This is a general glossary of common magic and theater terms. We have tried to limit definitions to broad terms so as not to reveal specific effects, techniques, or gimmicks.
Abracadabra - Magic word used to help the magician "make something happen." It is believed to have originated from ancient cabalistic symbols and at one time was believed to hold real power. The word may be derived from the Hebrew Ha-b'rakah, meaning "the blessing" or "the sacred name."
Academy of Magical Arts, The - This professional organization maintains magic's premier private clubhouse, The Magic Castle, in Hollywood, CA. The AMA's goals are to advance the art and promote a positive image of magic and magicians worldwide. Membership is open to all serious magicians.
Acetabularii - The magicians who specialized in performing the Cups and Balls trick in ancient Rome. From the Latin for "vinegar cup."
Act - A structured collection of routines combined to create a performance or show.
Ad Lib – The extemporaneous delivery without relying on a prepared script. Most ad libs are actually prepared lines held in reserve for specific conditions and delivered in a tongue-in-cheek manner.
Angles - The lines of vision of spectators which enable a secret to be spotted. Usually extreme left, right, or behind. If an effect is "angly" it can only be done from limited audience viewpoints. (e.g. The Balducci levitation can only be viewed at a 45 degree angle.)
Animation - Causing an inanimate object to move as if under its own power and volition.
Anti-Gravity - Causing an item to appear to defy gravity as in a levitation or suspension.
Aristocrat - Brand name of cards manufactured by U.S. Playing Card Co.
Attraction - Causing one item to be inexplicably attracted or attached to another.
Aviator - Brand of cards manufactured by U.S. Playing Card Co. Design is symmetrical. Many gimmicked card decks are made with this back design. Also known as Fox Lake.
Bally - An old carney and circus term meaning to draw a crowd. This term is commonly used among Buskers. See Busking.
BEE - Special back design of cards manufactured by U.S. Playing Card Co. Small scale pattern with no border makes this type of deck excellent for card sleights, as the pattern helps camouflage the moves.
Bicycle/Bikes - U.S. Playing Card Co. Bicycle pattern cards commonly used by card magicians.
Biddle Grip - The Biddle grip is an overhand grip providing complete control of the top cards. It is commonly used in transferring cards and displaying cards. Hold the deck from above with the thumb on the end of the deck that is facing towards you and the middle and index finger grip the opposite end of the deck. The pointer finger and pinkie finger are not actually holding the cards and are often used for moves and slights while in the Biddle grip. The Biddle grip was invented by Sid Lorraine.
Billing - Order of the names on the promotional and credit sections of a show. Generally, the higher the audience drawing ability of a performer, the higher his or her name appears on the billing.
Bio - Short for "biography". Resume in narrative form, usually for a printed program or press release.
Black Art - Magician's term for an optical principle. The principle relies on a black object being generally indistinguishable from a black background.
Blind Shuffle/Blind Cut - A cut or apparent shuffle in which the cards appear mixed but all of the cards are left completely undisturbed after the shuffle or cut.
Brainwave Deck - A gimmicked deck in which a thought-of card is revealed face-up in a face-down deck and has a different colored back. Similar to Don Alan's Invisible Deck.
Break - A break is a move in card magic used to maintain a separation between the deck and a card or selection of cards. The break is generally held by inserting the pinky, thumb, or other finger between the two parts of a deck.
Broken Wand Ceremony - Special ceremony conducted at the funeral of a magician in which a wand is broken to symbolize the magician's passing. The first recorded ceremony was conducted by the Society of American Magicians at Houdini's memorial service in 1926.
Build, The - The initial crowd gathering techniques for a Busker. May also apply to the pre-show warm-up for a theater show.
Burn - A spectator that ignores attempts to redirect his/her attention and stares at the magician's hands or prop.
Busking - The art of street performance or performing in public places for gratuities. In many countries the rewards are generally in the form of money but other gratuities such as food, drink or gifts may be given. The street performer is called a Busker.
Cardician - A magician who only performs card magic. The term coined by Ed Marlo.
Cattle Call - A mass & open invitation audition for performers.
Center Tear - Special way of tearing a sheet of paper for mentalism to aid the magician.
