sleight of hand

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skill in feats requiring quick and clever movements of the hands, especially for entertainment or deception, as jugglery, card or coin magic, etc.; legerdemain.
the performance of such feats.
a feat of legerdemain.
skill in deception.
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Origin of sleight of hand

Middle English word dating back to 1350–1400

Words nearby sleight of hand

Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2022


What does sleight of hand mean?

Sleight of hand means skill using one’s hands in quick and clever ways to perform tricks or to be deceptive.

It can also refer to the performance of such tricks or a specific instance of it, as in Never have I seen a more impressive sleight of hand. 

In sleight of hand, the word sleight means skill or dexterity. By itself, it can also mean trickery or cunning, or a specific trick or scheme. It’s by far most commonly used in sleight of hand. 

Sleight of hand can also mean general trickery or skill at deception. It’s associated not only with coin and card tricks that require skillful hand movements, but also with deceptive ways of stealing, such as pickpocketing.

Sleight of hand is frequently used in more figurative ways to criticize actions or words as deceptive, as in His comment is a clever sleight of hand intended to distract us from the real issue. It can also be used to compare something to a magic trick, as in Her literary sleight of hand is dazzling.

Example: The illusionist spent years perfecting his sleight of hand so that it was undetectable even at close range.

Where does sleight of hand come from?

The first records of the phrase sleight of hand come from the 1300s. Sleight is first recorded in the 1200s and comes from Old Norse slægth, from slægr, which means “sly” and originally had the meaning of “able to strike” or “able to slay.” In fact, the English words sly and slay are related to the same root.

Sleight of hand requires extreme skill and nimbleness, which often take years of practice to perfect. But it also often relies on misdirection—meaning the distraction of the audience watching the trick. For this reason, it’s often used in figurative ways that liken an action or a way or speaking to a deceptive magic trick.

Sleight should not be confused with the word slight, which has the same pronunciation. As an adjective, slight means small or insignificant. As a noun, it commonly means the act of treating someone with indifference or snubbing them.

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What are some synonyms for sleight of hand?

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What are some words that often get used in discussing sleight of hand?

What are some words sleight of hand may be commonly confused with?

How is sleight of hand used in real life?

Sleight of hand is commonly used in both literal and figurative ways.


Try using sleight of hand!

Is sleight of hand used correctly in the following sentence?

By some sleight of hand, she has managed to convince the staff to work overtime without overtime pay.

How to use sleight of hand in a sentence

British Dictionary definitions for sleight of hand

sleight of hand

manual dexterity used in performing conjuring tricks
the performance of such tricks
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Other Idioms and Phrases with sleight of hand

sleight of hand

Trickery, deviousness, as in By some sleight of hand they managed to overlook all bonuses. This term alludes to the performance of magic tricks with the hands. Its figurative use dates from about 1700.

The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.