Some stories about magicians helping the police or military detect trickery seem fluffy and lame. We came across an article in the Boston Globe’s The Braniac column yesterday that defied those labels. It had substance often lacking in the publicity pieces generated by magicians in need of a headline fix. The article “Magicians and the Military” is actually a reflection on a New Yorker piece on magician / pickpocket Apollo Robbins work with our counterdeception troops.
First of all, we didn’t know there was such a word as “counterdeception” or that we had “troops” who worked in this area. But, despite the warning signs, we are willing to accept for the sake of argument that there exists such a discipline and specialists within said field. But let us take a second and analyze this new word. Deception is the art of deceiving, tricking or lying. Counter means to work opposite to or in conflict with. So counterdeception would be a method to act contrary to a lie or a trick. Some would call that “observing” or “understanding” but likely not “counterdeception.” If the wordcrafters intended to coin a term for seeing past a deception or a lie or understanding how a trick is performed, they may have chosen a term like cynic or insightful or not easily fooled.
We are rarely consulted on the coining of new words these days. We attribute this to the natural jealousy that develops within any profession — including word maker-uppers. (How ironic that they haven’t adopted our term for the skill, wordcrafters? Just further evidence of petty jealousy from the ivy towered, academics who think they own vocabulary.) We came up with the term “baggage handler” in 1974 and offered it at the annual international symposium on new word combinations held that year in Martinique. We intended for the term to define porters or service people responsible for loading luggage on planes, trains or buses.
Our term survived the first five rounds of consideration before being shot down by psychologists who worried the colloquial use of the term “baggage” could bring their profession within the term’s definition. “Baggage” was also used to describe “superfluous or burdensome practices, regulations, ideas, or traits” — things often “handled” by therapists or psychologists in the course of their treatment. We appealed the last-minute veto to the “bigger committee board” (they really needed to work on their own terms first, we think) but lost on a close vote. As it turns out, “baggage handler” became an accepted, gender-neutral term adopted by those who care for luggage and so we won the ultimate battle. The academics never forgave our impertinence and have boxed us out consistently over the years. We are prohibited from attending their symposia or playing their reindeer-inspired games.
But we digress. The point of the Boston Globe article and to some extent the New Yorker profile of Mr. Robbins, was that magicians can teach lay-folks how to analyze events or visual demonstrations to detect deception. Continue reading “Magicians Teach How to Figure Out Tricks”