shell game

noun

Definition of shell game 

1 : thimblerig played especially with three walnut shells

2 : fraud especially : a swindle involving the substitution of something of little or no value for a valuable item

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Did You Know?

The shell game, a swindling trick in which a small ball or pea is quickly shifted from under one to another of three walnut shells or cups to fool the spectator guessing its location, is a version of one of the oldest and most widespread forms of sleight of hand. Conjurers have performed this trick, which is also called the cups and balls trick and thimblerig, throughout the world for centuries. The version that became popular in the United States in the late 19th century used walnut shells and peas. Shell game thus became the popular term for the trick, and the trick itself became so well known that the term is now used figuratively to describe dishonest actions that are done to deceive people.

Examples of shell game in a Sentence

it's amazing how intelligent people fall for that investment-fund shell game

Recent Examples on the Web

But then Kardos fools you with his smooth shell game. Lloyd Sachs, chicagotribune.com, "Crime fiction reviews: Latest from Philip Kerr, Jo Nesbo and Michael Kardos," 17 Apr. 2018 Much advance coverage focused not just on the generational implications of the decision, but on how well the administration was keeping the choice from the press, treating the shell game like a proxy test of governance. James Poniewozik, New York Times, "Trump’s Reality TV Supreme Court Rollout, Slick and Substance-Free," 10 July 2018 The problem, as Kelly points out, is that this was always a kind of shell game: Moon could never change the fact that the US and North Korea want fundamentally different things. Zack Beauchamp, Vox, "Why Trump’s North Korea summit is going off the rails, explained by an expert," 21 May 2018 Adams walked out of that meeting calling the House plan a shell game. Richard Ruelas, azcentral, "Ducey: 'I don't know why' teacher walkout happening after pay raise plan, says demand met," 23 Apr. 2018 The Greater Cincinnati Redevelopment Authority chairman told FC Cincinnati President Jeff Berding on Tuesday night the quasi-governmental agency isn't playing the stadium shell game. Jason Williams, Cincinnati.com, "PX column: Finally, someone said enough is enough on FC Cincinnati stadium shell game," 28 Mar. 2018 Is Shell just engaged in spin, playing some kind of (ahem) shell game? David Roberts, Vox, "Shell’s vision of a net-zero carbon world by 2070, explained," 30 Mar. 2018 The shell game that will deposit Pompeo at State, raise up Haspel at CIA, and even possibly bring in Bolton to replace H.R. McMaster as the national security adviser deserves far more attention. John Feffer, Fortune, "Commentary: With Tillerson Out, Trump’s Bringing Foreign Policy Deeper Into the Dark Side," 14 Mar. 2018 Cristian Benvenuto is convinced the whole thing is a shell game. Winston Ross, Newsweek, "Odd School Ties: Islamic University Creates Backlash in Italy," 25 May 2015

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'shell game.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of shell game

1890, in the meaning defined at sense 1

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Last Updated

12 Sep 2018

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Time Traveler for shell game

The first known use of shell game was in 1890

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More Definitions for shell game

shell game

noun

English Language Learners Definition of shell game

: a dishonest betting game in which someone hides a ball under one of three cups or shells, moves the cups or shells around quickly, and asks an observer to guess which one the ball is under

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