See also: léger de main



Borrowed from Middle French leger de main (literally light of hand), a phrase that meant “dexterous, skillful at fooling others (especially through sleights of hand”), which was however treated as a noun when it was borrowed by late Middle English. The Modern French descendant léger de main of the Middle French phrase is archaic and incomprehensible to most but still sometimes found in older literature and simply means “skillful” without any connotation of sleight of hand.


  • (UK) IPA(key): /ˌlɛdʒ.ə.dɨˈmeɪn/
  • (US) IPA(key): /ˈlɛdʒ.əɹ.dəˌmeɪn/
  • (file)
    Rhymes: -eɪn
  • Hyphenation: leg‧er‧de‧main


legerdemain (usually uncountable, plural legerdemains)

  1. Sleight of hand; "magic" trickery.
    • 1596, Edmund Spenser, The Faerie Queene, V.9:
      For he in slights and jugling feates did flow, / And of legierdemayne the mysteries did know.
    • 2021, Michael C. Dorf, Old-School Intentions-and-Expectations Originalism in the Nominal Damages Case, in: Dorf on Law, March 8 2021
      Chief Justice Roberts does more or less the same thing in dissent: He practices intentions-and-expectations originalism while randomly sprinkling some public-meaning originalism fairy dust over his description of his enterprise, perhaps in the subconscious hope that no one will notice the legerdemain.
  2. A show of skill or deceitful ability.
    • 1673, Gilbert Burnet, The mystery of iniquity unvailed, London, p. 128:
      Certainly, that they are to this day so rife in Italy and Spain, and so scant in Britain, is a shrewd ground to apprehend Legerdemain, and forgery, in the accounts we get of their later Saints.



Further readingEdit