play fast and loose

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From the con game Fast-and-loose, a cheating game played with a stick and a belt or string, so arranged that a spectator would think he could make the latter fast by placing a stick through its intricate folds, whereas the operator could detach it at once.


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play fast and loose

  1. (idiomatic) To ignore proper behavior or social conventions, especially when it suits one's purpose.
    I cannot say that there were any outright lies in the editorial, but it does play fast and loose with the truth.
  2. (idiomatic) To be recklessly inaccurate, inappropriate, or otherwise ignoring guidelines and conventions.
  3. (idiomatic) To act in a tricky, inconstant way, saying one thing and doing another.


  • c. 1596, William Shakespear, The Life and Death of King John, Act III, Scene 1
    And shall these hands, so lately purg’d of blood, / So newly join’d in love, so strong in both, / Unyoke this seizure and this kind regreet? / Play fast and loose with faith?
  • 1848, William Makepeace Thackeray. Vanity Fair
    “It’s a shame, by Heavens,” said George, working himself up into passion and enthusiasm as he proceeded, “to play at fast and loose with a young girl’s affections—and with such an angel as that—one so superior to the people amongst whom she lived, that she might have excited envy, only she was so good and gentle, that it’s wonder anybody dared to hate her.”
  • 1921, A. W. Ward et al., editors. The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes
    A devout scripturist, he accepted the Hebrew Bible as the final word of God, not to be played fast and loose with but to be received as a rule of universal application, perfect to the last word and least injunction.
  • a. 1915, Sir James George Frazer. The Golden Bough
    But while in the case of ordinary men the observance of the rules is left to the choice of the individual, in the case of the god-man it is enforced under penalty of dismissal from his high station, or even of death. For his worshippers have far too great a stake in his life to allow him to play fast and loose with it.
  • 2001, Douglas Waller. "Some Shaky Figures on ANWR Drilling" Time 13 August.
    Congress loves to play fast and loose with numbers, particularly when one side or the other is using them to justify a bill.
  • 2003, Jonathan Krim. "FCC Delivers Mixed Vote on Competition" Washington Post 21 February.
    "We are playing fast and loose with the country's broadband future," said Democratic commissioner Michael J. Copps. "Today we may be choking off competition. . . . Consumers and the Internet itself may well suffer."