from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

  • n. Something false or empty that is purported to be genuine; a spurious imitation.
  • n. The quality of deceitfulness; empty pretense.
  • n. One who assumes a false character; an impostor: "He a man! Hell! He was a hollow sham!” ( Joseph Conrad).
  • n. A decorative cover made to simulate an article of household linen and used over or in place of it: a pillow sham.
  • adj. Not genuine; fake: sham diamonds; sham modesty.
  • transitive v. To put on the false appearance of; feign: "shamming insanity to get his tormentors to leave him alone” ( John Wain).
  • intransitive v. To assume a false appearance or character; dissemble.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

  • adj. Intended to deceive; false.
  • n. A fake; an imitation that purports to be genuine.
  • n. Trickery, hoaxing.
  • n. A decorative cover for a pillow.
  • v. To deceive, cheat, lie.

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • adj. False; counterfeit; pretended; feigned; unreal.
  • n. That which deceives expectation; any trick, fraud, or device that deludes and disappoints; a make-believe; delusion; imposture; humbug.
  • n. A false front, or removable ornamental covering.
  • intransitive v. To make false pretenses; to deceive; to feign; to impose.
  • transitive v. To trick; to cheat; to deceive or delude with false pretenses.
  • transitive v. To obtrude by fraud or imposition.
  • transitive v. To assume the manner and character of; to imitate; to ape; to feign.

from The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia

  • n. Shame; disgrace; fault.
  • n. A trick put upon one; a trick or device that deludes or disappoints expectation; fraud; imposture; make-believe; humbug: as, an age of shams.
  • n. Some device meant to give a thing a different outward appearance, as of neatness and finish, or to imitate something which it is not. Specifically
  • n. A false pillow-cover; a pillow-sham.
  • n. A strip of fine linen, often embroidered, put under the upper edge of the bed-coverings and turned over, as if forming the upper end of the sheet.
  • n. plural Gaiters.
  • False; counterfeit; pretended: as, a sham fight.
  • Synonyms Mock, spurious, make-believe.
  • To deceive; trick; cheat; delude with false pretenses.
  • To obtrude by fraud or imposition.
  • To make a pretense of in order to deceive; feign; imitate: as, to sham illness.
  • To pretend; make false pretenses; pretend to be, do, etc., what one is not, does not, does not mean, etc.

from WordNet 3.0 Copyright 2006 by Princeton University. All rights reserved.

  • v. make believe with the intent to deceive
  • adj. adopted in order to deceive
  • v. make a pretence of
  • n. a person who makes deceitful pretenses
  • n. something that is a counterfeit; not what it seems to be


Perhaps dialectal variant of shame.
(American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition)
Probably a dialectal form of shame. (Wiktionary)


  • Instead of this, we either put on a stock with a sham tie, (now all _sham_ things, of what kind soever, militate against good taste,) or else, to make the most of our scarf, we fill up the aperture of the waistcoat with an ambitious quantity of drapery, and we stick therein an enormous and obtrusively ostentatious pin.

    Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine, Volume 57, No. 357, June, 1845

  • The term sham derives from the root shameful I believe.

    Matthew Anderson: Lower Case Capitalism

  • Also on Sunday, the Taliban vowed to attack polling places in Sept. 18 parliamentary elections, warning Afghans not to participate in what it called a sham vote.

    Kabul Bank Crisis

  • "I care deeply about the people of Zimbabwe, I am extremely disappointed in the election, which I labelled a sham election," Bush said with Tanzania President Jakaya Kikwete, the current chairman of the AU.

    ANC Daily News Briefing

  • "I care deeply about the people of Zimbabwe, I am extremely disappointed in the election, which I labelled a sham election," Bush said on the sidelines of a summit of rich nations at this mountain resort in northern Japan.

    ANC Daily News Briefing

  • "I'm extremely disappointed in the elections, which I labelled a sham election," he said.

    Archive 2008-07-01

  • Additional comments in the P-I story reveal what a sham is the rubric of "diversity" at UW and in Seattle.

    Sound Politics: Censorship Encouraged At UW

  • PHILLIPS: Saddam Hussein, angry over what he calls a sham of a trial, boycotts today's proceedings in Baghdad.

    CNN Transcript Dec 7, 2005

  • Kaunda said he would organize a campaign of strikes, demonstrations and civil disobedience against what he termed sham elections that would lack legitimacy without his main opposition group taking part.

    ANC Daily News Briefing

  • Associated Press Writers = KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) - The Taliban vowed Sunday to attack polling places in Sept. 18 parliamentary elections, warning Afghans not to participate in what it called a sham vote.

    The Guardian World News


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  • Many a times, it is sham trials that put innocents to death.

    September 27, 2013

  • ...I shammed illness, complained of my head, complained of my chest, and made a characteristic wry face for every pain and ache in the catalogue of human infirmities.

    - Lesage, The Adventures of Gil Blas of Santillane, tr. Smollett, bk 10 ch. 12

    October 10, 2008

  • She wears the clothes of an emperor
    But her paintings are a sham
    And they're going for a grand
    When the dealers come to view
    Do they ever see the real you?

    (It could have been a brilliant career, by Belle and Sebastian

    September 16, 2008

  • "This comfortable quilt cover set is made of 100% luxurious cotton with 200 thread count, pillow shams are nicely flanged around and quilt cover is finished with a hidden zip closure. Create a refreshing and beautiful bedroom with this queen size quilt cover set includes 1 x quilt cover and 2 x pillow shams."
    - advertisement,, 8 August 2008.

    August 8, 2008