Definitions

from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

  • n. See shell game.
  • n. One who operates a thimblerig.
  • transitive v. To swindle with or as if with a thimblerig.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

  • n. A game of skill which requires the bettor to guess under which of three small cups (or thimbles) a pea-sized object has been placed after the party operating the game rapidly rearranges them, providing opportunity for sleight-of-hand trickery; a shell game.
  • n. One operating such a game.
  • v. To cheat in the thimblerig game.
  • v. To cheat by trickery.

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • n. A sleight-of-hand trick played with three small cups, shaped like thimbles, and a small ball or little pea.
  • transitive v. To swindle by means of small cups or thimbles, and a pea or small ball placed under one of them and quickly shifted to another, the victim laying a wager that he knows under which cup it is; hence, to cheat by any trick.

from The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia

  • n. A sleight-of-hand trick played with three small cups shaped like thimbles, and a small ball or pea.
  • To cheat by means of thimblerig, or sleight of hand.

from WordNet 3.0 Copyright 2006 by Princeton University. All rights reserved.

  • n. a swindling sleight-of-hand game; victim guesses which of three things a pellet is under

Etymologies

From thimble + rig (Wiktionary)

Examples

  • To play fast and loose now means to behave in a deceitful or irresponsible manner. shell game This old gambling game (earlier known as thimblerig), in which the operator openly places a pea under one of three walnut shells, then rapidly shifts the shells around and challenges a sucker to bet on the location of the pea, has given its name to any kind of chicanery or subterfuge.

    VERBATIM: The Language Quarterly Vol XIII No 2

  • Our artist then can cover up faces, and yet show them quite clearly, as in the thimblerig group; or he can do without faces altogether; or he can, at a pinch, provide a countenance for a gentleman out of any given object — a beautiful Irish physiognomy being moulded upon a keg of whiskey; and a jolly

    George Cruikshank

  • But the only object of this argument is to show how mal-adroitly Mr. Landor plays at thimblerig.

    Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine — Volume 53, No. 330, April 1843

  • In these circumstances, and smarting as I was under the recollection of recent defeat, it is not strange that I thought I detected the old political ruse of dressing the wolf in sheep's clothing, of using handsome pledges as a mask to deceive the gullible, and that I assumed that this scholarly amateur in politics was being used for their own purposes by masters and veterans in the old game of thimblerig.

    Woodrow Wilson as I know Him

  • And yet every day one saw more distinctly that they were the pea in the thimblerig of life, the hub of a universe which, to the approbation of the majority they represented, they were fast making uninhabitable.

    The Best British Short Stories of 1922

  • "Telling the Bees," "Hey for the Ferry!" and two in the style of Frith, all thimblerig and crinolines, given them by Swithin.

    Complete Project Gutenberg John Galsworthy Works

  • Your genuine pietist would find a mystical sense in thimblerig.

    The Life and Letters of Thomas Henry Huxley

  • Russian carnival on the ice, oxen being sometimes roasted whole, and all kinds of "fakirs," as they are now termed, selling doughnuts, spruce-beer, and gingerbread, or tempting the adventurous with thimblerig; many pedestrians stopping at the old-fashioned inn on Smith's

    Memoirs

  • There are comic and _genre_ pictures of parties, where the gentlemen and ladies are sometimes represented as being the worse for wine; of dances where ballet-girls in short dresses perform very modern-looking pirouettes; of exercises in wrestling, games of ball, games of chance like chess or checkers, of throwing knives at a mark, of the modern thimblerig, wooden dolls for children, curiously carved wooden boxes, dice, and toy-balls.

    Ten Great Religions An Essay in Comparative Theology

  • Our artist then can cover up faces, and yet show them quite clearly, as in the thimblerig group; or he can do without faces altogether; or he can, at a pinch, provide a countenance for a gentleman out of any given object -- a beautiful Irish physiognomy being moulded upon a keg of whiskey; and a jolly English countenance frothing out of a pot of ale

    George Cruikshank

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