In the town where I live, many street vendors actively cheat customers by using an inaccurate scale. As a result, people receive less than what they ought to.

For example, if you buy five apples, which actually weigh 2 kg on a standard scale, the false readout might show 3 kg or higher. As a result you pay for 3 kg worth of apples, but you get only 2 kg or even less.

It's called "扼称" in my mother tongue, which means "to play trick with a tampered scale to take advantage of customers". An example:

Jack was back home from shopping at the market where he just bought several apples that weighed 3 kg. But when weighing it with his own scale, it showed only 2 kg. Realizing that he had been cheated, he told his brother: "I just got ____ by that sneaky vendor! I'm going after him now."

Is there an idiomatic verb/phrase/expression for this in English? (It doesn't necessarily fit the sentence structure, that's just a suggestion.)

Edit: Someone suggested 'rip off', is that a idiomatic phrase to describe that behavior?

  • 17
    Sounds like putting a 'thumb on the scale.' Commented Jul 5, 2017 at 15:26
  • 6
    If I read the UK's Weight and Measures Act correctly, the legal term for this (in the UK) is misrepresentation. However this is certainly not the idiom you are looking for, the answers below are much more idiomatic. Commented Jul 5, 2017 at 18:45
  • 2
    I like the word "fraud" but I'm not sure what adjective to use along with it. "fraudulent measurement" perhaps. (my suggestion isn't quite answer-worthy yet)
    – Tom22
    Commented Jul 5, 2017 at 19:45
  • 1
    It's pretty cool that it's spelled with only two characters Commented Jul 6, 2017 at 1:33
  • 1
    @k_g - They're not. There are three answers that are related to this practice (of which I would only count one as an "expression"), and lots that are just about general cheating.
    – AndyT
    Commented Jul 6, 2017 at 8:56

18 Answers 18


I'm not sure if this is exactly right, but there is the expression "to put your thumb on the scale", meaning that you manually push the scale down while weighing something, to make it seem heavier than it actually is.

The meaning has broadened out from the original "grocer's shop" context to apply to any situation where someone in charge of making a measurement deliberately makes the measurement incorrect, in order to gain some kind of advantage.


  • A method of deception or manipulation that creates an unfair advantage for the swindler, likened to a merchant holding a thumb on the scale when weighing goods for sale, therefore increasing the weight and price.
    You have to suspect that the casinos have their thumb on the scale when it comes to the slot machines. There's no way you're getting fair odds.
  • 7
    It seems to me that this is usually used metaphorically, not when there's an actual scale that's biased.
    – Barmar
    Commented Jul 5, 2017 at 21:22
  • 2
    I think his point is that the expression is not that common (based on his experience), and as such is not a useful answer to the OP. I am surprised, because that was the phrase I thought of immediately too. Commented Jul 6, 2017 at 14:52
  • 3
    @MichaelKay On the other hand, I, for one, have heard/read the expression dozens of times and it automatically came to mind when I read the question. I'm on Spain (born, raised and still living there) :)
    – xDaizu
    Commented Jul 6, 2017 at 15:26
  • 2
    @MaxWilliams Sometimes a phrase is used by everyone in the US and by no-one in the UK, or vice-versa. If that's the case, then someone asking the question in China or Japan might find it useful to know this. So I'm just trying to be helpful. Commented Jul 6, 2017 at 15:44
  • 2
    @MichaelKay I'm also from the UK and I have heard the phrase "putting your thumb on the scale". So there.
    – dkwarr87
    Commented Jul 7, 2017 at 9:52

How about to give "Short measure"?

Not specifically weight, you see the term used for any deliberately fiddled measurement (Volume, weight, length....).