Change - Changing one card (or object) for another.
Charlier Cut - One handed flourish, cut, or pass.
Chop Cup - Cup with an enclosed gimmick that can cause a ball to vanish or appear at will.
Classic Force - One method of causing a spectator to choose a specific card through timing and dexterity.
Clean - Starting or ending an effect with no visible gimmicks. The opposite of starting or ending "Dirty."
Close Up Mat - A performance mat with a thick rubber backing that grips the table, eliminating unwanted movement. It is durable and is perfect for silent moves and super-smooth card spreads.
Cold (Deck) - A deck secretly switched in during play. "Cold" because it hasn't been warmed up by handling.
Compeer - A term of fellowship used among members of the Society of American Magicians. A person of equal rank, status, or skill. A companion or associate.
Confederate - Spectator who is secretly planted as a spectator or audience member in support of the act. Confederates may perform a secret action to complete an effect. See Plant, Shill, and Stooge.
Conjurer - Originally used to describe one who summons or conjures demons and spirits. The first use of this term to describe the magician as an entertainer was in 1785 in a French book titled The Conjurer Unmasked.
Convincers - A subtle thing a magician says or an action he takes that gently helps convinces the audience that what he is saying and doing is actually what is happening when, in fact, he is lying through his teeth.
Cooler - A card deck brought into play, normally at the end of a slight of hand routine. The term is implying that you are swapping out a 'hot' deck (where the order of cards has been lost due to the act) with a pre-arranged (cooler) deck for your finale.
Copper and Silver (C/S) - An effect using two coins of contrasting metals which change place, as in Scotch and Soda.
Corner Short - A card which has two opposite corners cut slightly shorter, which allows the location of the card no matter who shuffles the deck.
Crimp - A slight almost unnoticeable bend in a card or cards used to aid in locating them later. A gambler's trick often used in magic.
Deal - To take cards off the top of the deck.
Dirty - Starting or ending an effect with a gimmick that must be disposed of to avoid exposing the effect. The opposite of starting or ending "Clean."
Ditch - To secretly get rid of an object or gimmick.
Double Backed Card - A double backed card is a single card that has the back design of a pack of cards printed on both sides of the card. It can be blue/blue, red/red or red/blue.
Double Faced Card - A double faced card is a single card that has the card face design printed on both sides of the card.
Double Lift (DL) - Lifting and displaying two cards as one.
Dove Pan - a classic effect in which a performer produces a dove from a seemingly empty pan.
Downs Palm - To palm between the crotch of the index finger and the crotch of the thumb. Invented by T. Nelson Downs.
Effect - Magician's name for how a magic creation or routine.
Egg Bag - Utility bag used to cause an egg or other small object to vanish or change.
Elmsley Count (also Ghost Count) - A false count generally done with 4 cards which hides the face of one or more cards while the cards are passed from one hand to another. Invented by Alex Elmsley.
Equivoque - a method of forcing a specific object on a spectator through a seemingly randomized selection process. Often referred to as a Magician's Choice effect. See Force.
Extra Sensory Perception (ESP) - Appearing to read the thoughts or hidden actions of another through telepathy or other feat of the mind.
False Transfer - Appearing to pass an object from one hand into another while retaining it in the original hand. Also referred to as a pass.
False Shuffle/False Cut - The art of visibly changing the order of a deck or packet of cards while secretly retaining the original order.
Faro Shuffle (also Weave, Riffle, or Dovetail Shuffle) - A skillful shuffle in which half of the deck is perfectly interwoven between he cards of the other half. The position of the top card determines whether it is an in-shuffle or out-shuffle faro.
Finger Clip - A technique used to clip coins or small objects secretly. Usually used for production.
Finger Palm - To palm or conceal an object in the fingers.
Flash - The accidental exposure of an object, part of an object, or movement during a secret move.
Flash Paper - This is a highly flammable and potentially dangerous compound formed by nitrating cellulose (paper) through exposure to nitric acid or another powerful nitrating agent. Commercially used as a propellant or low-order explosive, it was originally known as gun cotton. Often used to produce a sudden flame with little to no residue for misdirection or effect. Also available as Flash Cotton or Flash String. see Nitrocellulose.
