What is a rip-off? Definition and examples

A rip-off is something or a situation in which the customer paid too much. The customer also regrets paying the money. If I buy something and describe it as a rip-off, I am saying that I paid far too much. It could also mean that I did not get what I expected. The term can mean a swindle, fraud, or scam, but is usually less serious than those three words. We may refer to an inferior imitation of something as a rip-off.

We can write the noun as one word or two words with a hyphen. In other words, we can write a ‘ripoff’ or ‘a rip-off.’ It is possible but less common, to write the noun as two words with no hyphen.

When we use the term as a verb, we place the object, if it is a pronoun, in between the words ‘rip’ and ‘off.’ For example, they ripped him off, he ripped me off, she ripped them off.

The Cambridge Dictionary has the following definitions of the term:

“1. Something that is not worth what you pay for it. 2. Something that costs more than it is worth. 3. A cheap or bad imitation of something. 4. An act of cheating someone by charging too much or not giving anything of value for money spent.”



Rip-Off definition and examples
If you went to an expensive hairdresser and hated your haircut, you might describe it as a rip-off.

Etymology of rip-off

Etymology is the study of where words came from, i.e., the origin of words. It is also the study of how the meanings of words have evolved.

The term ‘to rip off’, an African-American vernacular, emerged circa 1967, says etymonline.com. In 1969, the noun emerged with the meaning ‘a swindle, act of fraud.’

Since 1904, in the United States, ‘to rip‘ has been prison slang meaning ‘to steal.’ People also used it with this sense in the twelfth century.

In 1972, the term acquired the meaning ‘an exploitative imitation.’

Rip-off vs. scam or con

Although the three words have very similar meanings, there is a difference.

A scam or con involves wrongdoing. In other words, doing something that is illegal. Fraud, for example, may be a scam.



A rip-off is not nice, it may be excessive, and you may have paid too much. However, it is not illegal.

In musical terminology

Regarding the term’s meaning in the world of music, Wikipedia says the following:

“In musical terminology Ripping Off is a light form of plagiarism, as in ‘borrowing’ an established riff, phrase or idea from a musician or song.”

“When musicians use the term among themselves they are referring to the context of ‘quoting’ their influences and incorporating the licks into their personal style.”

Rip-off Britain

Britons often complain that cars, computers, and residential property are much more expensive in the UK than elsewhere. Especially compared to the United States.

The expression ‘rip-off Britain‘ refers to this phenomenon. The tabloid press has been using the term since the late 1990s.



The UK’s Consumers’ Association hired a stand at the British International Motor Show in 1999. Nobody knew, until the show opened, that it had hired the stand to highlight high British car prices.

The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders decided not to eject the Consumers’ Association. The term ‘rip-off Britain,’ which was already beginning to become popular, subsequently took hold in the mass media in a big way.

Online rip-off

Since the 1990s, when the Internet started becoming popular, online shopping and e-commerce took off. Online shopping refers to purchasing things on the Internet. In most cases, you pay with your credit or debit card and the goods are delivered to you. E-commerce means doing business online.

Wherever there is shopping or commerce, there are always rip-offs. In some ways, the risk is greater online. We never see the seller or have the opportunity to test or try on the product when we buy online. Therefore, if we have a complaint, we are very much at the mercy of the seller’s honesty.