Sven·​ga·​li | \ sven-ˈgä-lē How to pronounce Svengali (audio) , sfen- \

Definition of Svengali

: a person who manipulates or exerts excessive control over another

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In George du Maurier's 1894 novel Trilby, a young artist's model named Trilby O'Ferrall falls under the spell of Svengali, a villainous musician and hypnotist. Svengali trains Trilby's voice through hypnosis and transforms her into a singing star, subjugating her completely in the process. Svengali's maleficent powers of persuasion made such an impression on the reading public that by 1919 his name was being used generically as a term for any wickedly manipulative individual.

First Known Use of Svengali

1919, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for Svengali

Svengali, villainous hypnotist in the novel Trilby (1894) by George du Maurier

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The first known use of Svengali was in 1919

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Cite this Entry

“Svengali.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 27 Nov. 2021.

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