The Washington Post (May 1st) runs an article under the headline, “Eight ways Trump got rolled in his first budget negotiation,” which is followed by the following paragraph:

“Democrats are surprised by just how many concessions they extracted in the trillion-dollar deal, considering that Republicans have unified control of the government. Democratic leaders Charles Schumer and Nancy Pelosi quickly put out celebratory statements last night. Republican leaders Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan did not. Here are eight ways President Trump got rolled.”

Though I don’t find the meanings of “get rolled” in my dictionaries at hand, Urban dictionary defines the meaning of “get rolled” as

1) having been busted by the police or other authority for usually small incidents ie parties. The word comes from: the cops "rolled" (in thier cars/motorcycle) up and proceeded to enforce the law.

2) past tense of creating a joint: We got rolled at the park for smoking our weed that we just rolled.

I also found the following statement online:

For an “older” person the meaning of getting “rolled” is typically understood. However, since my appeal is for all generations to understand and to protect me from being unfairly characterized – I double checked with Urban dictionary. While I discovered a number of more creative definitions, the old school definition seemed to still apply: “getting mugged, ripped off, robbed, etc.” typically coupled with violence. - From (iontams.com).

To me Urban dictionary’s “busted by the police” doesn’t seem to fit “got rolled” in the “Eight ways Trump got rolled in his first budget negotiation.” It's highly unlikely that the President gets busted. What does this phrase mean in the context of the Washington Post’ s article?

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    M-W gives the sense << roll v trans: 7 : to rob (a drunk, sleeping, or unconscious person) usually by going through the pockets; broadly : rob >> Commented May 4, 2017 at 21:39
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    Urban dictionary, while a good source of the existence of slang not found in more formal dictionaries, is not a reliable source of explanations. Somehow most everything tends towards sex there somehow, when it's just not the case usually. (Yes sometimes but not as often as The kids that submit to UD think.
    – Mitch
    Commented May 4, 2017 at 21:40
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    Search for 'roll a drunk'. I think that usage is more relevant here.
    – Mitch
    Commented May 4, 2017 at 21:42
  • AHD and RHK Webster's also list this sense, but flag it as 'slang'. Commented May 4, 2017 at 21:45
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    I'd guess that most young people take it as a combination of the old "mugged" sense and the more recent Sports short hand of 'got rolled over' ... meaning completely dominated and unable to put up any defense against the assault. I think a figurative use of those same meanings with regards to a police bust is logical for kids who resent that imposition of authority with real consequences for something they regard as routine.
    – Tom22
    Commented May 4, 2017 at 23:37

7 Answers 7


Especially because this is a headline, it could be a compressed use of the figurative term "steamrolled."

On April 25, Politico ran a similar headline: Ryan likely to get rolled on tax reform.

The content of the article begins:

Donald Trump is set to steamroll Paul Ryan on tax reform, the issue the speaker has devoted his political career to achieving. But don’t expect Ryan to relinquish his pet cause easily.

Unlike the Politico piece, the Washington Post uses the word "rolled" only in the headline, not in the content, so we can only speculate, but evidently using "rolled" as a condensed form of "steamrolled" has recent precedent.

In this sense, either to "roll" or to "steamroll" means to best an opponent or force them in a particular direction against their will. See definitions below.

The terms are sometimes used interchangeably in sports reporting as well. In this recent example, there is no mention of who is getting rolled, but the use of "roll" in the headline appears to be shorthand for "steamroll" based on the subheading:

Headline: "Bulldogs roll their way to Sulphur"

Subheading: "Behind their two LSU-Eunice signees, Ascension Catholic was able to dominate Catholic of Pointe Coupee from start to finish and steamroll to a 10-1 victory that pushed them through to the semifinals after falling in the quarterfinals for three straight seasons.

MacMillan offers this definition of steamroll:

To defeat or destroy an opponent completely.

