"Slights of hand"

Joel S. Berson Berson at ATT.NET
Fri May 8 14:14:50 UTC 2009

At 5/8/2009 08:33 AM, Arnold Zwicky wrote:
>On May 7, 2009, at 9:56 PM, Randy Alexander wrote:
>>---------------------- Information from the mail header
>>Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
>>Poster:       Randy Alexander <strangeguitars at GMAIL.COM>
>>Subject:      Re: "Slights of hand"
>>On Fri, May 8, 2009 at 9:24 AM, Joel S. Berson <Berson at att.net> wrote:
>>>In this week's on-line report from an investment advisory newsletter
>>>I subscribe to:
>>>Magic Tricks
>>>Slights of hand, misdirection, pulling sound bites out of hats ...
>>>I always thought it was "sleight". Â But the OED has 15 quotations
>>>with "slight" (37 with "sleight"). Â Most (I guess 10) are from the
>>>pre-standardized-spelling early 18th century -- but the most-recent
>>>is 1857--1892.
>"slight of hand" is in the eggcorn database (with references to other
>   http://eggcorns.lascribe.net/english/117/slight/

At first I thought it might be, but when I found
the 15 quotations in the OED I decided it
wouldn't, or shouldn't.  But perhaps it should --
"It was a mere trick, a slight of hand."!

>>>I'm more surprised that it's plural.  I always took "sleight of hand"
>>to be non-count.  But google gives 30k raw hits for "slights of hand".
>looks like: once you've got "slight of hand", it's open for
>reinterpretation as a count expression meaning 'magic trick'.

In fact -- although I didn't mention it because
the plural seemed sanctioned -- it opened for
reinterpretation quite early , although not quite
quickly.  The OED has for "sleight of hand"
(non-count, "1. Dexterity or skill ...") the 1400s.  And then
"2. With a and pl. A dexterous trick or feat; a
piece of nimble juggling or conjuring."
 From c1605 about the iconic conjurer: "? ROWLEY
Birth Merlin IV. i, I must keep some other
company if you have these sleights of hand."
Through 1856  (unrevised OED2).


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