Magic Month: A Glossary of Magic Terms

October 22, 2012


Magic Month isn’t all about booking magicians for corporate events. Our quest to educate the events industry (and ourselves) on the subject of magic has lead us to uncover all kinds of facts and figures that we’ve shared in a number of posts. But to make sure that the Sternberg Clarke blog reader is the most magic literate of all the entertainment agency blog readers, we’ve compiled an A-Z of important magic terms, a sort of magic glossary if you will. It starts below, with ‘A’, followed by ‘B’ and just sort of continues onwards from there. We’ll talk again after ‘Z’.



Abracadabra – A word that literally none of our magicians use, was originally believed to have healing powers when inscribed on an amulet. Such amulets were prescribed for sufferers of malaria by Roman physician Quintus Serenus Sammonicus. No data exists on his patient mortality record, but with diagnoses like that I imagine it was pretty solid.


Book Test – in a Book Test, a magician can ask an audience member to flick to any page and pick a line whereupon the magic will guess the word. Close-up magician Gareth Kalyan performs a fun variation on the trick in which he uses saucy lady-novel ’Fifty Shades of Gray’ as his chosen book, leading to much blushing and giggling amongst the bashful Sternberg Clarke Team.


Clean – When a trick is performed perfectly leaving the audience with no clue as to how the trick was done, it has been performed ‘clean’.


Dirty – not just a way to describe Gareth’s ‘Fifty shades of Gray’ trick, a trick is ‘Dirty’ if the magician has performed it in such a way as to potentially give away the secret.


Escapology – The practice of escaping from constraints and traps combining everything from contortion to lock picking.


Feke – (Pronounced ‘fake’) is a word for a prop that looks real but isn’t. Feke’s can take the form of anything from Hollow eggs to rubber hands, or even a feke belly as described in Reginald Scott’s 1584 book Discoverie Of Witchcraft ; “a feke made of paste board, the shape and color of your belly and chest, painted by an expert to include not only color but also hair, navel, blemishes, etc; so it may be worn in such a way that it can be shown to be your natural belly.” Which I assume is for pretending you’re pregnant so you can get to the front of queues.


Gimmick – A gimmick is like a Feke that the audience never sees. Obviously, I could describe some here but then a group of magicians would probably turn up at my house and make me disappear.


Howdeydodat? – How magicians may or may not refer to their regular, non-magic audience, as in “Didn’t even spot the Feke in that last trick, typical Howdeydodat”... as made semi-popular by Tony Wonder (Ben Stiller) on Arrested Development.


Inventions – Plenty of magicians are inventors themselves or work closely with inventors to create new tricks. But many famous inventions were the work of well known magicians too; the Pay Toilet, for instance, was the work of magician and possible sadist John Neville Maskelyne (grandfather of ‘War Magician’ Jasper). Legendary escapologist Harry Houdini also had a knack for invention, creating a modified diving suit that allowed divers to quickly and easily get out of the suit while submerged.


Joker – First introduced to American playing card packs in 1863, the Joker card is thought to have evolved from ‘The Fool’ in a deck of tarot cards. Over the years, it has been known alternatively as “The Best Bower” and then later “The Little Joker” or “The Jolly Joker”.


Kazaam – a 1996 comedy vehicle for basketball star Shaquille O’Neil who plays a 5,000 year old genie trapped inside a magic boombox, whether the boombox was 5,000 years old is unclear. Fans of Shaq’s “performance” in ‘Kazaam’ should also check out ‘Steel’ in which he plays a superhero made of Steel. (K was the hardest letter to find something for, suggestions welcome)


Legerdemain – a sexy French word for Sleight of Hand or Prestidigitation, the art of manipulating cards, coins and other objects secretly. Penn and Teller broke sleight of hand magic down into 9 component parts  Palm - To hold an object in an apparently empty hand. Switch - To secretly exchange one object for another. 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 has happened that has not. Aaaaand...


Misdirection – I’ll explain misdirection for you fully if Oh! Quick, Look out of that Window! It’s David Blaine knife fighting with Derren Brown [*Check’s Wikipedia*]  Sorry, false alarm. Now back to that explanation of misdirection...