Flourish - A showy move that displays well-trained handling skills.
Force - The act of causing a spectator to choose a specific card or other object while maintaining the appearance of a free choice.
French Drop (also Tourniquet) - One false take or transfer technique for vanishing a coin or small object.
Glimpse - The act of sneaking a secret peek of a card or object. (e.g. To glimpse at the bottom card or sight the top one while looking through the pack to find another card. The top card may also be sighted by lifting slightly with the left thumb under misdirection.)
Gimmick/Gaff - A secret device or prop component used to make an effect possible.
Glide - The act of secretly pulling back the top or bottom card or cards in a deck to grasp the card underneath.
Hat - Gratuities generally in the form of cash in appreciation of a Busker's performance from an audience.
Hat Line - An entertaining mini-speech informing the audience that a Busker is performing for tips and will pass the hat for money. The goal is to encourage tipping with larger denomination bills in return for the entertainment they received.
Hat, Pass the - Passing the hat or directing an audience to a Busker's tip container.
Heckler - An audience member who taunts or interferes with the smooth flow of a performer's show. Professionals come prepared to diminish the impact of the heckler's attempts.
Hocus Pocus - Nonsense phrase used to help the magician "make something happen". Some feel that the word is a corruption of a Latin phrase used in the Mass, others say that it was the name of a magician. Still another source considers it a reference to the Norse folktale sorcerer Ochus Bochus. It could also be a meaningless phrase created for its sound alone.
Holdout - A mechanical device often concealed in a jacket sleeve. This device may secretly deliver a card or other object into the magician's hand on demand. It may also cause an item to openly vanish from the hand.
Illusion - Illusion is the magician's stock in trade. The art of magic relies on creating the appearance of true magic through the false perceptions created by the illusion. When something looks or appears different from what it actually is.
Impromptu - An effect that can be performed with minimal advance notice. Most impromptu effects rely on commonly available everyday objects with little or no preparation.
In-Jog - A card protruding beyond the inner end of the deck. During an overhand shuffle a card is in-jogged by moving the right hand, with its packet, inwards towards the body.
Inspection - Allowing a spectator to examine a prop to prove it ungimmicked either before or after an effect. Pro's generally discourage this practice as it encourages spectators to exercise an implied right of inspection of all props. It also encourages spectators to handle your props without your consent. The passive demonstration of normalcy as part of the act is the preferred method among professional entertainers.
International Brotherhood of Magicians, The - Multinational organization of professional and amateur magicians founded in 1922. Local chartered chapters are called a Ring. www.magician.org
Invisible Deck - Classic effect by magician Don Alan in which a card merely named by the spectator is the only one face down in the face-up deck. Many magicians use the Invisible Deck as a backup plan if something goes wrong in the middle of a routine. Similar to the Brainwave Deck.
Invisible Thread (IT) - Very narrow, nearly invisible thread. Often used with a reel of some sort.
Juggler - Traveling magicians were originally called "jugglers" prior to the late Nineteenth Century. Jugglers often combined magic effects with their showman skills.
Key/Key Card - A known card or object used to locate or identify another. (see Locator)
KIDabra International - Multinational organization of professional and amateur family and kidshow magicians and variety entertainers founded in 1991. Local chartered clubs are called a Chapter. www.kidabra.org
Lapping - The act of secretly dropping an object into the performer's lap to affect a vanish or change.
Legerdemain - French term (literally "light of hand") commonly used to refer to sleight of hand or magical manipulation.
Levitation - The act of causing something or themselves to lift and float without obvious physical support, as if breaking the rules of gravity. Do not confuse a levitation with a Suspension.
Load - The act of secretly placing an object into a location or device, as in placing a ball under a cup or a rabbit into a hat. Also used as a noun to identify the object being placed.
Loaded Die - A die that has been modified to produce a specific number.
Load-In - The process of moving props and equipment into a theater or performance area.
Load-Out - The process of moving props and equipment out of a theater or performance area.
Locator Card - A card that has been modified in some way to simplify the location of another card. Locator cards may be long, short, thick, rough, smooth, crimped, daubed, marked, reversed, or simply known.
