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Shill (plural Shills)
  1. A person paid to endorse a product favourably, while pretending to be impartial.
    • 1983, Robert Anton Wilson, Prometheus Rising,
      Witnesses have testified that Jim Jones (like a few other professional faith-healers) used shills part of the time....
  2. An accomplice at a confidence trick during an auction or gambling game.
    • 1994, Cormac McCarthy, The Crossing,
      The pitchman swept his cane in a slow acceleration over the heads of the crowd and then suddenly pointed the silver cap toward Billy and the shill.


Shill (third-person singular simple present Shills, present participle Shilling, simple past and past participle Shilled)

  1. (pejorative) To promote or endorse in return for payment, especially dishonestly.
    • 1996, Carl Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World,
      Today there are even commercials in which real scientists, some of considerable distinction, shill for corporations. They teach that scientists too will lie for money. As Tom Paine warned, inuring us to lies lays the groundwork for many other evils.
  2. To put under cover; to sheal.

Related terms


agent provocateur, bid, bid in, bid up, blind, bonnet, booster, by-bidder, capper, come-on man, decoy, make a bid, make an offer, offer, offer to buy, plant, stick, stool pigeon, stoolie


Unknown; attested as verb 1914, as noun 1916.[1][2] Perhaps an abbreviation of the Yiddish shillaber, attested 1913. The word entered English via carny, originally denoting a carnival worker who pretends to be a member of the audience in an attempt to elicit interest in an attraction.

Speculatively cognate to German Schieber (black marketeer, profiteer) via *shi-la-ber.[3]

There are some suggestions that it originates in the surname Shilaber or Shillibeer, especially George Shillibeer ,[4] but proposed origins are dubious as the word is first attested in North America in the 20th century, while proposed models are 19th century British.







  1. Oxford English Dictionary, 1884-1928, and First Supplement, 1933
  2. Shill” in the Online Etymology Dictionary, Douglas Harper, 2001
  3. Studies in the history of the English language II: unfolding conversations, by Anne Curzan, Kimberly Emmons, p. 90
  4. The name's familiar II, by Laura Lee, p. 294