leg·​er·​de·​main ˌle-jər-də-ˈmān How to pronounce legerdemain (audio)
: sleight of hand
displays legerdemain with cards and coins
: a display of skill or adroitness
a remarkable piece of diplomatic legerdemainAnthony West

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In Middle French, folks who were clever enough to fool others with fast-fingered illusions were described as leger de main, literally "light of hand." English speakers condensed that phrase into a noun when they borrowed it in the 15th century and began using it as an alternative to the older sleight of hand. (That term for dexterity or skill in using one's hands makes use of sleight, an old word from Middle English that derives from an Old Norse word meaning "sly.") In modern times, a feat of legerdemain can even be accomplished without using your hands, as in, for example, "an impressive bit of financial legerdemain."

Examples of legerdemain in a Sentence

the illusionist's show is an entertaining blend of legerdemain and over-the-top showmanship the reduction of the deficit is due in part to financial legerdemain that masks the true costs of running the government
Recent Examples on the Web His team is developing the bioreactor that performs the legerdemain. IEEE Spectrum, 22 May 2018 There is studio photography by the artists of legerdemain, such as the Malians Seydou Keïta and Malick Sidibé. Seph Rodney, New York Times, 29 June 2023 Words alone cannot express my perplexed admiration for this legislative piece of legerdemain. Robert G. Eccles, Forbes, 21 Feb. 2023 That Manchester City was engaging in a form of legerdemain with its ledgers had been widely assumed ever since the United Arab Emirates purchased the team in 2007. Alex Shephard, The New Republic, 8 Feb. 2023 Consider Trump’s reliance, instead, upon legerdemain. Fortune, 23 Dec. 2020 This bit of conceptual legerdemain functioned as a shorthand for their creative intentions, which were essentially anti-photographic. Chris Wiley, The New Yorker, 8 Nov. 2022 That legerdemain would be an illusion in the category of the Inflation Reduction Act, which increases inflationary pressures. WSJ, 23 Sep. 2022 National Review covered the legerdemain used by Stalin and then again by Putin to fuel their rise to absolute power. Peter J. Travers, National Review, 29 Mar. 2022 See More

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

Word History


Middle English, from Middle French leger de main light of hand

First Known Use

15th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of legerdemain was in the 15th century


Dictionary Entries Near legerdemain

Cite this Entry

“Legerdemain.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/legerdemain. Accessed 30 Sep. 2023.

Kids Definition


leg·​er·​de·​main ˌlej-ərd-ə-ˈmān How to pronounce legerdemain (audio)
: a display of trickery

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