Sleight of hand

Sleight of hand

Sleight of hand, also known as prestidigitation ("quick fingers") or léger de main (from the French for "lightness of hand"), is the set of techniques used by a magician (or card sharp) to manipulate objects such as cards and coins secretly.cite encyclopedia
encyclopedia = 1911 Britannica
title = Conjuring
url =
accessdate = 2007-12-29
publisher = Love To Know Classic Encyclopedia
quote = The employment of purely manual dexterity without mechanical apparatus may be distinguished as legerdemain, prestidigitation or sleight of hand.

Sleight of hand is not a separate branch of magic, but rather one of the means used by a magician to produce an effect. It can be contrasted with the flourish, where the magician intentionally displays skills, such as the ability to cut cards one handed, which is akin to juggling.

Advanced sleight of hand requires months or years of practice before it can be performed proficiently in front of spectators. Sleight of hand is mostly employed in close-up magic, but it can also be used in stage magic. There are hundreds of different sleights at the performer's disposal, but they can generally be classified into groups such as switches, changes, and others.

There are several stories about magicians using sleight of hand in real life, such as the one about American illusionist David Copperfield using sleight of hand to fool a mugger into thinking he had no wallet in his pockets. [cite web
url =
title = Magician David Copperfield robbed after show at Kravis Center
accessdate = 2008-01-11


"Sleight", meaning dexterity or deceptiveness, comes from the Old Norse "slœgð".cite web
url =
title = Merriam-Webster On Line Dictionary
accessdate = 2007-12-29
] Sleight of hand is often mistakenly written as slight of hand, where "slight" meaning slender or frail comes from the Old Norse "slettr". Apart from their pronunciation they have nothing else in common. cite book
last = Bryson
first = Bill
title = Dictionary of Troublesome Words: A Writer's Guide to Getting It Right
accessdate = 2007-12-29
year = 2004
publisher = Broadway
isbn = 978-0767910439

leight of hand in Close-up magic

Sleight of hand is often used in close-up magic, performed with the audience close to the magician, usually within three or four meters, possibly in physical contact. It often makes use of everyday items as props, such as cards and coins. The guiding principle of sleight-of-hand, articulated by legendary close-up magician Dai Vernon, is "be natural." A well-performed sleight looks like an ordinary, natural and completely innocent gesture, change in hand position or body posture.

It is commonly believed that sleight of hand works because “the hand is quicker than the eye” but this is usually not the case. In addition to manual dexterity, sleight of hand depends on the use of psychology, misdirection, and natural choreography in accomplishing a magical effect. Misdirection is perhaps the most important component of the art of sleight of hand. The magician choreographs his actions so that even the critical and observant spectators are likely to look where the magician wants them to. (More importantly, they do not look where they should not.) Two types of misdirection are time and movement. Time is simple; by allowing a small amount of time to pass after an action, events are skewed in the viewer's mind. Movement is a little more complicated. A phrase often used is "A larger action covers a smaller action." But care must be used to not make the larger action so big that it becomes suspicious.

Another common misconception is that close-up magic must utilise either sleight of hand or some kind of gimmicked apparatus. However, as Henry Hay's Cyclopedia of Magic [cite book
last = Hay
first = Henry
title = Cyclopedia of Magic
origyear = 1949
accessdate = 2007-12-29
edition = 1st Ed.
publisher = David McKay Company
location = USA: Philadelphia
] [cite book
last = Hay
first = Henry
title = Cyclopedia of Magic
origyear = 1975
accessdate = 2007-12-29
edition = reprint
publisher = Dover Publications
isbn = 978-0486218083
pages = 498 pages
] says,

"Many small tricks, especially card tricks, require neither apparatus nor sleight of hand; much apparatus of the "gimmick" type does not require sleight of hand. Illusions, because they deal with objects too big to hold in the hand, are one class of magic that seldom require sleight of hand--though even here sleight of hand "forcing" may be called into play. There are successful illusionists and apparatus conjurers who can do no sleight of hand at all, but their difficulties and restrictions deserve our sympathy rather than our scorn."

The Seven Principles of Sleight of Hand

The magicians Penn and Teller have been known to, as part of their act, explain sleight of hand while demonstrating it with a performance by Teller, appearing to merely dispose of an old cigarette and light a new cigarette. Teller is, in fact, simply hiding and replacing the same cigarette without ever putting it out. While Teller performs, Penn describes what he is doing, and explains the seven principles of Sleight of Hand.cite web
url =
title = Penn and Teller Explain Sleight of Hand
accessdate = 2007-12-29
publisher = You Tube

The Seven Principles are:
#Palm - To hold an object in an apparently empty hand.
#Ditch - To secretly dispose of an unneeded object.
#Steal - To secretly obtain a needed object.
#Load - To secretly move an object to where it is needed.
#Simulation - To give the impression that something that has not happened, has.
#Misdirection - To lead attention away from a secret move.
#Switch - To secretly exchange one object for another.


