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Unknown; attested as verb 1914, as noun 1916.[1][2] Perhaps an abbreviation of 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 an extended form of 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.

American humorist Benjamin Penhallow Shillaber (1814–1890) was known to write under the name Mrs. Ruth Partington to lend credibility to some of his ideas. This is one more possible origin of the word, although there is no specific evidence supporting a connection.



shill (plural shills)

  1. A person paid to endorse a product while pretending to be impartial.
    carnival barkers and their shills, fleecing the rubes
    • 2014 June 26, A. A. Dowd, “Paul Rudd and Amy Poehler Spoof Rom-com Clichés in They Came Together”, in The A.V. Club[1], archived from the original on 7 December 2017:
      You’ve Got Mail is certainly the basic model for the plot, which finds corporate candy shill Joel ([Paul] Rudd) and indie-sweetshop owner Molly ([Amy] Poehler) regaling their dinner companions with the very long, digressive story of how they met and fell in love.
    • 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. (derogatory) Any person paid to endorse a product.
    On the screen, there was that quack again, playing the shill for yet another drug company.
  3. 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.
  4. (gambling) A house player in a casino.
    Synonym: stick
    • 2000, Dennis R. Harrison, Casino Gambling: Your Absolute, Quintessential, All You Wanted to Know ...[2]:
      There may even be a casino shill sitting adjacent to you. Normally, the casino shills are gorgeous women, and sometimes men, so enjoy the scenery.




shill (third-person singular simple present shills, present participle shilling, simple past and past participle shilled)

  1. (derogatory) 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.
    • 2022 March 31, David Yaffe-Bellany, “Ben McKenzie Would Like a Word With the Crypto Bros”, in The New York Times[3], →ISSN:
      Over the last six months, as A-list celebrities have shilled for digital currencies and NFTs, Mr. McKenzie, a TV actor best known for his starring role in “The O.C.,” has become an outspoken skeptic.
  2. To put under cover; to sheal.
  3. (UK, obsolete, dialect) To shell.

Related terms[edit]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ Oxford English Dictionary, 1884–1928, and First Supplement, 1933.
  2. ^ Douglas Harper (2001–2023), “shill”, in Online Etymology Dictionary.
  3. ^ Studies in the history of the English language II: unfolding conversations, by Anne Curzan, Kimberly Emmons, page 90
  4. ^ The name's familiar II, by Laura Lee, page 294