Bill Mullins wrote:
Bob Coyne wrote:The evidence (in the 1870 phrase book, modern blogs, and default assumptions based on the established meaning of "palming" on its own) points towards it being understood as referring to sleight of hand (covertly hiding something in the palm).
The "evidence" you've mentioned isn't all that good. The 1870 dictionary doesn't match contemporary usage of "palm off" (i.e., it is wrong), and modern blogs and default assumptions don't apply to the late 1800s. The best scholarship in lexicography is found in historical dictionaries like the OED. A word's meaning is derived from its usage. If people use "palm off" to mean sleight-of-hand, then that's what it means. If they use it in another sense, then it doesn't mean sleight-of-hand. So you have to find examples of usage and from context, derive the meaning. (This is why the OED includes so many quotations that use a word or phrase).
Yes, things could have changed in the interpretation of "palm off" from 1900 to now, but is there good evidence for that? If anything I'd expect the literal interpretation (of palming as sleight of hand) to fade over time, not get stronger. Plus Brewer's entry shows, the phrase was believed to have sleight of hand connotations/derivation in 1875. Whether right in the details or not, that clearly seems to have been the belief, which is what really matters.
Regarding the OED. It doesn't include Erdnase's more common literal variant of the phrasal verb "palm off" (for loading into the palm) either. So I don't think you can draw conclusions from its absence. Apparently phrasal senses are often not cited in the OED (http://homes.chass.utoronto.ca/~cpercy/ ... amont.html
As I mentioned, most of the people I've informally asked (4/5, including one PhD Linguist/author) have assumed some sleight-of-hand/palming intepretation, though none with certainty. Not being magicians, they had only vague notions of what it actually entailed, but they were aware of the idea of hiding something in the palm in order to do sneaky things, and that's what they are connecting to. People infer/assume this intuitively. If you know what "palming" is (even vaguely), then "palm off" as sleight of hand is a logical interpretation and easily attaches to the figurative sense. Similar to how "hand off" or "pass off" are conceptually derived from "hand" and "pass" respectively. Phrasal verbs like these often follow semi-regular patterns in terms of how the particle ("off" in this case) modifies the verb to produce the new meaning. People produce those interpretations quite naturally.
For reference, here's an assortment of a dozen quotes/definitions culled from Google searches, all pointing toward using sleight of hand (to conceal an object in the palm in order to secretly load somewhere else) as the literal interpretation of "palm off" in concert with the figurative sense used by Sanders.
1) Brewer -- to PALM OFF wares, tricks, etc, upon the unwary. The allusion is to jugglers, who CONCEAL IN THE PALM OF THEIR HAND what they pretend to dispose of in some other way. These jugglers were sometimes called palmers. Juggler
means a player on a jongleur a sort of hurdy-gurdy. These jugglers accompanied the minstrels and troubadours, to assist them, and added to their musical talents SLEIGHT-OF-HAND, antics, and feats of prowess, to amuse the company assembled. In time the music was dropped as the least attractive, and tricks became the staple of these wandering performers.
2) this generation of Irish abroad, which is highly educated, will not be PALMED OFF WITH SUCH A SLEIGHT-OF-HAND, the political equivalent of sending a monkey into space.
3) Had an artificially-dated planet been PALMED OFF ON US by a clever SLEIGHT-OF-HAND ARTIST we would not be without excuse, we'd have a great excuse!
4) It is a shame that the ACCG does not affirm its support of a transparent and accountable antiquities trade so that collectors can buy in confidence they are not having looted and smuggled items PALMED OFF ON THEM BY SLEIGHT OF HAND of dealers' suppliers.
5) The phrase “TO PALM OFF” something literally means to use SLEIGHT OF HAND, a magician’s trick with reality, to sell as genuine alternative facts or products with the intention to deceive.
6) “Pawn off” is an interesting mishearing of “PALM OFF.” The original term with “palm” means to pass something off to some unwitting person — a usage Merriam Webster’s says is PROBABLY A REFERENCE TO CHEATING AT CARDS OR SLEIGHT-OF-HAND TRICKS.
7) PALM OFF -- Pass off by deception, substitute with intent to deceive, as in The salesman tried to palm off a zircon as a diamond, or The producer tried to palm her off as a star from the Metropolitan Opera. This expression alludes to CONCEALING SOMETHING IN THE PALM OF ONE'S HAND. It replaced the earlier palm on in the early 1800s.
8) Mcgraw-Hill's dictionary of American Idioms -- PALM SOMEONE OR SOMETHING OFF† (on someone) (as someone or something) and pass someone or something off† (on someone) (as someone or something); pawn someone or something off† (on someone) (as someone or something) Fig. to give someone or something to someone as a gift that appears to be someone or something desirable. (As if the gift had been CONCEALED IN ONE’S PALM UNTIL IT WAS GOTTEN RID OF.)
9) Thus, the phrase "pawn off" should be used only when referring to trading an item as collateral for a loan. That hasn't stopped people from confusing the saying with the similar-sounding "PALM OFF," which means to get rid of something or someone by means of deception [source: Macmillan Dictionary]. This PHRASE LIKELY CAME FROM CARD-PLAYING AND CONCEALING CARDS IN THE PALM OF YOUR HAND.
10) Redal-Stan chuckled. "You saw her PALM IT OFF INTO MY CUP, too, eh?"
11) Examiner 1852 -- You must not change the name of the thing. Conjure it and deal with it by whatever SLEIGHT OF HAND they may, they would never think they can PALM IT OFF UPON the people of England under another name.
12) By a SLEIGHT-OF-HAND, B.P. flashes the legitimate burden upon a proponent to sustain an action and tries to PALM IT OFF AS a transferred burden. Though it may work with rabbits, the SLEIGHT-OF-HAND won't work with the allocation of the burden of proof.
If you could show significant usage in the late 1800s where people said or wrote "palm/palmed off" and clearly meant it to mean "I concealed something in my palm and got rid of it," then the argument that Sanders was referring to sleight of hand would become stronger. But I don't think that such usage exists. When people said "palm/palmed off", they meant to pass on something without the receiver being aware of the nature of what was being passed. The act of passing was not secret (as it would be if it were palmed in the sleight-of-hand sense); it was overt. The deception was in the thing being passed.
I think you're highlighting the figurative sense (an entity getting transfered to someone by deception without knowing it or knowing exactly what they're getting). However, the literal interpretation doesn't get to be a "palmed off" restatement of the figurative one!
Instead, I think the literal connotation of "palm off" is most likely connected to the verb "palm" and hence refers to some variant of sleight of hand and, specifically, hiding in the PALM. Maybe people don't think of any literal connotations and the figurative one totally dominates, in which case the point is moot. But if they do, then the question is what is the most likely concrete interpretation of what it is.