Sleight-of-hand techniques can also be used to cheat in gambling games, in street con games such as the three-shell game, to steal, or, in some cases, to claim supernatural powers, as in the performances of some 19th century and early 20th century spirit
mediums.Fact|date=September 2007 For this reason the term "sleight of hand" frequently carries negative associations of dishonesty and deceit, and is also used metaphorically outside the above contexts. The techniques used by gamblers, however, are often very different from those employed by magicians; similarly, the techniques used by some self-proclaimed psychics or spirit mediums are often different from those found in "straight" close-up magic and mentalism.Fact|date=September 2007 The differences, however, are due to the different working conditions and the different degrees of proximity between spectators and performer; the same basic techniques and approaches are common in all the areas of deception mentioned.

Card Sleights

Two basic card sleight of hand techniques are "The Pass" and the "Side Steal". The Pass involves cutting a deck of cards in the hands and swapping the top and bottom halves, thus returning a card that has been placed in the center of the deck to the top. Careful hand movements and control over the angle from which the movement is seen can conceal the cut and swap, to the extent that an expert Pass maneuver is virtually undetectable to an inexperienced observer. The Side Steal involves palming a card from a deck, and returning it to the top of the deck or producing it from another unexpected location.


Some of the most influential figures in sleight of hand and close up magic have been David Copperfield, Tony Slydini, Dai Vernon, David Roth, Ed Marlo, Criss Angel, Tommy Wonder, Fred Kaps, Michael Ammar, Ricky Jay, David Blaine, Brad Christian, Teller of Penn and Teller, Cyril Takayama and Jerry Sadowitz.

Performers often encourage their audience to believe they have used sleight of hand when they are actually using another principle or gimmick as the means of misdirecting the audience. For example if one is performing something as simple as the appearing/disappearing coins using a thumb tip, the trick lies in the gimmick but the audience is led to believe the performer has done something very complex to hide the coins, this misdirects them from thinking of a method as simple as the thumb tip.


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Look at other dictionaries:

  • Sleight of hand — Sleight Sleight, n. [OE. sleighte, sleihte, sleithe, Icel. sl?g? (for sl?g?) slyness, cunning, fr. sl?gr (for sl?gr) sly, cunning. See {Sly}.] 1. Cunning; craft; artful practice. [Obs.] His sleight and his covin. Chaucer. [1913 Webster] 2. An… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • sleight of hand — [ ,slaıt əv hænd ] noun singular or uncount clever and quick use of your hands, especially when performing a magic trick a. clever and slightly dishonest behavior used for achieving something: political sleight of hand …   Usage of the words and phrases in modern English

  • sleight of hand — is the ability to use your hands in a clever way, like a magician performing tricks you can t see …   The small dictionary of idiomes

  • sleight of hand — [ˌslaıt əv ˈhænd] n [U] [Date: 1400 1500; Origin: sleight skill, trick (13 20 centuries) from Old Norse slœgth, from slœgr; SLY] 1.) the use of quick and skilful movements with your hands when doing a magic trick, so that people cannot understand …   Dictionary of contemporary English

  • sleight of hand — ► sleight of hand 1) manual dexterity, typically in performing conjuring tricks. 2) skilful deception. Main Entry: ↑sleight …   English terms dictionary

  • sleight-of-hand — sleightˈ of hand adjective • • • Main Entry: ↑sleight …   Useful english dictionary

  • sleight of hand — index prestidigitation Burton s Legal Thesaurus. William C. Burton. 2006 …   Law dictionary

  • sleight of hand —    Sleight of hand is the ability to use your hands in a clever way, like a magician performing tricks you can t see.   (Dorking School Dictionary) …   English Idioms & idiomatic expressions

  • sleight of hand — sleight′ of hand′ n. 1) skill in feats requiring quick and clever movements of the hands, esp. for entertainment or deception; legerdemain 2) the performance of such feats 3) any such feat; a magic or conjuring trick 4) skill in deception •… …   From formal English to slang

  • Sleight of hand —   Sleight of hand is the ability to use your hands in a clever way, like a magician performing tricks you can t see …   Dictionary of English idioms

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