To manipulate something means to handle it skillfully, like the way a sculptor manipulates clay or a really good politician works a crowd.

The verb manipulate evolved from manipulation, which back in the 1700s referred to a method of digging ore. So manipulating something originally only meant moving or arranging it by hand or mechanically. It wasn't until 1864 that people started using the word manipulate to describe someone exerting mental or emotional influence on others.

Definitions of manipulate
  1. verb
    influence or control shrewdly or deviously
    “He manipulated public opinion in his favor”
    synonyms: pull strings, pull wires
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    type of:
    act upon, influence, work
    have and exert influence or effect
  2. verb
    control (others or oneself) or influence skillfully, usually to one's advantage
    “She manipulates her boss”
    synonyms: control, keep in line
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    arouse hope, desire, or curiosity without satisfying them
    show and train
    gain favor with somebody by deliberate efforts
    cotton up, cozy up, play up, shine up, sidle up, suck up
    ingratiate oneself to; often with insincere behavior
    type of:
    act together or towards others or with others
  3. verb
    hold something in one's hands and move it
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    lay hands on
    manage with the hands
    manipulate the mouse of a computer
    fiddle with, twiddle
    manipulate, as in a nervous or unconscious manner
    handle, manage, wield
    manage or wield effectively
    control, operate
    handle and cause to function
    knead, massage, rub down
    manually manipulate (someone's body), usually for medicinal or relaxation purposes
    knead, work
    make uniform
    mix, ruffle, shuffle
    mix so as to make a random order or arrangement
    fiddle, monkey, tamper
    play around with or alter or falsify, usually secretively or dishonestly
    diddle, fiddle, play, toy
    manipulate manually or in one's mind or imagination
    synchronise, synchronize
    operate simultaneously
    operate a dial to select a telephone number
    wield vigorously
    alter the functioning or setting of
    control a submarine
    operate (machinery) by a treadle
    control or operate by relay
    operate like a pump; move up and down, like a handle or a pedal
    knead to reach proper lightness
    grind and knead
    shuffle again
    shuffle (playing cards) by separating the deck into two parts and riffling with the thumbs so the cards intermix
    divide a deck of cards at random into two parts to make selection difficult
    sweep, swing, swing out
    make a big sweeping gesture or movement
    control with a valve or other device that functions like a gate
    put out, retire
    cause to be out on a fielding play
    operate the pedals on a keyboard instrument
    operate or control a vehicle
    aviate, fly, pilot
    operate an airplane
    type of:
    handle, palm
    touch, lift, or hold with the hands
  4. verb
    treat manually, as with massage, for therapeutic purposes
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    type of:
    care for, treat
    provide treatment for
  5. verb
    skillfully utilize, process, or operate on
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    type of:
    apply, employ, use, utilise, utilize
    put into service; make work or employ for a particular purpose or for its inherent or natural purpose
  6. verb
    tamper, with the purpose of deception
    synonyms: cook, fake, falsify, fudge, misrepresent, wangle
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    manipulate by or as if by moving around components
    type of:
    cheat, chisel
    engage in deceitful behavior; practice trickery or fraud
  7. verb
    manipulate in a fraudulent manner
    synonyms: rig
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    type of:
    determine the price of
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