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thim·​ble·​rig ˈthim-bəl-ˌrig How to pronounce thimblerig (audio)
: a swindling trick in which a small ball or pea is quickly shifted from under one to another of three small cups to fool the spectator guessing its location
: one who manipulates the cup in thimblerig : thimblerigger


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thimblerigged; thimblerigging

transitive verb

: to cheat by trickery
: to swindle by thimblerig
thimblerigger noun

Did you know?

The game of thimblerig seems innocent enough. The thimblerigger places a little ball, pea, or other small object under one of three thimbles or cups. He or she deftly scoots the cups around on a table, then asks the player to bet on which one hides the object. But thimbleriggers are masters of sleight of hand and can move and manipulate the object unfairly—so the guileless player doesn't stand a chance of winning. (The poor bettor is probably unaware that rig has meant "to manipulate or control usually by deceptive or dishonest means" since the 1800s.) When the same sham is played with nutshells, it's called a shell game, and there's a related game played with cards known as three-card monte.

Examples of thimblerig in a Sentence

Verb had the feeling that I had just been thimblerigged by the sweetest-looking old lady

Word History

First Known Use


1826, in the meaning defined at sense 1


1839, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of thimblerig was in 1826


Dictionary Entries Near thimblerig

Cite this Entry

“Thimblerig.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 23 Jun. 2024.

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