pres·​ti·​dig·​i·​ta·​tion | \ ˌpre-stə-ˌdi-jə-ˈtā-shən How to pronounce prestidigitation (audio) \

Definition of prestidigitation

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prestidigitator \ ˌpre-​stə-​ˈdi-​jə-​ˌtā-​tər How to pronounce prestidigitation (audio) \ noun

Synonyms for prestidigitation


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The secret to performing magic tricks is all in the hands-or at least, that's what is suggested by the etymologies of prestidigitation and its two synonyms legerdemain and sleight of hand. The French word preste (from Italian presto) means "quick" or "nimble," and the Latin word digitus means "finger." Put them together and-presto!-you've got prestidigitation. Similarly, legerdemain was conjured up from the Middle French phrase leger de main, which translates to "light of hand." The third term, sleight of hand, involves the least etymological hocus-pocus; it simply joins "hand" with sleight, meaning "dexterity."

Examples of prestidigitation in a Sentence

Houdini's powers of prestidigitation remain legendary to this very day.
Recent Examples on the Web Talk about a feat of prestidigitation: Jordan Michelman recently turned water into a James Beard Award. oregonlive, "Portland writer captures a James Beard Award for story about mineral water," 3 June 2020 This is not some trick of rhetorical prestidigitation or a leap of logic. Jason Linkins, The New Republic, "Warren’s Medicare-for-All Dodge Is Wearing Thin," 16 Oct. 2019 Crucially, monetary policy oriented around individuals should be easier to understand than the customary prestidigitation. The Economist, "Central banks should consider offering accounts to everyone," 26 May 2018 His songs might be usefully interpreted through that past of mingled creativity and prestidigitation. Milwaukee, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Top Milwaukee concerts this week: Tiffany Haddish, Borns, Michael McDermott and more," 25 Jan. 2018 Javier Báez, an ebullient infielder whose prestidigitation in the field and thunderous bat helped ignite the Cubs during last year’s playoff, is twenty-four. David Axelrod, The New Yorker, "Can the Cubs Do It Again?," 24 Mar. 2017

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'prestidigitation.' 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 prestidigitation

1859, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for prestidigitation

French, from prestidigitateur prestidigitator, from preste nimble, quick (from Italian presto) + Latin digitus finger — more at digit

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The first known use of prestidigitation was in 1859

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Cite this Entry

“Prestidigitation.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 23 Jan. 2021.

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