Loop - A super-thin elastic string, tied into a small circular loop, worn on the wrist.
M5 - Product name for Neodymium magnet.
Magic Circle, The - Multinational organization of professional and amateur magicians based in England founded in 1905. www.themagiccircle.co.uk
Magic Dust (also Woofle Dust, Fairy Dust, etc.) - Imaginary substance used by magicians to vanish, produce, or dispose of objects.
Magician - A magician generates the illusion of magical skills and powers through the use of illusion, psychology, and manipulation. The title includes professional magicians as well as enthusiasts, hobbyists, and amateurs.
Magician's Choice - The technique of forcing a spectator to select a specific item by implying a free selection where no choice actually exists. (see Force)
Magician's Rope - Soft, usually white rope used for rope tricks.
Magician's Wax - A unique wax used to stick things together temporarily.
Manipulator - A magician with a showy sleight of hand act, often set to music, who produces and vanishes cards, coins, balls, silks, candles, and other objects generally from bare hands.
Mark - The target of a con game or sucker effect.
Mechanic - An performer with high skills in sleight of hand generally usually utilizing cards.
Mechanic's Grip - One of many grips used to hold a deck of cards in the hand ready for dealing. This grip allows for easy control and manipulation of the deck as a way of implementing various moves. Hold the deck in the hand, in the same way as holding a hammer or tool. The cards should be lying flat in the palm with the longer side of the deck lying along the fingers. Take the pointer finger and move it to the short side facing away from you. Take the middle finger, ring finger, and pinkie finger and place them on the long side of the deck. Finally the thumb holds the deck together on the long side opposite of the other fingers. With this grip, more of the deck should be covered by the hand, thus making it more difficult for spectators to see what you are doing.
Mentalism - Mentalism is a branch of magic where the magician (commonly referred to as a ‘mentalist’) appears to make things happen by using only the power of his/her mind.
Mercury Fold - A card move in which the magician secretly folds a card under the deck.
Misdirection - The erroneously named psychological techniques used by a magician to control or redirect a spectator's attention.
Moment of Magic - The "Moment of Magic" is the moment when the spectator feels the impact of an effect. The more convincing the magician is in theatrically preparing and revealing this moment, the greater the moment is for the spectator. This moment, properly presented, will very often get a response from the audience, like a laugh, a gasp of air, clapping or expressions of disbelief.
Monte - A famous con game in which three cards are thrown down and the 'Mark' attempts to follow and identify a specific card. Sleight of hand gives the con man or magician a huge advantage.
Nail Writer - Small writing device normally hidden under the thumbnail. Also referred to as a Swami Gimmick.
Neodymium Magnet - A very powerful ceramic magnet commonly used in magic.
Nitrocellulose - The fancy shmancy name for Flash Paper. This is a highly flammable and potentially dangerous compound formed by nitrating cellulose (paper) through exposure to nitric acid or another powerful nitrating agent. Commercially used as a propellant or low-order explosive, it was originally known as guncotton. Often used to produce a sudden flame with little to no residue for misdirection or effect. Also available as Flash Cotton or Flash String. See Flash Paper.
One Ahead - Principle often used in magic in which the magician uses previously obtained information or a secret additional prop to stay one step ahead of the spectator.
Open Mic - A live show where audience members may perform at the microphone. Usually, the performers sign up in advance for a time slot with the host or master of ceremonies. These events are typically focused on performance arts like poetry, the spoken word, music, magic, and comedy.
Out - An alternate ending to an effect or routine. Often used in the case of a failed or fumbled effect. Also used to allow the immediate repeat of an effect with a different result or method.
Overhand Shuffle - A shuffle during which the cards in a deck are dropped from one hand into the other in small random groups.
Packet Trick - A uniquely constructed card effect using less than an entire deck.
Palming/Palm - To secretly hold an object in the hand without alerting the spectator.
Pass - A secret move used to transpose, retain, or exchange a card, coin, or other object.
Patter - Common term for the spoken part of a magic performance. Often used to explain an effect, enhance a routine, or redirect a spectator's attention.
