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

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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 Caleb weaves prestidigitation into most every snap. Nick Canepa, San Diego Union-Tribune, 11 Nov. 2023 In this era of the prestidigitation that is digitation, the sheer, laundry-bag bulk of the contents of these archives is stunning. Mark Feeney,, 10 May 2023 But the magician must constantly update his tricks as the audience catches on, and new crises reveal the mechanisms behind the prestidigitation. Justin E. H. Smith, Harper’s Magazine , 25 May 2022 DelGaudio jettisoned most of the trappings of magic shows and used his prestidigitation skills in service of a meditation on identity. Michael Schulman, The New Yorker, 12 Mar. 2021 Talk about a feat of prestidigitation: Jordan Michelman recently turned water into a James Beard Award. oregonlive, 3 June 2020 This is not some trick of rhetorical prestidigitation or a leap of logic. Jason Linkins, The New Republic, 16 Oct. 2019 Crucially, monetary policy oriented around individuals should be easier to understand than the customary prestidigitation. The Economist, 26 May 2018 His songs might be usefully interpreted through that past of mingled creativity and prestidigitation. Milwaukee, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 25 Jan. 2018 See More

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

Word History


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

First Known Use

1859, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of prestidigitation was in 1859


Dictionary Entries Near prestidigitation

Cite this Entry

“Prestidigitation.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 27 Feb. 2024.

Kids Definition


pres·​ti·​dig·​i·​ta·​tion ˌpres-tə-ˌdij-ə-ˈtā-shən How to pronounce prestidigitation (audio)
prestidigitator noun

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