Word of the Day


© Getty Images/Cultura RF
Liz Potter
Written by Liz Potter


the use of clever, unfair, or dishonest methods to trick people, especially in legal matters

View the full definition in the Macmillan Dictionary.

Origin and usage

The noun chicanery comes from a French word, ‘chicanerie’ which itself derived from the verb ‘chicaner’ meaning to quibble. It was first used in English in the 17th century.


Chicanery is trickery or subterfuge used to get your own way when you can’t succeed by straightforward methods. The word is particularly associated with the law, indicating a general distrust of lawyers and the methods they use to win their cases. It is equally strongly associated with politics and business, however: the two most frequent adjective collocates are ‘political’ and ‘financial’, with ‘electoral’ also making a strong showing. The slightly later noun ‘chicane‘ used to mean the same as chicanery but nowadays is restricted to two quite specialized meanings: in the game of bridge, it is the condition of having no trumps, while on a road it indicates a sharp double bend, especially one designed specifically to create an obstacle for racing cars. English is rich in words for deceit and trickery: you can explore them here.


“Be not intimidated…nor suffer yourselves to be wheedled out of your liberties by any pretense of politeness, delicacy, or decency. These, as they are often used, are but three different names for hypocrisy, chicanery and cowardice.”
(John Adams)

Related words

deceit, deception, duplicity

Browse related words in the Macmillan Thesaurus.

About the author

Liz Potter

Liz Potter

1 Comment

  • Just to be obnoxious, I have to comment, perhaps out of having seen some interesting mysteries, that saying chicanery is used when unable to reach a goal by straightforward means, could miss the folks who enjoy playing that game, like a magician gone bad. Thanks for all you do and the chance to comment!

Leave a Comment