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I'm reading an article about magic tricks and it goes:

One of the most popular tricks was to make an object appear to leap with the aid of a hidden string. “This feat is the stranger if it be done by night,” suggested the English magician William Vincent, “a candle placed between the lookers on & the juggler for by that means their eyesight is hindered from discerning the conceit.”

I'm confused about the meaning of "stranger" here. As I know, a stranger refers to someone you don't know. But this definition doesn't seem to make sense here. What does "stranger" in this context mean?

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    More strange... strange, stranger, strangest. – gone fishin' again. Apr 27 '15 at 14:42
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    This is archaic language, which doesn't help. If you take out 'the' before 'stranger' the sentence is easier to understand. – ssav Apr 27 '15 at 15:04
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    @ssav: I disagree that "the stranger" is archaic. It's in current use, though perhaps more among the literate than the lowest common denominator. – jamesqf Apr 27 '15 at 17:41
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    This is archaic, in use among those who pride themselves elite based on their use of archaic language. – Smithers Apr 27 '15 at 19:40
  • @jamesqf: It's archaic, not obsolete. – Nathan Tuggy Apr 27 '15 at 19:44
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This construction is essentially short for "all the stranger", and is an archaic idiom, as far as I know. It's emphasizing just how strange it gets under these circumstances.

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"the" + comparative is not the normal definite article we use before a noun and "stranger" in your example is not the noun, but the comparative form of the adjective strange. Normally we have sentence types as "The better, the more expensive" or "The older someone is, the more difficult it is to get a job. Mathematicians call this a direct proportion between two values. In your example you have a relatively rare use: the + comparative + if-clause. Here the meaning of "the stranger" is somewhat like "still stranger/much stranger". Or, to be more exact, you could paraphrase "is the stranger" by "is far stranger" or "is stranger by a considerable measure".

Longman's dictionary DCE has this "the" as a second entry "the, adverb, + comparative".

By the way this "the" (adverb) derives from an old case form of "the" (definite article).

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The meaning of strange here:

3) quite unusual or uncommon; extraordinary

Other than that, the grammar in general in your example is odd at best.

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The sentence can be read: "This feat is even stranger if it be done by night". So, the word is not an article but part of a construction like "The... the..." (e.g. "The higher you climb, the harder you fall").

In German, the word "noch" can be used for it (if this helps you): "Diese Tat ist noch befremdlicher, wenn sie nachts getan wird."

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