Peek - Similar to a glimpse, a secret peek at a card or object.
Penetration - Causing one solid item to pass through another solid item.
Pinch or Clip - A method of secretly holding something between the fingers.
PK - Psychokinesis. Moving things using supposed supernatural powers.
Plant - Spectator who is secretly planted as a spectator or audience member in support of the act. Plants may perform a secret action to complete an effect. See Confederate, Shill, and Stooge
Prediction - Appearing to foretell the future.
Prestidigitation - Phrase coined by French magician Jules deRovere in 1815; loosely translated, the term means "performed with quick fingers".
Presto - Magic word taken from the italian musical term presto, for "quickly"
Production - Causing something to appear as if from nothing.
Professional - As opposed to nonprofessional or amateur within the theater, the term refers to people or a production, in which all who take part earn their living as a performer.
Profonde/Pochettes - Unique gimmicks commonly found in formal tuxedo coats used for vanishes and productions. Common among dove workers and manipulators. Not a popular method today due to fashion trends.
Pull - A mechanical or elastic device used to vanish an object by pulling it away from the hand.
Pull Through Shuffle - A false shuffle similar in appearance to a legitimate riffle shuffle.
Raven - Trade name for a gimmicked pull. Ravens are commonly used to cause small objects to vanish from the palm.
Readers or Paper - Marked cards capable of being identified secretly from a reasonable distance.
Reel - A device often concealed in the hand, on the person, or within a prop designed to retract a thin thread, pull, or other object on command.
Restoration - Causing a destroyed item to be made whole again. Returning an item to its original state.
Retention of Vision - The perceived image of an object following a vanish. For example, a magician may show a coin in the hand, steal the coin, but the momentary retained image of the coin on the retina of the spectator's eye convinces him that the coin is still visible in the hand.
Reversal - A move that allows the magician to secretly move a card from the top of the deck to the bottom and vice versa.
Riffle - The flipping of cards either in a shuffle or from hand to hand.
Riffle Shuffle (also Dovetail Shuffle) - The most common shuffling technique in which half of the deck is held in each hand with the thumbs inward, then cards are released by the thumbs so that they weave together in a new order as they fall to the table.
Rough & Smooth - A technique for treating cards to increase surface friction making it easier to keep specific cards aligned to each other. Methods include various sprays, roughing sticks, and other materials.
Routine - An entertaining sequence of effects.
Run - Culling single cards from a deck during an overhand shuffle. Often used to stack the deck.
Running Gag - A performance device that takes the form of an amusing joke or a comical reference and appears repeatedly throughout a performance.
Secret - core principle of conjuring; something which should not be shared, usually a method, sleight, or other means of accomplishing an effect.
Servante - Pouch or shelf positioned on the magician's side of a table.
Shell - A gimmicked coin or ball that allows vanishes and productions.
Shell game - A confidence trick involving three half walnut shells and a pea. The mark bets on which shell contains the pea, but he loses every time because the operator is cheating with sleight of hand. Similar to the Monte.
Shill - Spectator who is secretly planted as a spectator or audience member in support of the act. Shills may perform a secret action to complete an effect. See Confederate, Plant and Stooge.
Shuffle - To randomize the order of a deck of playing cards.
Sight Gag - A visual source of comedy, resulting from situation, business, or props.
Silk - The common term for a silk or other sheer handkerchief.
Sim Sala Bim - "Magic words" made popular by Dante; in fact, his show was named Sim Sala Bim. Actually, it was a magical phrase taken from a popular Danish fairy tale (Dante was from Denmark).
Siva Count - Also known as the reversed elmsley count, is a false count done usually after executing an Elmsley count. See Elmsley Count
Sleeve Toss - A technique used in dove magic.
Sleeving - Using the sleeves to produce or vanish an object.
Sleight - A secret move or technique used to achieve a magical effect.
Slicks - Highly polished cards which are more slippery than normal. Useful for flourishes and as locator cards. (see Rough). Also refers to a smooth coin with all of the sharp edges worn or sanded down to avoid coin "talking."
Slide - A tube designed to place an object into an impossible location.
Slip - To retain top and/or bottom cards during an overhand shuffle.
