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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Did You Know?

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 more 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

Yet in the meantime, the legal legerdemain led to immense suffering. Edward Rothstein, WSJ, "‘Civil War and Reconstruction: The Battle for Freedom and Equality’ Review: A Nation’s Arc Toward Justice," 29 June 2019 But even that bit of binary legerdemain involved a relative unknown and took seven days to pull off. Jack Mccallum, SI.com, "A Clippers Summer: How L.A.’s ‘Other’ Team Stole the NBA Offseason," 9 July 2019 There’s legerdemain aplenty in this designer’s work, as well as romance and an unapologetic femininity, which registers as strength to this designer. Laird Borrelli-persson, Vogue, "With Stitchless Garments Designer Katie Roberts-Wood Links Femininity to Strength," 20 Feb. 2019 Kennedy’s feat of legal legerdemain means that the Supreme Court has punted on deciding whether anti-discrimination laws that protect gay Americans must yield to a business owner’s religious tenets. Matt Ford, The New Republic, "Why Trump Should Worry About the Supreme Court’s Cakeshop Ruling," 4 June 2018 The play spends a little too much time spinning narrative wheels on the legal legerdemain between Derek and Todd. Kerry Reid, chicagotribune.com, "'A Home on the Lake': Real estate and racism surface from Evanston's past," 23 Apr. 2018 Doing so would require only a little bit of constitutional legerdemain on the high court’s part. Matt Ford, The New Republic, "Will the Supreme Court Rein in Civil Forfeiture?," 17 Apr. 2018 Some of the legerdemain is how’d-they-do-that pieces of stage magic, while other bits are visual distraction. Dominic P. Papatola, Twin Cities, "Theater review: These ‘Red Shoes’ can’t be tied with a bow. And that’s a good thing," 6 Mar. 2017

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.

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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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Dictionary Entries near legerdemain






leger line


Statistics for legerdemain

Last Updated

29 Jul 2019

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Time Traveler for legerdemain

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

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English Language Learners Definition of legerdemain

: skill in using your hands to perform magic tricks

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Comments on legerdemain

What made you want to look up legerdemain? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


formidable, illustrious, or eminent

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