OED also offers a figurative definition and example of "steamroll" in this context:

(b) fig.; (also) to force or drive in a given direction (cf. steam-roller v. 2).

1975 Times 21 July 1/8 The ruling party..will steamroll the endorsement through.

It is not uncommon in headline writing to colloquialize or abbreviate expressions to make a concise point, especially in a piece as informal as the Post article in question. My interpretation of the headline is that Trump got steamrolled by the Democrats.

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    This is closer to my understanding of the political term than the lengthy explanation of rick-rolling above...It was interesting but I think overstated the influence of internet memes on political journalism when the idea of steamrolling someone has been around much longer. Commented May 5, 2017 at 6:54
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    It's totally correct here that the headline means was beaten badly. And it is true that the phrase "steamrolled" means something like "was beaten badly". BUT just to be clear, I really don't think the phrase "rolled" comes from "steamrolled".
    – Fattie
    Commented May 5, 2017 at 14:37
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    @Fattie I agree that "rolled" can mean many different things, and a lot of them derive from the "swindled" / "cheated" meaning. But I also think it's in the nature of political writing to use intense action words like "steamrolled," and as in the Politico case, it can be shortened to "rolled." It's because this is political writing that I interpret it to mean "steamrolled." Commented May 5, 2017 at 14:51
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    "Steamroll" has the sense of "flatten". I believe this "roll" has the sense of "dislodged"/"sent packing".
    – Colin
    Commented May 5, 2017 at 14:54
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    @Fattie RE It could be an abbreviated use of the figurative term. It certainly could be, because that's exactly what was done in the Politico article. Just look at the headline and the first sentence. politico.com/story/2017/04/25/ryan-trump-tax-reform-237604 Commented May 5, 2017 at 15:18

Roll is one of those words with dozens of different dictionary definitions, plus dozens more slang and metaphorical uses, so I sympathize with you here.

Here, to roll someone is to rob or to scam them, as Cascabel has noted. But furthermore, this usage has become conflated with a type of Internet prank known as rolling, with a separate origin, but one that also carries a sense of trickery.

In Collins, see verb meaning 24 of roll:

(transitive) informal, mainly US and New Zealand
to rob (a helpless person, such as someone drunk or asleep)

The archetypical roll in American English is to roll a drunk; imagine a drunkard passed out on the floor, and turning the body over to steal his wallet or jewelry. One who preys on drunks is thus a drunk-roller or jack-roller, the latter term originating with thieves and prostitutes who targeted lumberjacks, who got paid in a lump sum at the end of the season, and would be flush with cash and whiskey.

Metaphorically, if someone gets rolled in a negotiation, they have been swindled or cheated; they are so incompetent or hapless that they might as well have been asleep.

In Internet culture, duckrolling began on the 4chan discussion forum around 2006. It began as a joke where egg was replaced with duck on the board, resulting in the word eggroll being replaced with duckroll, prompting someone to post an image of a duck with wheels, prompting someone else to create a video clip of this duck with its wheels spinning, prompting still others to advertise one video but link to this one instead.

This gave rise to the much better-known prank of rickrolling. Instead of the rolling duck, the surprise clip in a rickroll is the music video of Rick Astley's 1987 song Never Gonna Give You Up

As such, rolling in Internet slang refers to trickery where one thing is advertised but something else entirely is provided, not unlike a bait-and-switch scam in commerce. If someone is rolled, he or she has fallen prey to the trick.

In the column, Hohmann points out that Congressional Democrats were able to force the administration to make many concessions, even though both houses as well as the White House are controlled by the Republicans. He attributes this to the inexperience of the Trump administration, whose lack of understanding of the rules seems to have allowed them to be rolled, whichever way you interpret it.

