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Merlin C
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It's an odd quirk of magic that people who come on stage and take part in magical effects are still often referred to as "spectators".

But, I'm not here to argue that. When did "spectator" come to be used as it is?
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If the magician requests a "spectator" from the audience to assist him, then that person has, up to that point, not been an active participant in the proceedings; hence, a "spectator". After the audience member is on stage, then that person is an assistant! If a performer is referring to an assistant as "spectator", then the performer is in error.


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Andy the cardician
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As far as I understand, the origin of the word comes from the fact that the person is viewing

- on that take, the audience is actually listening...

On stage, the person becomes a participant or assistant, while I personally feel that the word assistant is downgrading the person a little bit...

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The term spectator is better than the term given to spectators by grifters: punter. However, it is wrong to consider the spectator as an assistant unless the person is a stooge. An assistant knows how the trick works and is not only there to hold objects, but also to make the magician look like a magician. The assistant learns how to ignore the secret moves he or she obviously sees. The spectator will not ignore them if he or she catches sight of them, so you had better continue to think of the person as a spectator even though they may be up on stage, and even though they may be holding things for you. They are seeing the trick for the first time, and if they can catch you doing something suspicious, they will convey it to the rest of the audience either verbally or by body language. Let's not worry about being politically correct behind the scenes where the punters can't hear us talking about them. Just don't go calling them spectators, punters, or marks to their faces, and all will be well.

As far as when the term first came into's very old. In other words, I haven't a clue. It's from the Latin word "spectare", and has always been used to mean a person in an audience, even in antiquity.
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Tony James
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"Punter" is a term I've always known and used. Comes from the French "ponter" - a player against the bank. Used in card and other games when you lay a stake against the bank and is extended to those who speculate in shares.

Like many words, it has other meanings, including a prostitute's client. In that sense, it is perhaps more demeaning of the magician rather than the spectator!

Gentler than the term "mug", which I heard many old pros use when I was young. That comes from "muggins" - meaning a simpleton, a gullible person who allows themselves to be easily outwitted.

Hence "a mug's game", meaning a senseless or unprofitable activity.

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Tony James

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Interesting information on "mug", Tony. I've never heard the term used that way in contemporary American English, but characters in 1930s and 1940s Hollywood movies frequently say things like, "Ya big mug!" Funny how slang goes in and out of fashion.
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Tony James
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You're right Rocketeer. Mug has many meanings.

Mug is probably a Scandinavian source for a drinking vessel. Faces on mugs became fashionable at one time, sometimes grotesque designs and that is thought to have led to the use of mug as a term for the face (mug-shot for a facial photograph). Certainly it is associated with the act of pulling funny faces.

Also a hoodlum robbing with violence in public (mugging/mugger) but a mugger is also a broadnosed Indian crocodile - not the sort seen in a Punch & Judy Show!

I confess I didn't know all this off the top of my head. I had to mug it up!!!!
Tony James

Still A Child At Heart
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