fast and loose
The phrase to play fast and loose is rather common in modern speech, but relatively few who use or understand the phrase know where it comes from. The origin is the name of a con game, along the lines of three-card monte (in spirit, not in actual structure of the game). From George Whetstone’s 1578 The Right Excellent Historye of Promos and Cassandra:
At fast or loose, with my Giptian, I meane to haue a cast.
The game is undoubtedly somewhat older than this, as the metaphorical sense predates this citation by some decades. From Tottel’s Miscellany of 1557:
Of a new maried studient that plaied fast or loose.
The game is described in this quote from James O. Halliwell’s 1847 A Dictionary of Archaic and Provincial Words, Obsolete Phrases, Proverbs and Ancient Customs, from the Fourteenth Century:
Fast-and-loose, a cheating game played with a stick and a belt or string, so arranged that a spectator would think he could make the latter fast by placing a stick through its intricate folds, whereas the operator could detach it at once.
(Source: Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd Edition)
Copyright 1997-2014, by David Wilton