The OED gives a definition 1 as :

An amount, especially of alcohol, less than that which is declared or paid for. ‘coal users in North Yorkshire are being sold short measures’ ‘the most serious crime is short measure on a pint’

  • 7
    Or the more precise short weight? Commented Jul 5, 2017 at 18:39
  • 2
    Good answer, but on SE we really want citations or links to corroborate answers so we can follow them up. You will easily find a link in an on-line dictionary (search for "meaning of short measure". Do that and then edit your answer, otherwise it's liable to be deleted. (Believe me.)
    – David
    Commented Jul 5, 2017 at 19:53
  • 2
    @David: The OED disagrees with you."Not coming up to some standard of measure or amount; inadequate in quantity. short measure, short weight" (short, III,15.). So does Merriam-Webster: "Short weight: weight less than the stated weight or less than one is charged for". PS The word is idiom. Commented Jul 5, 2017 at 21:47
  • 3
    @TimLymington — I'm being subjective, but in my experience, "short measure" is the familiar phrase that can be applied generally, whereas short weight is a precise and restricted description. Google ngram does not back me up, but it can give weird results. My guess is if you looked back at the early (mediaeval usage) you would find "short measure". However, no time at the moment.
    – David
    Commented Jul 5, 2017 at 21:58
  • 3
    @David - It sounds like you're suffering from confirmation bias, as you are rejecting evidence that doesn't agree with you (two respected dictionaries and google ngrams). English is spoken differently all over the world; just because you never hear "short weight" where you live doesn't mean it isn't used in many other places.
    – AndyT
    Commented Jul 6, 2017 at 8:53


verb [ T ] also shortchange

1. COMMERCE to give someone back less money than they are owed when they are buying something from you:

The check-out girl short-changed her.

2. to treat someone unfairly by giving them less than they deserve:

The case alleges that the company shortchanged female employees on opportunities for promotion.

  • 15
    This does not match the question. Commented Jul 6, 2017 at 17:36
  • 6
    Nineteen of us think it does, but thank you for your feedback.
    – Davo
    Commented Jul 6, 2017 at 17:37
  • 12
    The expression "short-change" refers to a specific scam where a person is tricked into giving the wrong amount of change for a given transaction, either with sleight of hand or confusing machinations of asking for different denominations to be exchanged etc. It is more often something that a customer might do to con a cashier, but certainly could work the other way as well. However it has nothing at all to do with tampering with scales, which makes this a pretty bad answer; the upvotes seem to be a weakness with many SE sites as user bases increase. Also true of democracy in general I suppose.
    – jkf
    Commented Jul 7, 2017 at 1:43
  • 4
    @jkf That is certainly the origin of the phrase, but it's widely used in a generalized sense now. Commented Jul 7, 2017 at 6:12
  • 9
    I agree with both Lightness and jkf. This idiom refers to a different sort of scam and no amount of upvotes will make this the right answer to someone trying to learn English. Commented Jul 8, 2017 at 4:54

There are a few idioms that talk about this, like putting your thumb on the scale — biasing a measurement or a situation in your favor.

However, since you asked for a single word, then more generally the term for this would be swindling or cheating your customers.

  • Where did the Op ask for a single word?
    – Hank
    Commented Jul 5, 2017 at 15:46
  • 2
    @Hank In the title. "What is the English word for cheating customers with an inaccurate scale?" Commented Jul 5, 2017 at 15:52
  • 1
    I mean, I guess. But it's tagged phrase-request and not single-word-request
    – Hank
    Commented Jul 5, 2017 at 15:59
  • 3
    I think that may be my fault; I edited the title to make more sense and put word rather than term. I'll fix that. Commented Jul 5, 2017 at 16:18
  • 1
    I added verb to the title. fwiw, I like putting your thumb on the scale. btw, there is this bit of americana that shows it wasn't unheard of in the US at least as far back as the 1930s. (And neither side was guilt-free.) Commented Jul 5, 2017 at 16:53

My grandmother warned of being sold "a pound of thumb" when buying five pounds of meat. I watched the butcher carefully and never saw him doing that. Perhaps my grandmother had better eyes than I did.


You might refer to it as using false weights.

false weight noun a weight as measured on a shop scales which is wrong and so cheats customers - investorwords.com

This concept can be traced back at least to Biblical times. The following contrasts a false balance with a just weight:

A false balance is an abomination to the Lord, but a just weight is his delight. - Proverbs 11:1, ESV

Here's an example of the term false weight used in the context of a maths test. The setting indicates that the term is well-established.

A shopkeeper cheats to the extent of 10% while buying and selling, by using false weights. His total gain ... - Sawaal

  • 2
    @RogerSinasohn The particular phrasing obviously isn't biblical (the bible not having been written in English), but it appears that the concept really did have to do with rigged weights in commercial transactions. Much commentary here: biblehub.com/commentaries/proverbs/11-1.htm
    – 1006a
    Commented Jul 5, 2017 at 18:05
  • 2
    I thought I had posted a comment noting that while the English phrase likely doesn't date back 2,000 years, the concept was probably invented about 10 seconds after the invention of the first scale. 8^) Commented Jul 5, 2017 at 23:39
  • 1
    @RogerSinasohn Indeed. I was responding to your earlier comment, pointing out that I (also) used the word concept in my answer. :)
    – Lawrence
    Commented Jul 5, 2017 at 23:40
  • 1
    @user239460 It's certainly describing business practices, but I think courts of law and business communication these days would call it fraud or dishonesty, etc.
    – Lawrence
    Commented Jul 5, 2017 at 23:46
  • 1
    I'm not sure how old "False weight" is in English, but it certainly is an established idiom in German. As I mention in another comment, there is book by Joseph Roth entitled "Das falsche Gewicht".
    – David
    Commented Jul 6, 2017 at 18:17


Merriam Webster

short [transitive verb] 2: shortchange, cheat

This is a drop-and-go term for your example: "I just got shorted by that sneaky vendor!"

For attestations "in the wild" see for example "shorted my order"

  • 1
    @user239460, when Yorik says drop-and-go, think a quick and direct action. Drop-and-go has the connotation that you basically do one simple action and move on instead of messing around to set things up. No/Low-maintenance, easy instructions/none needed, that kind of thing. Commented Jul 7, 2017 at 22:32
  • 1
    @kayleeFrye_onDeck thank you so much, i mean the last part of his answer, that part: (For attestations "in the wild" see for example "shorted my order". ) which is what confused me.
    – user239460
    Commented Jul 7, 2017 at 22:47
  • 1
    Ah. Yorik meant, if you want proof (attestations), you can look for its use in real life (in the wild) by searching for the phrase, "shorted my order." Commented Jul 7, 2017 at 22:51
  • 1
    Btw, if you have access to Google in your country, here's a benign / unwitting usage: tinyurl.com/ya89gk7p || and this is a malicious usage: tinyurl.com/ya7y95vw Commented Jul 7, 2017 at 22:58
  • 1
    @kayleeFrye_onDeck i finally know what that part mean by your explaination, i am so grateful for your help, thank you so much! if he had said 'proof' and 'in real life', it wouldn't be that hard to understand though; i appreciate that, but unfortunately Google isn't available in my country, you seem to be aware of that possibility.
    – user239460
    Commented Jul 7, 2017 at 23:04

To "give short measure" and to "put a thumb on the scale" and to "short change" are all old idioms that can be used literally or figuratively in describing petty commercial frauds..

"Rip off" is a modern idiom that means to "cheat" or to "defraud" but is not specific in how the cheating/defrauding was accomplished.

  • 1
    +1 from me if you edit your answer and show how rip off is used in a sentence, and include its dictionary definition/link.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Jul 6, 2017 at 18:53
  • @Mari-Lou A i agree with you, this answer include many good words to match the description, more illustration would make it a very good answer.
    – user239460
    Commented Jul 8, 2017 at 1:36
  • 1
    +1 - I agree with your answer except the reference that this type of commercial fraud is ***petty ***. I think that the penalties for a merchant caught perpetrating this sort of fraud can be quite severe. Commented Jul 9, 2017 at 2:34

Fleecing is a word that is often used in journalism.


