Printable Version
Pronunciation: pres-tê-di-jê-tay-shên Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: Legerdemain, sleight of hand, quick-fingeredness, magic tricks.

Notes: Here is a word that began its life referring to jugglers but today includes magicians, anyone who is "quick-fingered". This noun would seem to come from a verb, prestidigitate but only Wiktionary carries the verb online. Someone who is "fast-fingered" is a prestidigitator. We have three adjectives for the noun, prestidigital, prestidigitory, and prestidigitorial.

In Play: This word basically refers to "magic" acts: "The snake oil salesman attracted an audience by clumsy acts of prestidigitation." Since prestidigitation implies deception, it may be used figuratively so: "School books of American history ofttimes represent some marvelous prestidigitation of truth."

Word History: Today's Good Word has taken some peculiar structural and semantic turns in its life. It was, as usual, borrowed from French prestidigitation "legerdemain (light-handedness)" It started out as Latin praestigiosus "tricky, deceptive" from the noun praestigiae "trickery, deceptions". But French reinterpreted it by folk etymology, influenced by Italian presto "quick" + Latin digitus "finger", which underlies Portuguese digitar "to type". Italian presto came from Latin praestus "ready", which ended up in French as prêt "ready". Latin made its word up from PIE per "before, forward" + sta- "to stand, be firm". Digitus was created from PIE deik- "to show, point", which turned up in German as zeigen "to show", Greek deiknynai "to show, prove", and English as teach.

Dr. Goodword,

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