What does the expression “to play fast and loose” mean and Where does it come from?

When something has been promised and the promise accepted in good faith, but never fulfilled, he who made the promise has “played fast and loose” with the person to whom it was made; that is, he was not trustworthy.

The expression was the name of a game known and played as far back as the first half of the sixteenth century.

It was a cheating game played at village fairs by sharpers, usually gipsies. A belt or strap was doubled and coiled in such a manner that, when laid edgewise, it appeared to have a loop in its center.

That was the trick; for the loop seemed to be so definitely a loop that it was not difficult to persuade a rustic that he could easily fasten the belt to the table by running a skewer through the loop. After bets were placed the sharper skilfully unrolled the belt, which had had no loop in it at all.

The game must have been quite popular, for it was mentioned by many writers of the period. Shakespeare spoke of it in King John, in Love’s Labor’s Lost, and in Antony and Cleopatra.

In more recent years the same trick has been known as “Prick the Loop,” or “Prick the Garter.”

About Karen Hill

Karen Hill is a freelance writer, editor, and columnist. Born in New York, her work has appeared in the Examiner, Yahoo News, Buzzfeed, among others.

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