Unknown; attested as verb 1914, as noun 1916. 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.
There are some suggestions that it originates in the surname Shilaber or Shillibeer, especially George Shillibeer, 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.
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.
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, →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.