Why do we say "It is all smoke and mirrors"?

Well-Known Expressions

It is all smoke and mirrors

Meaning:

It is all an illusion - a deliberate and calculated deception, often in the context of politics

Background:

Considering the image that this expression conjures, it is surprising to find that its earliest known use is not in the heydey of vaudeville and the traveling circuses, but much more recently - apparently in the 1970s. Miriam-Webster cites its first appearance as 1979, but in his Notes from Impeachment Summer (1975), American journalist Jimmy Breslin uses very similar wording twice:

"All political power is primarily an illusion... Mirrors and blue smoke, beautiful blue smoke rolling over the surface of highly polished mirrors..."

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

Which was then paraphrased in the Lowell Sun later the same year:

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

Alphabetical list of expressions

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