Sven·​ga·​li sven-ˈgä-lē How to pronounce Svengali (audio)
: 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.

Examples of Svengali in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web And Cohen, as the face of the network, has drawn particular scrutiny, portrayed by his detractors in lawsuits and in interviews as a reality TV Svengali who pits women against one another. Stacy Perman, Los Angeles Times, 3 Apr. 2024 Black Sheep features production from Sam Katz, who also worked on Cakes da Killa’s last album, 2022’s Svengali. Eric Torres, Pitchfork, 24 Jan. 2024 Army of Thieves star Matthias Schweighöfer plays Frank Farian, the music industry Svengali who packaged and produced the band. Scott Roxborough, The Hollywood Reporter, 2 Nov. 2023 The Ethiopian-Canadian singer/songwriter (real name: Abel Tesfaye) also co-starred in the series as Tedros, a Svengali who enters the life of aspiring pop star Jocelyn (Lily-Rose Depp) and takes control of every aspect of her world. Katie Atkinson, Billboard, 28 Aug. 2023 The cats are three sibling pairs – Svengali, his sister Cosmo, sisters Maharani and Hirah, and Indira and her brother Rajiv. oregonlive, 18 July 2023 His replacement is Nicky Chaos, a pyromaniacal Svengali ruling a cadre known as the Phalanx. Bonnie Johnson, Los Angeles Times, 16 June 2023 The new clip offered up a 90-second barrage of Hollywood sleaze and toxicity as flailing pop idol Jocelyn (Depp) falls in thrall to Tedros, the skeevy, scheming Svengali played by Tesfaye. Emily Zemler, Rolling Stone, 2 June 2023 The story line has Lily-Rose Depp’s rising pop star falling under the spell of a Svengali played by Abel Tesfaye, a.k.a. Matthew Gilbert,, 29 May 2023

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'Svengali.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


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

First Known Use

1919, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of Svengali was in 1919


Dictionary Entries Near Svengali

Cite this Entry

“Svengali.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 14 Jun. 2024.

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