Slip-on Corner - A card gimmick used to secretly change the value and/or suit of a card.
Society of American Magicians, The - Multinational organization of professional and amateur magicians founded in 1902. Local chartered chapters are called an Assembly. www.magicsam.com
Sphinx Principle - A popular illusion effect using mirrors. First used in Thomas Tobin's Sphinx illusion
Sponge - A ball or other object made of collapsible soft foam sponge.
Spread - flourishing a deck of cards onto a tabletop.
Stacked Deck (Stack)- A deck of cards set in a prearranged order to supplement an effect.
Stage Location - Proscenium stages are divided into sections to make stage movement instructions by the author or director easier to understand. Certain parts of the stage, such as the Up Stage area, are more prestigious. A few of the more common directions include:
Stage Presence - The certain charisma and charm that a theater actor or performer possesses that draws in an audience and commands their full attention. When combined with skill, experience and hard work, stage presence can create a combination that turns “good” performers into stars. Stage presence can be improved upon by displaying a passion for your act, smiling, moving about the stage with purpose, using expressive facial and body language, openly sharing the stage with others, talking to and engaging your audience, and radiating a positive attitude.
Steal - A sleight used to secretly vanish or produce an object.
Stodare Egg - A gimmicked egg used in the vanish or production of a silk. Commonly referred to as the Silk to Egg.
Stooge - Spectator who is secretly planted as a spectator or audience member in support of the act. Stooges may perform a secret action to complete an effect. See Confederate, Plant and Shill.
Stripper Deck - Specially modified playing cards. Reversing a card end for end in such a deck makes it easy to identify and retrieve the selected card by sense of touch. Also known as Biseauté Cards.
Sucker Effect - A trick with a surprise kicker ending that leads a spectator to believe he has worked the trick's technique. The kicker end proves the spectator wrong.
Suspension - The act of suspending something or themselves in a single location in midair without obvious physical support, as if breaking the rules of gravity. Do not confuse a suspension with a Levitation.
Svengali Deck - Specially modified playing cards. This deck's configuration makes it possible to conceal multiple force cards in a card that can be riffled and shown to be normal and well mixed.
Swami Gimmick - Small writing device normally hidden under the thumbnail. Also referred to as a Nail Writer.
Switch - To secretly exchange one object for another.
Talking - The inadvertent noises made by props which can expose the secret behind an effect. For example, a secretly held coin striking a ring and making a sound.
Tenkai Palm - To palm between the thumb and the palm.
"The Ghost Walks" - Theater slang for getting paid. Meant to sarcastically convey the rarity of the event, as in the familiar "When Hell freezes over" expression.
Thick Card - A gimmicked card that makes an excellent Locator or Key Card.
Thrust Stage - A stage surrounded by the audience on three sides.
Thumb Tip - This is a small flesh colored tube used to vanish and produce small or compressible objects and small amounts of liquid or powder. It is often referred to as 'TT' in forums and discussions.
Thumper - A device used to secretly communicate with a magician. In some cases, the "thumper" may be triggered by an accomplice in the audience.
Topit - A special wardrobe gimmick that allows the magician to visibly vanish large items.
Torn and Restored (T&R) - The act of tearing a paper item then visibly restoring it to original condition.
Tourniquet (also French Drop) - A false take or transfer of a coin or small object.
Transformation - Causing one object to change in appearance, character, or identity.
Transposition - Causing one object to change places with another or change from one location to another.
Utility Prop - A utility prop is any magic prop that you can use in multiple routines.
Vanish - Causing something to disappear into nothing.
Wand - A stick commonly used by magicians to apparently make the trick work. Wands come in all shapes, colors, and sizes the most common being back with white tips. The wand is commonly used as a misdirection tool for stealing, palming, and switching items in plain view.
Zarrow Shuffle - A blind shuffle that appears to be an honest riffle shuffle to spectators and leaves the deck entirely in its original order.
Zombie - Zombie is the product name for a floating silver ball. The ball uses a special gimmick to float behind a foulard or large silk manipulated by the magician. Zombies can take the shape of a floating skull, pumpkin, or other light object.