prestidigitation

Quick, now! How many i‘s are there in this word? And how many t‘s? Are you sure? They flick by like so many fluttering fingers – do you see, the bump on the d, like a dime peeking out between index and middle – now flicked, flipped, rolled, held out at the g, snapped at the a, and, ah, fingers splayed, i i i i, where is it now? Or how did the i become an a and why is the i over there by the o (or is it there at all – do you hear an i there)? And how fast it all happens – between prest and o! Such quick, nimble feats of the fingers have been pressed on you. Preste – “nimble” in French, related to Italian presto, “quick” – and digit – “finger” of course – have been blended into this rapid-pattering bit of trochaic trickery on the tip of the tongue. Yes, the lips press once, and then the tongue tip touches six times, making a quick change each time: voiceless fricative-stop, voiced stop, voiced affricate, voiceless stop, voiceless fricative, voiced nasal! It’s like the Magical Mr. Mistoffelees! It’s a magical incantation to make a practical alteration in any situation: One-two-three, presti-digi-tation!

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