In this question we discussed the etymology of the word "snooker" as a noun, based on a game played on a pool table. But dictionary.com references a form of the word, "snookered" as a slang verb that means to "deceive, cheat, or dupe: to be snookered by a mail order company." (I wonder what the editor had against mail order companies?) Unfortunately, the word's origins are unknown to that site. Any ideas?

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    The Online Etymology Dictionary says: snooker (verb): "to cheat," early 1900s, from snooker (n.), probably because in the game novices can easily be tricked.
    – JLG
    Mar 19, 2013 at 20:08
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    Snooker is played on a snooker table. Mar 19, 2013 at 20:51
  • 3
    Snooker is (and originally the early forms of pool were) played on a billiards table (billiards pre-dates snooker by quite a way). Mar 19, 2013 at 23:47
  • In the movie the Hustler, the name of the pool hall that Eddie (Paul Newman) was hustled by Minnesota Fats (Jackie Gleason) was called Snookies.
    – user60717
    Dec 27, 2013 at 19:20
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    The Oxford English Dictionary has: snooker v. to place in an impossible position; to balk, 'stymie' (1889). Nowhere does it suggest that the word in any of its forms ever had any connotation of "cheating".
    – ekhumoro
    Dec 27, 2013 at 21:08

5 Answers 5



snooker (verb): "to cheat," early 1900s, from snooker (n.), probably because in the game novices can easily be tricked.

That said, the term is also used in the game itself to represent a position of difficulty. Wiktionary alludes to this in its entry:

  1. In a situation where the cue ball position is such that one cannot directly hit the required object ball.
  2. (informal) In a difficult situation, especially because of the actions of others.

Snookers are not that simple to achieve or to get out of. To snooker somebody would be to place an opponent in a difficult situation and to be snookered would imply that you are in a difficult situation. Snookering your opponent is part and parcel of the modern game. But I can see that it could be extended to mean to trick. Considering the game's British roots, it might have been considered ungentlemanly to resort to an intentional snooker (as the primary aim is to pot the balls), thereby lending the term connotations of deception and cheating.

An American equivalent would be the idiom, behind the eight ball.

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    I dunno about that; snookering somebody is an integral part of the game of snooker as I see it; it's a perfectly legitimate tactic, and necessary if you don't have enough balls left on the table to beat the opponent. Extending it to mean trick or deceive seems a bit of a misuse of the term.
    – Jez
    Apr 10, 2013 at 22:13
  • @Jez And not just legitimate but the mark of a good player. The primary aim is NOT to pot the balls, it's to get a higher score than your opponent. If you set up a snooker, causing your opponent to miss the target, you gain 4 points as well as control of play.
    – Mynamite
    Apr 16, 2013 at 23:01

As a Brit, I have never understood "snookered" to mean "to deceive, cheat, or dupe".

Chambers gives one meaning as "to thwart (a person or a plan)", which is what I've always understood it to mean.

Oxford Dictionaries suggests that there are different British & US meanings:

British: leave (someone) in a difficult position; thwart

US: trick, entice, or trap

  • Yes. 'Snookered' in Britain means that all avenues have been closed to you.
    – user52780
    Sep 29, 2013 at 20:36

Based on the comments above, to "snooker" someone is to maneuver them into an unpleasant situation, perhaps a dead end. That could be a perfectly "legitimate" move, in a game or business dealing.

But it has the connotations of "take advantage of." If you uses that as a starting point, the meaning could be twisted around, at least to "cheating."

Essentially, the difference between "snookering" and cheating is whether you take advantage of someone "fair and square," or otherwise.


A snooker table has holes that are narrow with curved rails leading into the deep throat. When the cue ball is in this throat, particularly if against the rail, the cue ball may only be shot pretty much straight out from the hole, and not along either adjacent rail. If your target is thus inacessible, you are “snookered”.


A story I heard was, some locals would talk someone who thought they were good at 8-ball pool into playing it on the Snooker table: with different dimensions and narrower pockets, they would then have an advantage over someone who hadn't played on one.

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