Obtain a great deal of money from (someone), typically by overcharging or swindling them.

e.g. The city's cab drivers are notorious for fixing fares and fleecing tourists.

Your sentence could be

I just got fleeced by that sneaky vendor! I'm going after him now.


I would use 'Chiseling' here. It's not overly common depending on your part of the world but it is one word and accurate.

to cheat or swindle (someone): He chiseled me out of fifty dollars.


to get (something) by cheating or trickery: He chiseled fifty dollars out of me.

This is normally used in the context of slight cheating not outright cheating.

  • 1
    To me, chiseling always implies a methodical, drawn-out process of multiple attempts and techniques. It's never just a single act.
    – Phil Sweet
    Commented Jul 8, 2017 at 0:12

A more generic term that covers situations of minor swindling is diddle:

  1. informal with object Cheat or swindle (someone) so as to deprive them of something. ‘he thought he'd been diddled out of his change’

    1.1 Deliberately falsify. ‘he diddled his income tax returns’

-- oxforddictionaries.com

Example: Many of my local street vendors diddle the scales.

  • 8
    I hear the punishment is much more severe if you get caught diddling a minor.
    – A C
    Commented Jul 6, 2017 at 5:45
  • 5
    In the USA, diddling is almost wholly used to describe sexual molestation, so your mileage will vary on this one... Commented Jul 7, 2017 at 22:30
  • @A C what does 'diddling a minor.' mean?
    – user239460
    Commented Jul 14, 2017 at 7:18

All of these common English phrases could express your situation:

  1. Pull a fast one
  2. (1)Take someone for a ride / (2)take him for a ride / (3)take her for a ride / (4)take them for a ride
  3. (1)Short-change / (2)short change
  4. Fudge the numbers
  5. Swindled

In regards to thumb on the scale, I won't argue its validity or general use, only state that I have not observed its usage in conversation to any recollection. That being said, I think it is self-evident when used and requires no further explanation, nor a history of usage to be considered valid.

All of these alternatives provided above are common in conversational English in America. Fudge the numbers is probably the least used in a modern context but should still be understood by native speakers.

For American English, I can also vouch for:
fleeced, by Himabindu Boddupall
duped, by justin
shorted, by Yorik

Dupe can often but not exclusively hold the connotation that the deception was a substitution.

  • 1
    thanks. plenty of choice here, which one is most common used in daily life?
    – user239460
    Commented Jul 5, 2017 at 23:41
  • 1
    It would depend on who you're speaking with. Formal spoken English would use swindled. The other four are not formal but are well-known. Taking someone for a ride usually infers that it is an extended deception instead of a singular event. Pull a fast one or fudge the numbers would probably work best, in-general. Fudge the numbers has the benefit of being proper English and used as slang. Commented Jul 6, 2017 at 0:08
  • 1
    @kayleeFrye_onDeck I'd opine that "fudge the numbers" would apply only to situations where the deception involved playing fast and loose with arithmetic i.e."cooking the books" and wouldn't be appropriate for a physical deception like in the case of the scale.
    – Some_Guy
    Commented Jul 6, 2017 at 9:12
  • 1
    @kayleeFrye_onDeck Also, in my dialect "swindle" doesn't sound particularly formal, it's a pretty vernacular term. But that's British English, I can't speak for how it sounds to an American.
    – Some_Guy
    Commented Jul 6, 2017 at 9:14
  • 1
    btw, Is 'rip off' a good phrase to describe that behavior?
    – user239460
    Commented Jul 6, 2017 at 16:12

The first term that comes to my mind is "jipped" being synonymous with "cheated". Unfortunately a quick bit of research revealed that the more common spelling is "gypped" and that the word is a slur against gypsies and the stereotyped tendency to make easy money off of gullible people. Not knowing the proper spelling, I never made the connection.


verb (used with or without object), gypped, gypping.

