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In several works, I saw a character use the phrase "Now you see me, (beat) now you don't". I think I also remember a character using just "Now you see me" and then disappearing.

The Wikipedia disambiguation page, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Now_You_See_Me, says that many works have adopted the phrase but doesn't say what it means or at least originally meant.

So,

  • is there a known source that first use the phrase?
  • what did it mean in the first sources that used it? it feels like it's become so common that some of the current uses are variations or subversions
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  • 4
    As I said, before my comment was deleted by some idiot, the phrase "Now you see it, now you don't" is a long-standing idiom commonly used by "slight-of-hand" magicians, going back to the 1940s at least, and a common expression in magic acts on TV in the 1950s. Twisting that to "Now you see me..." is not much of a stretch. (It basically means what it says.)
    – Hot Licks
    Sep 30, 2016 at 22:14

2 Answers 2

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As commented, the phrase is used to express that something is gone without clear explanation. You may be interested in reading about "Abracadabra" and its history, which is close to this phrase to some extend. The phrase also refers to someone making something (or themselves) go away magically, out of a sudden and without vivid explanation.

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  • It is possible that the "now you see me" variant was used as a catch-phrase by some entertainer (or even a cheesy ad on TV), but if so, it never made it into the vernacular to any great extent.
    – Hot Licks
    Oct 23, 2016 at 20:35
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I have always thought it's a paraphrase of John 16:16:

A little while, and you will no longer see me, and again a little while, and you will see me.

But I can find no evidence to support it - other than not being the only one to make this connection: http://celebrationpublications.org/blog/patmarrin/16/05/3489
https://vineyarddailyreflections.wordpress.com/2014/07/09/now-you-see-me-now-you-dont-john-16-16-20/
https://bible.org/seriespage/5-now-you-see-me-matthew-514-16
http://www.tenth.org/resource-library/sermons/now-you-see-me-now-you-don-t
http://subsplash.com/centerpoint/v/d4d7694

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