1 of 2


shilled; shilling; shills

intransitive verb

: to act as a shill
: to act as a spokesperson or promoter
the eminent Shakespearean producer … is now shilling for a brokerage houseAndy Rooney


2 of 2


: one who acts as a decoy (as for a pitchman or gambler)
: one who makes a sales pitch or serves as a promoter

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The Conniving Roots of Shill

The action at the heart of the verb shill—promoting someone or something for pay—is not, on its face, unseemly. After all, that is what marketers and public relations firms do. But when someone is said to be shilling for something or someone there is a distinct note of disapproval, and often the implication that the act is somehow corrupt or dishonest, or that the product or person being promoted is not to be trusted. This connotation is actually the word’s birthright: in the early 1900s, the noun shill referred to a type of con artist, specifically one who aided others in their efforts to part people from their money. For example, a shill might be paid to fake a big win at a casino to make a game look easily winnable. The first uses of the verb shill, appearing around the same time as the noun, show it applying to the kinds of cons shills did, but the term eventually came to be used in cases when someone was simply promoting someone or something. Perhaps fitting for a word with a criminal past, shill has a mysterious origin: it’s thought to be a shortened form of the older synonymous term shillaber, but the etymological trail goes cold there.

Examples of shill in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web
Why would those black history scholars want to shill for slavery? ABC News, 20 Sep. 2023 For many Americans, FTX became the mainstream face of crypto: Celebrities such as NFL star Tom Brady, supermodel Gisele Bündchen and comedian Larry David shilled for the exchange in Super Bowl commercials. Lisa Bonos, Washington Post, 1 Oct. 2023 On every flight, we are made to read frequent announcements and walk through the cabin shilling the applications. Kwame Anthony Appiah, New York Times, 30 Aug. 2023 The industry had already used multilevel marketing schemes to rope regular people into shilling herbs for decades—Herbalife, which launched in 1980, remains one of the largest MLMs in the world—but influencer culture has accelerated this blurring of lines between customer and seller. WIRED, 31 July 2023 The vision is an entire ecosystem in which sellers can hawk their wares to consumers directly, creators can shill sponcon, and consumers can buy things, all without ever leaving the app. Stephanie McNeal, Glamour, 19 July 2023 The deluge of discourse started when showrunner’s assistant Olivia Maher posted a video back in May shilling the virtues of her mish-mash of cheeses and bread, sparking a slew of riffs. Ali Francis, Bon Appétit, 19 July 2023 One of the few voices raised in opposition came from Hopper, still red baiting and shilling for the producers. Thomas Doherty, The Hollywood Reporter, 18 July 2023 In between actual breaking-news push alerts — a defection, a blackout, and a literal implosion — TikTok was fighting about bagels, influencers were shilling for Shein, and Colleen Ballinger found a way to get canceled, for the same thing, again. Kate Lindsay, Vulture, 1 July 2023
Ramaswamy and Kennedy aren’t the first would-be candidates unprepared for the campaign spotlight whom rent-seeking political advisors and other shills have paraded past the fans. Michael Hiltzik, Los Angeles Times, 31 Aug. 2023 Meanwhile, Byers, the relentless Puck scribe known for breaking news about CNN, who was unfairly maligned as a Zucker shill in Siegel’s story, reported Wednesday night that the opening anecdote — which struck many observers as preposterous — was simply false. Oliver Darcy, CNN, 27 July 2023 Best of the web — More stories like this, please, about celebrity shills feeling the pain. Ryan Faughnder, Los Angeles Times, 11 July 2023 And groups such as the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, run by Wiener’s longtime political foe Michael Weinstein, have cast him as a shill for the real estate groups that have funded his campaigns. Melanie Mason, Los Angeles Times, 27 Apr. 2023 Of course, this is not the first time Messi has acted as a shill for Saudi Arabia. Alex Shephard, The New Republic, 10 May 2023 While the right was unhappy with the U.S. government footing the bill for a band that hadn’t exactly shied from voicing antiwar sentiments, the left-leaning underground press accused the musicians of being shills for the Nixon administration. Michael Rechtshaffen, Los Angeles Times, 31 Mar. 2023 In their argument, the entire medical ecosystem—doctors, the government, academic researchers, the World Health Organization—is in thrall to alternative-medicine shills, colluding in a plot that keeps people sick to maintain profits. Matthew Hongoltz-Hetling, The New Republic, 28 Feb. 2023 The shill is the easiest to understand. Paul Douglas, Star Tribune, 30 July 2020 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'shill.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


Noun and Verb

perhaps short for shillaber, of unknown origin

First Known Use


circa 1914, in the meaning defined at sense 1


circa 1916, in the meaning defined at sense 1a

Time Traveler
The first known use of shill was circa 1914


Dictionary Entries Near shill

Cite this Entry

“Shill.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 11 Dec. 2023.

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