1.Informal: Sometimes Offensive. to defraud or rob by some sharp practice; swindle; cheat.


2.Informal: Sometimes Offensive. a swindle or fraud.

3.Also, gypper [jip-er], gypster. Informal: Sometimes Offensive. a swindler or cheat.

Usage note: Gyp in the meanings “to swindle” or “a person who swindles” is sometimes perceived as insulting to or by Gypsies, since it stereotypes them as swindlers. However, gyp has apparently never been used as a deliberate ethnic slur, and many people are unaware that it is derived from Gypsy.

I do think it has been used for the type of dishonest transaction described by the OP:

"Jack was back home from shopping at the market where he just bought several apples that weighed 3 kg. But when weighing it with his own scale, it showed only 2 kg. Realizing that he had been cheated, he told his brother: "I just got jipped by that sneaky vendor! I'm going after him now."

(I'm sticking with my original spelling in order to disassociate from the stereotype)

  • 1
    When I was growing up we knew exactly what the derivation was from. I think most older people will also know. Curiously enough, in the US at least, it usually referred to groups of "travelers" offering "services" such as roofing and driveway resurfacing who were not actually Gypsies. Commented Jul 6, 2017 at 22:28
  • 2
    Jipped / Gypped is considered an offensive pejorative by some people in the USA. I wouldn't advise using it. However, your chances of running across an actual Gypsy in the USA is pretty low, so the people you'd be offending probably wouldn't be actual gypsies. That doesn't make it better/worse, just explaining the scenario. That said, a lot of us said jipped when I was a kid, and there was never any direct correlation to getting ripped off, gypsies, and jipped. It made sense when I got older, but it never came up as a kid. Commented Jul 7, 2017 at 18:32

One term that comes to mind is skimming.

The meaning references taking the top layer off something, as in skimmed milk, but would be used in this context to refer to swindling someone by withholding a small amount from what you owe them or not giving them quite as much product as they are paying for.

The most obvious example I can think of for it's use is the kind of financial crime as depicted in the original Superman movie, where the bad guy made his fortune by intercepting bank interest payments and diverting a penny from everyone's account into his own. The theft was barely noticeable on a individual level, but made a large amount of money for the thief.


The first word that came to my head was "duping".

dupe(verb) gerund or present participle: duping deceive; trick.

Ex: "the newspaper was duped into publishing an untrue story"

  • 1
    I forgot about dupe! That's a good one. Commented Jul 7, 2017 at 18:26

While this one doesn't necessarily imply an inaccurate scale, it implies the transaction is heavily weighted in one sides favor. If this happened to me, I might say the scales were rigged. Example

The pumps at that gas station are rigged, you don't get your money's worth.

This can also be used in other unfair situations

During his campaign the president posited that the election would rigged against him

Rigged (verb) past tense: rigged; past participle: rigged

  • manage or conduct (something) fraudulently so as to produce a result or situation that is advantageous to a particular person.
  • cause an artificial rise or fall in prices in (a market, especially the stock market) with a view to personal profit.
  • sound to me that's a good word, could it be applied in the example of this question?
    – user239460
    Commented Jul 7, 2017 at 23:20

To rig an election; dictionary.com fails pretty hard core on this one. You could also say one is fudging the numbers though that is more of an idiom.


Jack was back home from shopping at the market where he just bought several apples that weighed 3 kg. But when weighing it with his own scale, it showed only 2 kg. Realizing that he had been cheated, he told his brother: "I just got ____ by that sneaky vendor! I'm going after him now."

To answer the original question!

Here are some words to put in the gap.


ripped off



Note that these don't specifically refer to weight but, if your brother sees you weighing goods and then you say any of the above, your brother will know from the context what you mean!

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