Easily Confused Words: Slight vs. Sleight

Slight and sleight are easily confused words. They are also homophones. Homophones are words that sound identical, but are spelled differently, and possess different meanings.

The spell-check application of most word processing software programs would not catch a slip-up of these two words. Spell-check is looking for words that aren’t in its dictionary, and words that resemble words in its dictionary, but are possibly spelled wrong. Spell-check isn’t perfect. It doesn’t know and can’t guess what word you wanted or what word you meant, it can only judge the words on the page. If you used words that are all spelled correctly, it gives you a pass anyway.

Autocorrect suggests words that start with the same letters. It’s suggesting what word you may want to save time, but quite often, its suggestions are pretty off base. They don’t help you out, but they do make you laugh.

Slight (pronounced “sly-t”) has multiple meanings.

  • As an adjective, it describes something rare, something unlikely, something minimal, or marginal chances of occurring. For example, in the summer, meteorologists mention a “slight chance of rain” on an almost-daily basis.
  • As a past tense verb, “slighted” means when someone feels cheated, dissed, or ignored by someone else.

Sleight (pronounced “sly-t”) is a noun. It means skill, strategy, or cunning in a particular area. It’s not usually used on its own, but in the phrase “sleight of hand.” Sleight of hand is the skill, trickery, and dexterity demonstrated by magicians and some street performers.

  • Sleight of hand means trickery, skill, or deftness in using one’s hands. Perhaps the most famous practitioners of sleight of hand are magicians and some street performers.

Figuratively speaking, the idiom “sleight of hand” can also mean being a tricky or deceitful person. This phrase is mentioned in U2’s 1987 song, “With or Without You,” a ballad about a tumultuous, on-again, off-again relationship.

The following story uses both words correctly:

Slade’s attempts at sleight of hand with cards was not enthralling the Fair’s audiences as he had hoped. His crowd numbers were slight, while other acts where packing them in to limited seating for every 15 minute show.

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