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Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co.
“Fast and Loose,” also called “Pricking the Belt,” was a cheating game from the 16th century practised by gypsies at fairs.
The game required an individual to wager whether a belt was fast or loose.
Connotations of deceit and underhandedness were natural extensions of the “indirect” aspect of the backstairs.
Examples of this usage are cited as early as the beginning of the 17th century.
Backstairs refers to the private stairways of palaces, those used by unofficial visitors who had true access to or intimate acquaintance with the inner circles of government.
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This use of the word gained currency in the early 20th century.
Today application of the phrase has been extended to include less objectionable but more subtle sources of control such as television and [someone’s] pocket To be under another’s influence or control; to be at the disposal or mercy of someone else.