We discussed a couple of unusual expressions related to the legal profession last week.

For lack of space, we also ignored a rather interesting word, which we will cover today.

And while we are on the topic, we will explore other expressions that describe people engaging in fraud or cheating in some way.

Shill: One time I was at a train station, where I was approached by someone who was offering to sell branded, expensive sunglasses for next to nothing. I’m sure we have encountered such fraudulent offers. As it happens, even as I refused, this seller was approached by a ‘customer’ who was interested in buying, and was praising the quality of the sunglasses loudly enough for me to hear. We know the routine with these things. The ‘customer’ who showed interest was a ‘shill’--a person who was in league with the seller, and was trying to get him business by tricking other people.

The job of a shill is to pretend to be a customer, lend legitimacy to the business or the seller by pretending to like and buy the product, and thus trick other people around into buying the product too.

As you can tell, this is an unflattering way to describe someone who is putting on an act, being dishonest, and essentially trying to defraud others. The meaning of the word is often extended to describe people who are known apologists or unreasonably strong supporters of political parties, politicians, etc.

For example, you might say: ‘Although the government has failed to implement any welfare policies, this prominent journalist--who is perhaps a government shill--continues to praise it.’ Here is another example: ‘The mining activities have damaged our forests and hurt the local people, but the media, which is basically a shill for large corporations, has failed to take the issue seriously.’

Charlatan: Let’s deal with the pronunciation first. ‘Charlatan’ is pronounced--to indicate very roughly-- as ‘shaar-la-tan’. This is a word of French origin, that again means ‘a fraud’ or ‘a trickster.’ The precise usage is important though. A charlatan is someone who fakes a specific skill, or knowledge of a particular profession in order to cheat people and make some quick money. For example, you would frequently come across news items about charlatans who go from town to town pretending to be spiritual guides, and in the process steal money from people.

The word is perhaps most commonly used to describe people who pretend to have professional medical expertise, but are actually not qualified doctors at all. If you are angry at a doctor and believe him to be extremely incompetent, you might call him a ‘charlatan’--which would definitely be an insult--even though you are aware that he has a medical degree.

Nilesh Jahagirdar

nilesh@skillspark.com