Thursday, July 27, 2006


During the Gold Rush, when entertainment was hard to come by, gamblers played a low-stakes dice game called Chuck-A-Luck. Three dice were involved, and a player would bet on various possible combinations: (1) all three numbers the same, (2) a certain total being achieved, (3) or one specific number showing up.

To insure that no one was palming dice or otherwise manipulating the toss, the bones were tumbled in a horn-shaped metal device before being cast on the table. The device was called a tin horn.

This game was too simple for the more sophisticated gamblers who preferred faro, so it was viewed with contempt. “Tinhorn gambler” was thus born, referring to a cheap, bragging lout who dresses flashily and pretends to be wealthy. Once that term was established, it led to tinhorn element (1886), tinhorn lawyer (1903), tinhorn Casanova (1959), and tinhorn paradise (1977).

A related contemptuous term is tin-pot, resembling or suggesting a tin pot in quality or sound, and therefore without solid worth, of inferior quality, shabby, poor, cheap. Tin-pot dictator and tin-pot politician are two examples.

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