shell game

noun

Definition of shell game

  1. 1 :  thimblerig played especially with three walnut shells

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

shell game was our Word of the Day on 06/08/2012. Hear the podcast!

Examples of shell game in a sentence

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

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.

1890

First Known Use of shell game

1890


SHELL GAME Defined for English Language Learners

shell game

noun

Definition of shell game for English Language Learners

  • : 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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