Monday, May 12, 2003

Etymology Today from M-W: prestidigitation \press-tuh-dih-juh-TAY-shun\
: sleight of hand, legerdemain

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 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."

Note: One of my favorite English professors has been lobbying the Oxford English Dictionary to include presticogitation--sleight of mind, or thinking that is so swift and impressive that it baffles the observer (as I blogged about before).

- Previous E.T.

No comments: