dirty tricks

In Sunday’s NYT Magazine, an interview by Amy Chozick, “Terry Lenzner on Tricky Dick and Dirty Tricks”, that made me think about the expression dirty tricks, which (surprise to me) seems to be only about 50 years old.

From OED2:

dirty tricks n. orig. U.S. covert intelligence operations, esp. those carried out by the Central Intelligence Agency (the plans division of which was nicknamed the ‘department of dirty tricks’); now also applied to any underhand political activity designed to discredit an opponent; freq. attrib.


1963   J. Joesten They call it Intelligence v. 47   In the ‘Department of Dirty Tricks’,..our Intelligencers behave like babes in the wood.

1967   Time 24 Feb. 16/3   Deputy to the chief of the plans division, the so-called ‘dirty tricks’ department.

1976   Economist 16 Oct. 56/2   As for Watergate, Mr Weicker’s record—and his strong stand against dirty tricks—should help him with many voters.

1984   Listener 30 Aug. 34/1   They were some of the earliest exponents of dirty tricks and destabilisation.

This is pretty clearly a specialization of the more transparent phrase dirty trick ‘dishonest act’, which has undoubtedly been around for a long time.

One Response to “dirty tricks”

  1. 38 Dishonest Tricks of Argument by Thouless « How my heart speaks Says:

    […] dirty tricks (arnoldzwicky.org) […]

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: