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The meaning and origin of the expression: Smoke and mirrors

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Smoke and mirrors

Meaning

Trickery or deception, often in a political context.

Origin

This expression alludes to the performances of stage conjurers who use actual smoke and mirrors to deceive the audience. The figurative use that is now more common refers to the obscuring or embellishing of the truth that is employed by spin doctors and the like in order to deceive the general public. This later usage comes from the writings of the American journalist Jimmy Breslin. In his Notes from Impeachment Summer, 1975, Breslin twice refers to smoke and mirrors being used in the US political scene:

"All political power is primarily an illusion... Mirrors and blue smoke, beautiful blue smoke rolling over the surface of highly polished mirrors... If somebody tells you how to look, there can be seen in the smoke great, magnificent shapes, castles and kingdoms, and maybe they can be yours."

"The ability to create the illusion of power, to use mirrors and blue smoke, is one found in unusual people."

While Breslin didn't use 'smoke and mirrors' verbatim others quickly followed his lead. The first example of the figurative phrase in print that I can find comes from The Lowell Sun June, 1975:

"Jimmy Breslin alluded to with images, of blue smoke and mirrors in his recently published book on an impeachment summer."

See other phrases that were coined in the USA.