If you enjoy edgy, animated comedies, I hope you’ve checked out Archer on FX. Intelligence agency ISIS boasts a motley crew of vain and arrogant secret agents and incompetent support staff that spoofs many popular espionage tropes in an anachronistic modern day New York City.
Season 2 – Episode 6 “Tragical History” ISIS is facing a cyber attack and all hands are on deck scrambling to find a solution. In an attempt to shut down the mainframe computer, the agents must disable a batter backup secured behind a door that is controlled by the virus-infested mainframe. Agent Sterling Archer, the sauve seducteur, has no help to offer his fellow field agent, Lana Kane, and is sipping bourbon. ARCHER: Sorry. I have no idea how to open this thing. Not really my legerdemain. LANA: You mean “bailiwick”? ARCHER: I don’t know. Whatever. The scene winds down as Archer opens fire on the door’s lock sending ricocheting bullets in all directions.
I’ve never really heard “legerdemain” or “bailiwick” before that I am aware of. The first word is of French origin descends from a phrase meaning “light of hand” as in sleight of hand. It is sometimes used to generally refer to deftness with one’s hands. The second one sounded Irish to me. I wasn’t far off. It comes from Old English and means “bailiff’s village” as in a bailiff’s jurisdiction. That is still the primary definition for the word as well. The definition used in the above context has a similar definition: “one’s sphere of operations or particular area of interest.” Here’s the Google Ngram graph comparing occurences of both “legerdemain” and “bailiwick” in English language literature from the years 1800-2000. As you can see, “bailiwick” was most popular in the early 1800s with almost consistently declining occurrence to the present. The word seemed to have somewhat of an increase in use for about a 30-35 year beginning around 1925 or so. Both words show a stead decline in use as they approach the present consistent with my personal opinion (though widely held) that our society is collectively becoming dumber. Which one do you like? What is your bailiwick? [Edit: I originally misheard the word “legerdemain.” I have edited to correct it.]