"shyster" does not derive from Scheuster

Gerald Cohen gcohen at UMR.EDU
Wed Mar 28 02:41:07 UTC 2001

    I've been looking through Jonathan Green's _Cassell's Dictionary
Of Slang_  (2000) and see that he considers the derivation from the
name Scheuster to be a possibility:
    "...Alternatively, from a New York Lawyer named Scheuster (pron.
shyster) whose courtroom antics so infuriated Justice Osborne of the
city's Essex Market Court that he began talking of 'scheuster'
     This derivation, which occasionally appears elsewhere too, is
totally impossible. A check of the New York City Directory, 1843-1844
and 1844-1845 shows that Osborn was a police clerk at this time; only
starting with 1845-1846 is he listed as a police justice. Meanwhile,
"shyster" is attested since 1843
(although OED for whatever reason has omitted the attestations I have
pointed out). So even if a lawyer named Scheuster irritated Justice
Osborn, "shyster" could not have arisen from this confrontation.
     I discuss this matter in my monograph _Origin of the Term
"Shyster"_ (Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang) 1982, pp.4-10. Green, in
his bibliography, lists
my monograph series _Studies in Slang_ but overlooks the two
monographs I wrote on "shyster."
     The real derivation is from British cant "shiser" (a worthless
person; borrowed from German), and the development of this term to
"shyster" is spelled out in my first monograph on this latter term.
      BTW, as far as I can tell, the supposed shyster Scheuster never
existed.  A determined search for any evidence at all about him
turned up nothing.

---Gerald Cohen

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