St Nicholas Owen – Considered the  Patron Saint of Escapologists thanks to his escape from the Tower of London. A venue that we’re recommended at and where you could, if you wanted to, book an escapologist and he could, if he wanted to, pray to St Nicholas Owen that his gig goes well.


Oath – To be admitted into many magician's societies, a magician is asked to make a commitment to the Magician's Oath. "As a magician I promise never to reveal the secret of any illusion to a non-magician, unless that one swears to uphold the Magician's Oath in turn. I promise never to perform any illusion for any non-magician without first practicing the effect until I can perform it well enough to maintain the illusion of magic."


Printing Press – The invention of the printing press not only standardised the English Language, but also standardised the size of playing cards which lead to cards forming the backbone of most close-up magicians' repertoires. 


Quack – During the 17th and 18th Century, the promotion of fraudulent medical practices was rife with street sellers pedalling fraudulent medicine (for instance ‘snake oil’) to the public. Quacks would incorporate side-show acts and street performers (such as magicians) into the sales pitch. One magician in particular took things a little further, Gustavus Katterfelto capitalised on the panic of the 1782 flu epidemic by using a solar microscope to show the microbes he claimed were causing the disease.


Restoration – The act of destroying something and then restoring it to its original state. Smashing watches, burning banknotes, cutting someone’s tie in half. That kind of thing.


Séance – A branch of mentalism in which the performer claims to be able to contact the dead. The practice earned the wrath of Harry Houdini who spent years trying to debunk Spirit Mediums “if the séance leader is honest and admits his trickery, he is a theatrical performer; if not, he is a charlatan and a fraud” – Séances  prove fertile ground for comedian and spoof Spirit Medium Ian D Montfort who you’ll be able to see live at our upcoming Magic Showcase.


The Turk – A chess playing automaton that travelled the world playing and beating some of the 17th Century’s greatest chess players, boggling the minds of everyone from Edgar Allan Poe to Napoleon along the way. The machine was in fact a complex magic trick using sliding doors and mirrors to conceal a fully grown man, operating the figure using a mechanical arm. It’s fascinating, go read about it.  


Uri Geller – Throughout his career, Uri Geller claimed that his powers were given to him by extra terrestrials, but since a 2007 interview with Magische Welt he’s slightly changed his tune "I'll no longer say that I have supernatural powers. I am an entertainer. I want to do a good show. My entire character has changed." He did however follow that up in a different interview; “It doesn't mean that I don't have powers” ... Uri will not be appearing at our showcase.


Vanishing – Plenty of things have vanished at the hands of Magicians. For Harry Houdini it was an Elephant, for David Copperfield it was the Statue of Liberty, for Uri Geller it was his dignity the moment he started claiming that aliens gave him “powers”.


Wand – You know, come to think of it I’ve not seen a single wand since I’ve worked here. What happened to the wand? The ‘Wand’ we know and love (black with a white tip) was apparently an invention of Jean Eugene Robert Houdin, taking inspiration from the fashion of the time; the cane, ‘black tie’ formal dress etc. But its origins reach back further, with some of the earliest examples being found buried in Egyptian tombs to ward off enemies in the afterlife.


X-Ray Specs - "See the bones in your hand, see through clothes!" claimed ads for this novelty item found in the back pages of countless comic books and magazines. In reality, a feather places between 2 cardboard ‘lenses’ diffracted light and caused the viewer to see two slightly offset images. Some magicians use the ‘X-Ray Vision’ conceit to identify a particular card in a deck or tell me that I am wearing ladies underwear when I am totally not.


Youngest – member of the magic circle ever was 16 year old future TV presenter Stephen Mulhern who went on to host SMTV Live and This Morning. Somewhere in the Magic Circle, there’s a picture of Stephen ageing because it’s 20 years later and he looks pretty much the same.


Zoroastrianism – religion following the teachings of the prophet Zoroaster also known as Zarathustra. The word magician is derived from another name for the religion Magianism and the ability of some followers to read the stars.

If you're interested in booking a magician for a corporate event or wedding, head over to our contact page and get in touch. Be sure to keep an eye on the blog throughout the rest of October for more magic posts. 

By Garreth Owen