Do a Houdini and pull a Houdini

Do a Houdini and pull a Houdini are two versions of an idiom. An idiom is a commonly used word, group of words, or phrase that has a figurative meaning that is not easily deduced from its literal definition. Often using descriptive imagery or metaphors, common idioms are words and phrases used in the English language in order to convey a concise idea, and are often spoken or are considered informal or conversational. English idioms can illustrate emotion more quickly than a phrase that has a literal meaning, even when the etymology or origin of the idiomatic expression is lost. An idiom is a metaphorical figure of speech, and it is understood that it is not a use of literal language. Figures of speech like an often-used metaphor have definitions and connotations that go beyond the literal meaning of the words. Mastery of the turn of phrase of an idiom, which may use slang words or other parts of speech common in American slang or British slang, is essential for the English learner. Many English as a Second Language students do not understand idiomatic expressions and idiomatic language such as hit the sack, spill the beans, let the cat out of the bag, silver lining, back to the drawing board, barking up the wrong tree, kick the bucket, hit the nail on the head, face the music, under the weather, piece of cake, when pigs fly, and raining cats and dogs, because they attempt to translate them word for word, which yields only the literal meaning. English phrases that are idioms should not be taken literally. In addition to learning vocabulary and grammar, one must understand the phrasing of the figurative language of idiomatic phrases in order to know English like a native speaker; it is helpful to maintain a list of phrases, common expressions, colloquial terms, and popular expressions to memorize that are used figuratively or idiomatically. We will examine the meaning of the common idiom do a Houdini or pull a Houdini, where it came from, and some examples of its idiomatic usage in sentences.

Do a Houdini or pull a Houdini is a phrase that means to disappear or escape; to leave the scene or to wiggle out of a precarious situation. The idiom do a Houdini or pull a Houdini is often ended with the word act, as in do a Houdini act and pull a Houdini act. Related phrases are does a Houdini, did a Houdini, has done a Houdini, doing a Houdini, pulls a Houdini, pulled a Houdini, has pulled a Houdini, pulling a Houdini. The expression do a Houdini or pull a Houdini came into use in the twentieth century, though its popularity soared in the 1980s. Both versions of the phrase are American idioms. Harry Houdini was a Hungarian immigrant to the United States who performed as a magician at the turn of the twentieth century; he was world-renown for his escape acts. In his later years, Houdini devoted his time to exposing charlatans who conducted seances, claiming to speak with the dead. Note that Houdini is capitalized because it is a proper name.


Corruption did not die last night and nor did black money do a Houdini and disappear. (Firstpost)

With his reputation for doing a Houdini disappearing act after a killing, and an assurance that the target is a very bad person – one of Billy’s conditions – he agrees. (Irish News)

They do need a lot of exercise and engagement to be happy, otherwise they may pull a Houdini and escape from your yard in search of fun.  (Reader’s Digest)

Barnes, with nobody out, managed to pull a Houdini trick and efficiently escaped his inherited-runners jam. (New York Daily News)

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