A. Maberry maberry at U.WASHINGTON.EDU
Wed Feb 2 05:24:43 UTC 2000

Unfortunately I have only the old OED but,
shyster ... U.S. slang. Also shuyster [Of obscure origin. It might be from
*shy* a (sense 7, disreputable) + ster but this sense of the adj. is app.
not current in the U.S.]
1. 'A lawyer who practises in an unprofessional or tricky manner;
especially, one who haunts the prisons and lower courts to prey on petty
criminals; hence, any one who conducts his business in a tricky manner.'
(Funk's Stand. Dict., 1895) (1st cite--1856 Knickerb. Mag. Apr., XLVII,

In my ed of the OED all of the early cites come from New York State. Only
nearly 40 years later, in 1895, is there a cite from San Francisco.
I don't find any reference to British cant, but the variant spelling
shuyster (< *schuyster?) makes me think of some sort of Dutch or Low
German origin.
I've heard it all my life, in the general sense of crook or untrustworthy
person, but most often from my grandfather a nearly native speaker of
(very) Low German.

maberry at u.washington.edu

On Tue, 1 Feb 2000, Gerald Cohen wrote:

>    Dennis Preston  comments  concerning the appearance of slang items in
> print::
> >> ...nearly every lexicographer I know admits
> >that the first written citation is doubtless "years" after a word came into
> >currency....
>  ------This is a very risky general rule. "Namby-pamby" originated  in  a
> written poem and then spread to the spoken language.  "Shyster" (first
> spelled "shiseter") also first arose in print, based on British cant
> "shiser" (= somebody worthless), ultimately from German  "Scheisser."
> "Skedaddle" (= run away) originated  early in the American Civil War and
> very quickly gained currency and  appeared in print.
> ----Gerald Cohen
> gcohen at umr.edu

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