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    I don't think this is the same "get rolled" as the OP is asking about. See my answer below.
    – Colin
    Commented May 5, 2017 at 5:19
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    "Here, to roll someone is to rob or to scam them" totally wrong. the headline very simply means nothing more than "was beaten" or "was beaten badly" ir, quite simply, "was forced to roll over" - "was forced in to submission". Exactly as in "Alabama rolled over the other teams". (Roll tide!) There's utterly no connection here to robbing or scamming.
    – Fattie
    Commented May 5, 2017 at 14:36
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    Quite simply, there is utterly no connection to cheating or swindling in the article. On the contrary, the Democrats just simply, well, rolled the president: they didn't have to lie, swindle, or make any extreme acts. It's as simple as saying "the president caved-in". They rolled that dude! :)
    – Fattie
    Commented May 5, 2017 at 14:43
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    for anyone reading this answer, while the explanation of "rickrolling" (the internet slang) is utterly astute and beautifully written (as with every post from Chos) it honestly just has utterly no connection, in any way, at all, whatsoever, not even vaguely or in passing, to the question at hand. (heh!) to mention that someone was "rolled" in sports or politics is an utterly everyday phrase, with an utterly clear meaning ("beaten badly"); other obscure usages ("smoked marijuana!" "internet advertising") are, really, utterly unrelated.
    – Fattie
    Commented May 5, 2017 at 15:07
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    I am 100% sure the headline is not referring to rickrolling or any other kind of internet troll activity.
    – stannius
    Commented May 5, 2017 at 15:12

The meaning is given by the 1961 Books and Bookmen

But then I finally got rolled (i.e., attacked and robbed).

A more-famous use of the phrase is discussed in the 15 April 1950 article Is He a Big Laugh!

Richard Red Skelton has been specializing in laughter. He will do anything, absolutely anything clean on the screen, stage, radio or in real life to make people laugh, smile, grin, titter, chuckle or giggle. In 1937, for example, when he was working the Capitol Theatre in Washington, D.C., he was invited by President Roosevelt to entertain at a White House luncheon. Midway during the proceedings. Red stopped a Presidential toast by grabbing F.D.R.'s glass. "Careful what you drink, Mr. President," he warned. "I got rolled in a place like this once." Roosevelt roared and for years thereafter asked Skelton to emcee the annual Presidential Birthday Ball, the honor the comedian is most proud of.

  • This is the interpretation I took from the headline originally: that Trump was metaphorically mugged and had his valuables stolen. The other answers make a good case that the author's intention was otherwise; it may be that "get rolled" has evolved to a more generic meaning from its more violent roots. Commented May 6, 2017 at 17:03
  • @JeremyNottingham "when the nice new president [Obama] came and offered her [Hillary Clinton] the secretary of state job, and she said yes, she got rolled. What he got was clear: He took her off the chessboard" opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/07/17/…
    – DavePhD
    Commented May 7, 2017 at 12:27

This "got rolled" is "was forced to back down or depart, was dislodged" (as if an inanimate obstacle). If you got rolled, probably you have been bested easily, put up little fight.

This meaning is fairly recent slang and appears on urban dictionary, e.g.:

Rolled - 1. a homeless person rousted from his or her (presumabley illegal) sleeping place by the police "Man, if i sleep in my car, i hope i don't GET ROLLED .

The headline is saying that Trump was handily forced to retreat from his negotiating position.


I've also heard "rolled over" in the same way as "turned over" or possibly "tumbled", all meaning robbed.


"Rolled" looks like the french word "roulé" meaning scammed, swindled


"Rolled" in this sense is referring to a practice is Congress (and other places) called "log-rolling", where favors are traded for things that one party values but the other may not so much, in exchange for the reverse situation. Of course, the way it's written in this piece, it really means (or looks like it means) Trump got taken advantage of in some way.

So yeah, Democrats would be surprised that Trump would not value other Republican policies over those of the Democrats, considering the power imbalance situation, and that Republicans would expect Trump to support their agenda, and not the Democrats' agenda. And in the sport of log-rolling, he would have been rolled right off his log for giving up something so valuable to his opponents so easily.

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