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A word that means 'flash little party gimmicks'?
February 5, 2010 5:38 AM   Subscribe

There's a word that means something like 'useless party skills' -- little tricks like bouncing ice off your elbow into a glass, rolling coins across your knuckles, flicking cards into a hat. I think it sounds a little like 'caltraps'. It's driving me crazy trying to remember it. Anyone know this word?
posted by Cantdosleepy to Writing & Language (20 answers total)
 
I think the word you're thinking of is "cantrips," but I'm not sure it actually means that.
posted by grobstein at 5:41 AM on February 5, 2010


I always thought it was two words: "parlour tricks"
posted by kaizen at 5:43 AM on February 5, 2010 [7 favorites]


Might you be thinking of "prestidigitation"?
posted by cowbellemoo at 5:43 AM on February 5, 2010


I think you man cantrips.

In formal usage, it refers to a magical spell of any kind. In D&D usage, it refers to the sort of minor effects mages of all sorts can do at will, e.g conjuring minor lights, temporarily coloring objects, changing the taste of food, making minor items disappear and reappear, etc. The kind of thing you'd use to entertain people in a marketplace.

It may be something else, but the word you've come up with is too close to "cantrips" for me to think that likely.
posted by valkyryn at 5:43 AM on February 5, 2010 [4 favorites]


I always just heard "party trick".

ekil, I nac etirw dna kaeps sdrawkcab tuohtiw hcum gnikniht.

Near that word....caltrops? Caltrops are old school anti-calvary/personnel weapons...
posted by TomMelee at 5:44 AM on February 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


2nding "party trick"
posted by bunny hugger at 5:46 AM on February 5, 2010


thirding cantrips.
wiki
merriam-webster
posted by anansi at 5:54 AM on February 5, 2010


The proper term is "parlour tricks". That's always been the term for them.

'Cantrip' is a term that has to do with magic in the sense of witches and spells . It has nothing to do with the things you've described. So unless you're dressing up your sleight-of-hand as wizardry, 'cantrip' isn't a very useful word.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 6:37 AM on February 5, 2010


Nthing "parlor tricks," with Americanized Webster's spelling.
posted by mccarty.tim at 6:43 AM on February 5, 2010


This is weird: three people have suggested "cantrips," and two "cantrips" links have been given, but those links do not in any way indicate that "cantrips" is the word the OP is looking for.
posted by Jaltcoh at 7:28 AM on February 5, 2010


The proper term is "parlour tricks". That's always been the term for them.

When I hear the term parlour tricks, I think of more elaborate gags that are closer to magic tricks rather simple but interesting skills like the knuckle coin thing or fancy zippo tricks. For example, holding a seance and coming up with a way to secretly lift up the table in the middle of it to pretend that a ghost is doing it would be a parlour trick. Or one parlour trick that my grandparents used to do at parties was to have one of them leave the room, then have one of the guests pick out an object or something secretly, and then have the one who left come back and guess what it was (which they would secretly be told through a non-verbal code).

What you are describing sounds more like Stupid Human Tricks. Or as others have said, just party tricks. I've also heard them called "hidden talents."
posted by burnmp3s at 7:53 AM on February 5, 2010


It is possible that the term "cantrip" is being associated with this because of D&D, a few of the cantrips in D&D (0-level spells) such as a prestigitation, allow the player to perform tricks like these. Some sort of cross-pollination of the terms may have occured.
posted by haveanicesummer at 7:55 AM on February 5, 2010


This is weird: three people have suggested "cantrips," and two "cantrips" links have been given, but those links do not in any way indicate that "cantrips" is the word the OP is looking for.

Given the OP's description of "I think it sounds a little like 'caltraps'," he is undoubtedly thinking of the word "cantrips." However, as several people have pointed out, this isn't actually the best word for this, even though cantrips can be parlour-trick-esque.
posted by desuetude at 7:57 AM on February 5, 2010


Well, the D&D version of cantrips do relate somewhat to the word OP is looking for, in the sense that they were small spells used for the amusement of onlookers, often in a tavern or marketplace or somesuch.
posted by craven_morhead at 7:57 AM on February 5, 2010


I'm not ruling out the possibility that "caltraps" is the word the OP wants. I'm just saying there's a disconnect between the definitions people have linked to -- literal magic/witch's spells -- and the definition given by the OP -- mundane party tricks such as flicking cards into a hat. (Sometimes you think there's a word that sounds roughly like X that means Y, and there really is a word that sounds like X that you were thinking of, but it turns out that it doesn't actually mean Y.)
posted by Jaltcoh at 8:30 AM on February 5, 2010


I think we've got a "You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means," situation here.

"Cantrip" probably was the word the OP was thinking of--if it wasn't actually "caltrop"--but that does seem to have more to do with actual magic than the sort of cheap "parlor trick" that he has in mind.
posted by valkyryn at 9:29 AM on February 5, 2010


The OED has this:

A spell or charm of necromancy or witchcraft; a witch's trick or mischievous device. Also jocosely, any playfully mischievous trick; any whimsically mad, eccentric, or extravagant piece of conduct; in phr. to play one a cantrip.

Emphasis mine. It's apparently archaic, with the OED cites not moving beyond the 19th century, and it seems likely in that case that D&D is the main reason the word would even show up in casual conversation these days. Its applicability to the notion of parlor tricks isn't hard to see from the D&D meaning of, essentially, flashy but substanceless tricks or such, and the M-W definition above has a cross-reference to "hocus-pocus" as "sleight of hand" that actually locks together rather well with this blurred notion of simple magic and parlor-trick-style "magic".

Given all that, it sure seems like "cantrip" is indeed the word the asker is trying to nail down, regardless of how apt the average person would think it is (if they recognize the word at all) to the stupid-human-trick type stuff the asker is describing. It's at least a plausible association to have made.
posted by cortex at 9:37 AM on February 5, 2010


self-correction: I'm not ruling out the possibility that "caltraps" "cantrips" is the word the OP wants....
posted by Jaltcoh at 10:13 AM on February 5, 2010


Cantrips. Perhaps you were confusing it with caltrops, which is nobody's idea of a fun party trick and potentially deadly, to boot.
posted by Lynsey at 10:26 AM on February 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


I came in here just knowing it would be full of D&D nerds saying "Ooh! Ooh! I know! CANTRIPS!"
posted by obiwanwasabi at 1:32 PM on February 5, 2010


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