shill

[ shil ]
/ ʃɪl /
Slang.

noun

a person who poses as a customer in order to decoy others into participating, as at a gambling house, auction, confidence game, etc.
a person who publicizes or praises something or someone for reasons of self-interest, personal profit, or friendship or loyalty.

verb (used without object)

to work as a shill: He shills for a large casino.

verb (used with object)

to advertise or promote (a product) as or in the manner of a huckster; hustle: He was hired to shill a new TV show.

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Origin of shill

First recorded in 1920–25; origin uncertain
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2020

VOCAB BUILDER

What does shill mean?

A shill is a person who praises or promotes something because they secretly have a personal stake in it.

Where does shill come from?

A shill is a hustler or con-person who tries to convince other people to buy something or think something is great (shilling). The shill has ulterior motives for their actions, usually because they are the actual seller or have something to gain if the product sells well.

The word shill has a complicated history, oddly appropriate considering the underhanded meaning of the slang word. Many dictionaries maintain that shill comes from an older word, shillaber, a noun with the same meaning as shill and with an obscure origin. Both shill and shillaber are found in the early 20th-century in carnival (or “carny“) lingo, which isn’t well documented.

Shill was used as early as 1911, when it appeared in a short story in The Metropolitan to describe planted bidders who submitted fake bids to drive up the price of items in an auction.

Shillaber appears even earlier in a 1908 Los Angeles Herald story in which a man running a rigged carnival game used the word to refer to his assistants who pretended to be customers.

A 1915 article in The Day Book, also about rigged carnival games, directly connects shill with shillaber and says they can be used interchangeably.

How is shill used in real life?

Over 100 years later, shills are as widely disliked as they ever were. Thanks to the ease of posting things anonymously, it is especially easy to shill online.

Elsewhere, shill remains a popular term for hustlers, hucksters, con artists, and liars. As our examples show, shill is both a noun (e.g., a corporate shill) and verb (e.g., his article is just shilling for Big Oil).

More examples of shill:

“Thanks To All Those Shills On Twitter And Facebook, People Don’t Trust Their Friends Anymore”
—Michael Bush, AdAge (headline), February 2010

Note

This content is not meant to be a formal definition of this term. Rather, it is an informal summary that seeks to provide supplemental information and context important to know or keep in mind about the term’s history, meaning, and usage.

Example sentences from the Web for shill

British Dictionary definitions for shill

shill
/ (ʃɪl) /

noun

slang a confidence trickster's assistant, esp a person who poses as an ordinary customer, gambler, etc, in order to entice others to participate

Word Origin for shill

C20: perhaps shortened from shillaber a circus barker, of unknown origin
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012