The Skin Game, a 1931 Alfred Hitchcock film, deals with two families trying to get the better of each other in a land deal that is their mutual undoing. The term skin game was used again in the title of a 1971 movie starring James Garner and Lou Gossett Jr. as two con men, one black and one white, in the pre-Civil War Midwest, who devise a scheme in which Gossett poses as a slave and Garner “sells” him to an unsuspecting townsman.
The Oxford English Dictionary defines skin game as a game that the “player cannot possibly win.” Presumably this notion stems from the verb skin, meaning “get the better of someone,” derived from the act of skinning an animal for its valuable fur. Hence, a skin game is a swindle or confidence trick. “Fleecing” someone is an analogous term. Paper dollars taken from the victims of skin games were referred to as skins.
A skin game is also defined as a “card game in which each player has one card which he bets will not be the first to be matched by a card dealt from the pack.”
In golf, a skin game involves a foursome betting against another in three categories: team play, individual “greenies” (closest to the pin), and individual “skins” (any single low score on a given hole). For obvious reasons, skin game (or skin trade) can also refer to the business of prostitution or pornography, as anyone who has ever visited a skin palace or watched a skin flick can eagerly testify.
The Bard of Buffalo Bayou squeezes out his verses by the skin of his teeth, and if you don’t like them, well, it’s no skin off his nose.
I like to play the skin game,
And never miss a lotto.
It is more fun than a gin game,
That’s always been my motto.
I also love a shell game,
And dote on three-card monte,
I think that it’s a swell game—
Come on, let’s play—avanti!
Yes, I’ll play any con game,
Be the butt of any joke—
But they all become a non-game
The minute I am broke.
Addendum: After a recent blog about the Oreo cookie and its predecessor, the Hydrox, some customers accused the Bard of Buffalo Bayou of following the path of least resistance by composing a so-called verse about Oreo but not Hydrox. Never one to let a challenge go unanswered, the Bard insisted on adding this entry to his already superfluous collected works:
I think you might safely say Hydrox
Would win a taste-test against dried rocks---
But wait! Don’t be hasty!
Dried rocks might be tasty,So we’d better wait till we’ve tried rocks.