Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Essay: Presto change-o

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Presto change-o

From the book: Chum for Thought: Throwing Ideas into Dangerous Waters by David Satterlee

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Presto change-o A tribute to Andy Rooney

Chum For Thought:
Throwing Ideas into Dangerous Waters

Presto change-o

For a little change of pace: With fond memories of Andrew Aitken “Andy” Rooney, who left us more thoughtful in spirit and left us in body at age 92, just this last November.

You just don’t hear the words “Presto Change-o” very much anymore. I kind of miss that. It was a great thing to say, after “one, two, three” while you were waving five fingers around with one hand and lifting the five of hearts out of your vest pocket with the other.

“Presto” is actually Italian for nimble or quick. It reminds me of how quickly five dollars can disappear at a carnival. Presto is also a pair of fives in Texas hold ‘em, but that’s another story.

The word prestidigitation is closely related. It is a noun for magic performed by hand, like when the best knife is missing after a relative’s visit.

The “digit” part is Latin for finger – and so we (most of us anyway) have five digits on each hand. Harry Houdini was good at doing magic with his fingers. You just don’t hear very much about Harry Houdini anymore either. He seems to have vanished – at least from popular culture.

A word closely related to prestidigitation is legerdemain. You just don’t hear the word “legerdemain” very much anymore either. I kind of miss that. English borrowed that one from the French for “light of hand.” It describes what you don’t say while you are lifting a fiver out of someone else’s vest pocket.

And, don’t even get me started on “Hocus Pocus” or “23 skidoo.”