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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Synonyms for shell game

Synonyms

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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 These games include a pet-friendly versions of the shell game, hide and seek and more. Kelli Bender, PEOPLE.com, "Teach Your Dog to Read Cue Cards and Identify Colors Through PetSmart's New 'Brain Games' Class," 5 Apr. 2021 That would thoroughly gut Manchin’s amendment, turning enforcement into a shell game that state tax-cutters would always win. Simon Lazarus, The New Republic, "The Republican Legal Assault on Biden’s Covid Relief Plan Could Be Devastating for Democrats," 29 Mar. 2021 For all of its visual beauty and brilliant writing, the movie is a shell game in the end. Ginia Bellafante, New York Times, "Why My Teenage Self Gave Woody Allen a Pass," 5 Mar. 2021 By addressing his expectations of Green, instead of covering up his transgressions with a shell game of excuses and explanations, Kerr reinforced the team-first culture that has been a Golden State staple in his tenure. Don Yaeger, Forbes, "After Failure, Here Are 2 Indicators For Future Success Learned From NBA Champs," 24 Feb. 2021 Like a shell game on a beach boardwalk, when the researcher moved the cup around, the bird was still able to identify where the food was, reports Rachel Nuwer for Scientific American. Rasha Aridi, Smithsonian Magazine, "Four-Month-Old Ravens Rival Adult Great Apes in a Battle of the Brains," 15 Dec. 2020 The current practice of shutting some services and shifting those officers to patrols is a shell game that’s not sustainable. Bill Rodriguez And Jim Galvan, Star Tribune, "Minneapolis needs a law enforcement surge," 16 Oct. 2020 At six of the country’s missile bases, trucks hauled rock from underground construction sites as workers dug a maze of new tunnels and bunkers, allowing North Korea to move weapons around like peas in a shell game. Author: Joby Warrick, Simon Denyer, Anchorage Daily News, "As North Korea’s Kim wooed Trump with ‘love letters,’ he kept building his nuclear capability, intelligence shows," 1 Oct. 2020 At six of the country’s missile bases, trucks hauled rock from underground construction sites as workers dug a maze of new tunnels and bunkers, allowing North Korea to move weapons around like peas in a shell game. Author: Joby Warrick, Simon Denyer, Anchorage Daily News, "As North Korea’s Kim wooed Trump with ‘love letters,’ he kept building his nuclear capability, intelligence shows," 1 Oct. 2020

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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Time Traveler for shell game

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The first known use of shell game was in 1890

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Statistics for shell game

Last Updated

9 Apr 2021

Cite this Entry

“Shell game.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/shell%20game. Accessed 19 Apr. 2021.

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More Definitions for shell game

shell game

noun

English Language Learners Definition of shell game

US : 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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