Fred Shapiro fred.shapiro at YALE.EDU
Wed Feb 2 12:27:46 UTC 2000

On Tue, 1 Feb 2000, A. Maberry wrote:

> 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,
> 434)

It is commendable that you consulted the OED in responding to Gerald
Cohen's comments on "shyster."  Most people, including most people on the
American Dialect Society list, would have simply responded based on their
own recollections or intuitions.  However, Gerald Cohen's comments were
based on his own extensive researches, culminating in his book on the
word, one of the most thorough discussions ever produced on a single word.
Cohen goes well beyond the evidence in the OED and indeed tracks down the
coinage of "shyster" and conclusively settles its etymology.  While such
investigations are not practicable for most slang words, and "wuss" will
probably never have its Cohenian monograph, it is from researches such as
these that accurate answers can emerge to questions of the antiquity of
words, even slang words.

Fred R. Shapiro                             Coeditor (with Jane Garry)
Associate Librarian for Public Services     TRIAL AND ERROR: AN OXFORD
  and Lecturer in Legal Research            ANTHOLOGY OF LEGAL STORIES
Yale Law School                             Oxford University Press, 1998
e-mail: fred.shapiro at yale.edu               ISBN 0-19-509547-2

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