I came across the slang term "Goldbrick" in the American WWII cartoon Private Snafu The Goldbrick (Warning: possibly sexist at the start, and possibly racist near the end).

I'd never heard the word before, which makes me suspect that it's only found in American English.

Is the term commonly used nowadays in the United States, including outside of military contexts?

  • 4
    Familiar to most (at least over 40), but declining in popularity as this ngram suggests.
    – bib
    Sep 6, 2014 at 11:25

3 Answers 3


The term has an interesting story. From the “the celebrated gold brick swindle” of October 1879, the term took on a different meaning. It is currently used mainly with as a noun meaning shirker and as a verb meaning to swindle. As noted, its usage has been decreasing in recent decades.

Goldbrick : (www.merriam-webster.com)


  • something that appears to be valuable but is actually worthless
  • a person who shirks assigned work


  • transitive verb : swindle.
  • intransitive verb : to shirk duty or responsibility

Goldbrick (n.) (Eyimonline)

  • "shirker," 1914, World War I armed forces slang, from earlier verb meaning "to swindle, cheat" (1902) from the old con game of selling spurious "gold" bricks (attested by 1882).

The phrase “to sell someone a gold brick went into the language meaning to swindle and “to gold brick” came to mean perpetrating a fraud.

  • The sense was originally US Army slang, which clearly grew out of this. In the early 1900s, gold brick was used for an unattractive young woman (in 1903, midshipmen went on record that a gold brick was a girl who could neither talk, dance, nor look pretty). This is presumably from the idea of a gold brick being a fraud.

  • Incompetent officers appointed from civilian life at the start of the First World War with only minimal training were likewise called gold bricks by enlisted men (in the case of second lieutenants, this was probably provoked by their rank insignia, a gold rectangle).

  • At some point during that War, the term was extended to refer to anybody not pulling his weight, a malingerer or loafer. This would seem to have grown up not so much from the idea of a person being a fraud (though that presumably contributed) but from that of a criminal who would do anything, including sell fake gold bricks, rather than do an honest day’s work.

Source: www.worldwidewords.org


The term 'goldbrick' is still in use. Usage goes back about 150 years, primarily in the U.S. Originally it referred to an actual 'brick', made to appear precious, but mostly useless.

It can be used as a noun, verb, adjective.

Over the years, the meaning has expanded. In regards to a person, it refers to a worker who makes the appearance of being useful, valuable, but mostly is not productive, and much less valuable than appearances. They are lazy, malingerers, skackers, loafers, and have the appearances of what they are. Rather useless. Goldbricks are these things, but they have camouflaged their true nature. They are not obviously slackers and time wasters.

Instead of one trip for three items, they will make three trips for one item.

What can be done in ten minutes, will take an hour. When in sight of other workers, they will always be on the move. Briskly walking here and there, they often have something in their hand, any piece of paper will do. They appear to be a person with a mission. Their mission is to burn up time. Busy doing anything - except the assigned duties.

Like most slang words, there is no precise meaning.

No one likes a goldbrick. They are generally more congenial and sociable than the typical loafers, but they never fail to avoid their responsibilities, putting the work off onto others.


I thought goldbricking went back to construction where every 50 or 100 bricks was painted gold in an effort to measure work done by brick layers. A shiftless worker who tried to get more credit than due, went for the gold bricks rather than actually doing the work in a linear manner.

  • 1
    Please add further details to expand on your answer, such as by adding supporting citations and references surrounded by your own words explaining why you think this is the right answer.
    – Community Bot
    Aug 31, 2021 at 0:38

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.