General English


  • adjective superlative, excellent. An over-used colloquialism since the late 1970s which is characteristic of garrulous or over-enthusiastic lower-middle-class and working-class speech. It is often heard in the context of sports such as football or darts.
  • noun the drug PCP (also known as angel dust)


  • A form of entertainment found in many cultures throughout history.It features a performer who appears to accomplish impossible feats.

    From the Middle Ages onward the fairground booth provideda venue for simple tricks, such as the classic cup-and-balls sleight-of-hand,in which a ball would appear to jump from beneath one cup to another.Isaac Fawkes (c. 1675 - 1731) and Christopher Pinchbeck(1670 - 1732) were early performers at London's Bartholomew andSouthwark fairs. Magic shows began to be seen in the indoor theaterin the mid-18th century, enabling magicians to use more complicatedequipment. The Scotsman 'Professor' J. H. Anderson (1814 - 74)was the first to employ concerted advertising, billing himself as"the Great Wizard of the North".

    Until the 19th century magicians wore flowing robes as ifpractising witchcraft; the first to appear as drawing-room entertainersin evening dress were Wiljalaba Frikell (1816 - 1903) and Robert-Houdin(Jean Eugène Robert; 1805 - 71). music hall magic actstended to specialize in tricks involving spectacular effects. On occasionsthis proved dangerous, as when Chung Ling Soo (William Ellsworth Robinson;1861 - 1918) was killed during a catch-the-bullet performance.

    Harry Kellar (1849 - 1922) was the first magician to gainfame in America, while Harry Houdini, the illusionist andescapologist, attained almost legendary status. Other 20th-centurystage magicians have included Harry Blackstone (1885 - 1959),the first to saw a woman in half. Magic has now found a wider audiencethrough television, while more avant-garde acts thrive in cabaret.

    Magic of the supernatural kind features in the plots of innumerableplays, some of which require illusionistic effects in their staging.The techniques used by magicians and creators of stage illusions haveoften coincided. The Elizabethan magus Dr John Dee (1527 - 1608)first acquired a reputation for magical powers through the stage effectshe employed in a production of Aristophanes's The Peace atTrinity College, Cambridge. In the 17th century the designer GiacomoTorelli became known as the Great Magician for his use ofelaborate stage machinery. Traditional devices for creating the 'magicof the theater' include trapdoors, harnesses for 'flying', hiddenentrances and exits, etc., - all aided, of course, by the audience'swillingness to suspend its disbelief. More unusual effects includePepper's Ghost, which uses a hidden mirror to reflect anapparition onto the stage. Albert A. Hopkins described many 19th-centurystage tricks in Magic: Stage Illusions and Scientific Diversions(1897).

    In recent decades technological developments such as computers, lasers, and holography have created a new arena of illusion for writers and directors.

Origin & History of “magic”

Greek mágos, a word of Persian origin, meant ‘sorcerer’ (Latin borrowed it as magus, whose plural magi is used in English for the three ‘Wise Men’ who visited the infant Christ). from mágos was derived the adjective magikós. Its use in the phrase magikḗ tékhnē ‘sorcerer’s art’ led eventually to magikḗ itself being regarded as a noun, and it passed into English via late Latin magica and Old French magique.