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Alternative forms[edit]


From gold +‎ brick, originally (1850s) an actual gold ingot or brick,[1] later a swindle that consisted of selling a putative gold brick, which was only coated in gold. The swindle is attested from 1879,[1] the sense “to swindle” is attested 1902, and the sense “to shirk” is attested 1914, popularized as World War I armed forces slang.[2] In early 1900s, used to refer to an unattractive young woman – not pretty, nor able to talk or dance (attested 1903), thence to refer to incompetent enlisted troops at the start of World War I, reinforced by the rank insignia of second lieutenants, which was a gold rectangle.[1]


goldbrick (plural goldbricks)

  1. Something fraudulent or nonexistent offered for sale; a swindle or con.
    • 1920, F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Smart Set, January 1920, collected in Tales of the Jazz Age:
      Experience is the biggest gold brick in the world. All older people have it for sale.
    • 1932, Rafael De Nogales, Memoirs Of A Soldier Of Fortune, Kessinger Publishing (2006), →ISBN, page 98:
      These, as a rule, were not adverse to buying a goldbrick as long as they knew that there was a chance for them to dump it on somebody else afterwards with some profit.
    • 1932, in Harper's Magazine, Volume 166,[2] page 520:
      To-day, American attitude toward Europe is comparable to that of the country greenhorn who, having bought a goldbrick on Broadway, now fills the air not merely with the denunciation of the sharpers who tricked his credulity — []
    • 1945, in the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Immigration Bulletin, Volumes 422–433,[3] page 5:
      The average farmer may be less of a victim than some other people by reason of his isolation, conservatism, and hard earned money, but he, too, has too often bought a goldbrick that did not materialize.
    • c. 1967, Edmund Wilson, quoted in Lewis M. Dabney, Edmund Wilson: A Life in Literature,[4][5] Macmillan (2005), →ISBN, page 485:
      [] that if he bought a goldbrick from Podhoretz for $25,000, he ought to pay me more than the $5,000 a volume that had been agreed on for the pure gold []
  2. (US, slang, dated) A shirker or malingerer.
    • 1945, Dr. Charley Haly, quoted in Doc: heroic stories of medics, corpsmen, and surgeons in combat by Mark R. Littleton, p. 68
      Mac, there’s not a confounded thing wrong with you. You are an excellent physical specimen and in good health. You’re nothing but a goldbrick. Now, get your butt out of here and don’t ever come back again unless you’re really sick or need an immunization.
    • 2004 (written c. 1990), Howard Ashman, Aladdin: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack, “Proud of your Boy”:
      Tell me that I’ve been a louse and loafer
      You won’t get a fight here, no ma’am
      Say I’m a goldbrick, a good-off, no good
      But that couldn’t be all that I am
  3. (US, slang, dated) A swindler.


goldbrick (third-person singular simple present goldbricks, present participle goldbricking, simple past and past participle goldbricked)

  1. (US, slang, dated) To shirk or malinger.
    • 1989, Greil Marcus, “The Assault on Notre-Dame”, in Lipstick Traces, Faber & Faber, published 2009:
      He learned to despise the Germans, people he once thought fit to rule the world, but now so craven they ate French dirt for a glass of cheap campagne; he mastered the art of goldbricking. Sitting at his desk, bored and full of hate, he got fat and dreamed of Paris.
  2. (US, slang, dated) To swindle.

Derived terms[edit]


  • Okinawan: ゴーブレーキ (goobureeki)


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Goldbricking” in Michael Quinion, World Wide Words[1], 10 September 2005.
  2. ^ goldbrick” in Douglas Harper, Online Etymology Dictionary, 2001–2021.