Svengali

noun [sven-gah-lee, sfen-]

a person who completely dominates another, usually with selfish or sinister motives.

How is Svengali used?

Lou Pearlman, who died on Friday in federal prison in Miami, at the age of sixty-two, was arguably the great pop Svengali of our time. John Seabrook, “We Live in the Pop-Culture World That Lou Pearlman Created,” The New Yorker, August 22, 2016

Though he comes across in his own writings as witty and self-aware, the picture that emerges decades later is of a moody, manipulative Svengali, blinded by his ego to what was really happening on the raft. A. O. Scott, “‘The Raft’ Review: A Crew of 10 Set Adrift With a Moody Svengali,” New York Times, June 6, 2019

What is the origin of Svengali?

Two terms survive from George du Maurier’s novel Trilby (1894). The first is Svengali, the evil musician who hypnotizes, controls, and exploits Trilby O’Ferrall, a young Irish girl, and makes her a great singer who is unable to perform without his help. In the stage version of the novel, the actress who played Trilby wore a sort of soft felt hat with an indented crown, now called a trilby or trilbyhat. The trilby is now commonly mistaken for a different hat, the fedora. Svengali in its extended sense of “a person who completely dominates another, usually with selfish or sinister motives” is recorded by the early 1900s.

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