer out of a prince, A sleight of hand I learned long since! 1856 MRS. BROWNING Aur. Leigh I. 421 Fine sleights of hand And unimagined fingering.

3. attrib. and Comb. a. In sense using or employing sleight of hand, as sleight-of-hand man, professor, etc.
1760 GROSE Voy. E. Indies 185 The jugglers, or slight-of-hand-men greatly excel whatever I have seen or heard of them in Europe. 1801 Sporting Mag. XVII. 209 The exhibitions of a slight-of-hand professor. 1875 Chambers's Jrnl. XII. 66 A sleight-of-hand gentleman is selling purses with half-crowns in them for one shilling each.

b. In sense performed by sleight of hand, artifice, etc., as sleight-of-hand arrangement, juggling, trick, etc.
1818 SCOTT Rob Roy xix, One of those slight-of-hand arrangements which still sometimes took place in that once lawless district. 1826 DISRAELI Viv. Grey III. viii, You are a juggler; and the deceptions of your sleight-of-hand tricks depend upon instantaneous motions. 1828 MOIR Mansie Wauch vii, A punch and puppie-show business, and other slight-of-hand work. 1867 RUSKIN Time & Tide vi. 26 Then there was some fairly good sleight-of-hand juggling of little interest.

Hence ellipt. sleight-hand. Also attrib.
1792 WOLCOT (P. Pindar) Odes Wks. 1816 II. 390 Sweet are of slight-hand Barrington the tales. 1839 RAYSON Poems 62 'Tis whuspert by sleet-han' he's meade lots o' money. Oxford English Dictionary online

Jim Morton
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Location: San Francisco

Re: History of Sleight of Hand

Postby Jim Morton » January 24th, 2006, 9:15 am

sadly they seem to have locked it to UK IP addresses for some reason
The technique they are using to figure out who is allowed and who isn't is haphazard at best. Some non-British addresses will work.


Bill Mullins
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Joined: January 17th, 2008, 12:00 pm
Location: Huntsville, AL

Re: History of Sleight of Hand

Postby Bill Mullins » January 24th, 2006, 11:43 am

The OED online is an incredibly useful resource. I get free access through my local public library's "virtual library" project (as can anyone else with a library card from a public library in Alabama). Check your own public library to see if they have something similar.

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