In the X-files, FBI agent Mulder approaches a group of downtrodden people living on the street. He loudly asks if anybody knows a recently murdered person. People ignore him, except one man. The man says he knows who the victim was and wants to show Mulder some helpful information that may help him figure out what happened. The man asks for money, and when given money by the agent, shows him a sketch of a strange creature. Mulder feels he's being fooled, and says:

Are you hustling me?

I've looked up hustle and the main meaning is similar to push. Dictionaries give swindle as a synonym, which seems to fit the context here. I'm trying to fully grasp the question so I can use it in other situations. My interpretation of hustle here is:

Are you trying to quickly get rid of me (push me away) by giving me short or false information?

If this interpretation is correct, then can I ask the same question to, say, my teacher who gives me a very short, incomplete answer to make me go away because he is busy?

  • 1
    As a side note, hustle is a slang term like "con" meaning to "cheat, swindle in a small way" so that using it would cast your subject, whatever it happens to be, in the light of petty crime.
    – TimR
    Commented Oct 31, 2018 at 11:48

2 Answers 2


hustle (v) : 2b. to sell something to or obtain something from (someone) by energetic and especially underhanded activity : SWINDLE

Your definition is close to correct, but this definition of the verb "hustle" always includes the suggestion of cheating someone in some way. For example, if I sell you a watch that I swear is a genuine Rolex, but which I know is actually a forgery, that's a kind of hustle. Or, if I pretend to fall down after being hit by your car, and try to get you to pay me money for my "injuries", that's another kind of hustle.

Or, as in the movie The Hustler, I pretend to be mediocre at a game in order to trick you into thinking you can easily win money from me, then, once you make large bets, I beat you and take your money. As you might expect, there is some risk with this scheme, as Paul Newman eventually gets his thumbs broken after hustling the wrong men.

Every city has its population of hustlers, and there are endless ways someone (or some group) can hustle their victims. These kind of schemes are not restricted to any particular country or culture. As previously mentioned, the plot of many movies involve some kind of hustle (The Sting, Matchstick Men, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, The Producers, The Brothers Bloom, etc.) although in many of these it's not clear who is hustling whom.

However I would not use "hustle" on your teacher unless you really want to imply (playfully or otherwise) that he is trying to cheat you. Instead you want to use "brush me off".

Hey, that's not a complete answer and you know it. Are you just trying to brush me off?

Some dialects might also say "give me the brush". "Blow me off" is also common, but somewhat less polite.

  • "hustle" always includes the suggestion of cheating someone in some way Often, but not always. For example, I may intentionally play pool badly to get you to play for money, at which point I reveal my true skill and fairly take your money. While this entails lying (at least non-verbally, by making yourself look like an unskilled player), it's not technically cheating in any way.
    – Flater
    Commented Oct 31, 2018 at 12:09
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    @Flater It may not technically be cheating, but I would consider it to be cheating morally. In that scenario I've committed to an agreement for an exchange of money based on my knowledge of your skill level which you've essentially lied about. It would be like me telling you I am a world-class artist and can paint an accurate portrait of you, then taking your money to do that and handing you back a stick figure - that's not what you signed up for.
    – caesay
    Commented Oct 31, 2018 at 12:27
  • @Flater: It is certainly cheating in the sense of misrepresenting your skill. Wouldn't you say that a golfer who competes in a "handicap" tournament is cheating if he misrepresents his level of skill?
    – TimR
    Commented Oct 31, 2018 at 12:28
  • @caesay: Your example is quite the opposite. You are claiming to deliver, but need payment up front, and then don't actually deliver what was explicitly agreed upon ("an accurate portrait"). This is reneging on the agreement. That is not the same as the pool game, where the skill of the players is never an explicit agreement. At no point did the agreement stipulate the exact skill level that the hustler is allowed to use - the only stipulation is that the hustler plays the game and not e.g. his friend.
    – Flater
    Commented Oct 31, 2018 at 12:33
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    @Flater: So you say. Tell that to the guy who's breaking your thumbs.
    – TimR
    Commented Oct 31, 2018 at 14:00

Hustling (and swindling) involves more than fooling someone or lying to them. Hustling is lying to someone in order to get them to give you money.

In your example from the X-Files, the man convinced Mulder to give him money by promising to give Mulder useful information about the victim. The money is why Mulder wondering if the man was hustling him.

So, unless your teacher is trying to get money from you, even a short answer that is designed to get rid of you is not hustling you.

  • The conclusion in this answer is effectively saying "bears are a type of mammal. Therefore,if it's not a bear is therefore not a mammal". You gave one particular common example of a hustle which happens to involve money, but that doesn't means that every hustle must by definition revolve around money.
    – Flater
    Commented Oct 31, 2018 at 12:12

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