“Flim-flam” is a word used to describe a confidence trick, also deceptive, nonsensical, or insincere talk. Synonyms are: con, confidence game, ripoff, scam, a grift, a hustle, a bunko (or bunco), a swindle, a gaffle, or a bamboozle.
So many words for cheating really raises your respect for your fellow man, doesn’t it?
The word was first used in the mid-1500s and the source is unknown.
A “flim-flam” is a scheme to defraud a person or group after first gaining their confidence, used in the classical sense of trust. Confidence tricks exploit characteristics of the human psyche, such as credulity, naïveté, compassion, vanity, irresponsibility and, of course, greed. The intended victims are known as marks, suckers, stooges, mugs, rubes, or gulls (from the word gullible). When accomplices are employed, they are known as shills.
The perpetrator of a flim-flam or confidence trick is often referred to as a confidence (or con) man, con-artist, or a “grifter.” In the US, Samuel Thompson (1821–1856) was the original “confidence man.” Thompson was a clumsy swindler who asked his victims to express confidence in him by giving him money or their watches rather than gaining their confidence in a more nuanced way. A few people trusted Thompson with their money and watches. Thompson was arrested in July 1849. The National Police Gazette coined the term “confidence game.”
The victim is given an opportunity to profit from a scheme. The victim’s greed, or eagerness to get something for nothing is encouraged, often impairing their rational judgment of the situation. The victim receives a small payout as proof of the scheme’s effectiveness. In a gambling con, the victim is allowed to win several small bets. In a stock market con, the victim is given fake dividends. A sudden crisis or change of events forces the victim to act immediately. This is the point at which the con succeeds or fails.
The shill aids the con-man by putting money into the same scheme as the victim, making it look legitimate. Or, he may play the part of an uninvolved and skeptical third party, who later confirms the con man’s claims.
Flin Flon Flim-Flam was the title of an article about a flap in a Manitoba mining company.
Flip-Flop Flim-Flam headed an article in Mother Jones about politics.