“Four flushing” means empty boasting or unsuccessful bluffing. “Four flusher” can also refer to a welsher, piker, or braggart. This pejorative term originated in the 1800s when bluffing poker players misrepresented that they had a flush—a poker hand with five cards all of one suit—when they only had four cards of one suit. Strategies for bluffing or folding when holding a four flush have been explored extensively in poker strategy books.
It is uncertain whether four flushing should be characterized as cheating (which is dishonest) or bluffing (which is deception but not necessarily dishonest in poker). For example, the term “ace up one’s sleeve” is different from “ace in the hole.” Each of them represents a concealed advantage. But the first results from cheating, the second does not.
The Pocket Dictionary of American Slang (1960, 1967) has these definitions:
—One who bluffs; a pretender; especially one who pretends to have money while living off or borrowing from others; one who does not pay his debts. Colloquial.
—Four flushing, adjective, living off or supported by others; borrowing from others.
The phrase has been used many times in both entertainment and political theater:
—The first Governor of Oklahoma, Charles N. Haskell, denounced President and political opponent Theodore Roosevelt, calling him a “four flusher.”
—Metro Pictures released a comedy titled The Four-Flusher in 1919. Several other films have used the term in their titles.
—Following his dismissal of Gen. MacArthur as Supreme Commander of Allied Powers in 1951, President Harry Truman confided to Merle Miller that Gen. George Marshall referred to MacArthur as a “four-flusher and no two ways about it.”
—A Popeye cartoon released in 1954 was titled “Floor Flusher,” as a pun on four flusher.
My father taught me to play blackjack poker when I was about eleven or twelve, but he always won all my pennies, so obviously I never even learned how to bluff, never mind be a four flusher.