leg·​er·​de·​main | \ ˌle-jər-də-ˈmān How to pronounce legerdemain (audio) \

Definition of legerdemain

1 : sleight of hand displays legerdemain with cards and coins
2 : a display of skill or adroitness a remarkable piece of diplomatic legerdemain— Anthony 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 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 Sarah Palin lost her libel case against the New York Times, but not without some judicial legerdemain. Nr Editors, National Review, 3 Mar. 2022 That does not mean the game wasn’t bereft of Brady’s fourth-quarter legerdemain. Los Angeles Times, 1 Feb. 2022 While the struggle to keep aircraft flying is a commendable exercise in bureaucratic legerdemain and organizational agility, the battle to keep aircraft safe and mission capable is an unsustainable, morale-sapping exercise. Craig Hooper, Forbes, 28 Jan. 2022 The legislative legerdemain needed to craft the multistep procedural agreement and raise the debt limit this year is a sign of the difficulty lawmakers may face on the issue in 2023. Andrew Duehren, WSJ, 15 Dec. 2021 The bill’s passage, 220 to 213, came after weeks of cajoling, arm-twisting and legislative legerdemain by Democrats. New York Times, 19 Nov. 2021 In a bit of legislative legerdemain, the House never adjourned for the day, so Friday is still technically Thursday in the House. Bart Jansen, USA TODAY, 1 Oct. 2021 Political reporters were dazzled by his legerdemain in stealing a traditionally Republican issue, promising more law enforcement on the streets and tougher penalties for juvenile offenders. NBC News, 20 Nov. 2020 See More

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'legerdemain.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

First Known Use of legerdemain

15th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for legerdemain

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

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

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Last Updated

20 Apr 2022

Cite this Entry

“Legerdemain.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/legerdemain. Accessed 18 May. 2022.

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More from Merriam-Webster on legerdemain

Nglish: Translation of legerdemain for Spanish Speakers

Britannica.com: Encyclopedia article about legerdemain


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