thim·​ble·​rig | \ ˈthim-bəl-ˌrig How to pronounce thimblerig (audio) \

Definition of thimblerig

 (Entry 1 of 2)

1 : 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
2 : one who manipulates the cup in thimblerig : thimblerigger


thimblerigged; thimblerigging

Definition of thimblerig (Entry 2 of 2)

transitive verb

1 : to cheat by trickery
2 : to swindle by thimblerig

Other Words from 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

First Known Use of thimblerig


1826, in the meaning defined at sense 1


1839, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Learn More About thimblerig

Time Traveler for thimblerig

Time Traveler

The first known use of thimblerig was in 1826

See more words from the same year

Listen to Our Podcast About thimblerig

Dictionary Entries Near thimblerig

thimble lily



See More Nearby Entries 

Statistics for thimblerig

Cite this Entry

“Thimblerig.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 14 Aug. 2022.

Style: MLA
MLACheck Mark Icon ChicagoCheck Mark Icon APACheck Mark Icon Merriam-WebsterCheck Mark Icon


Test Your Vocabulary

The Great British Vocabulary Quiz

  • union jack speech bubble
  • Named after Sir Robert Peel, what are British police called?
How Strong Is Your Vocabulary?

Test your vocabulary with our 10-question quiz!

Universal Daily Crossword

A daily challenge for crossword fanatics.

Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!