N.Y. Observer: "shyster" is anti-Semitic slur

Gerald Cohen gcohen at UMR.EDU
Wed Apr 16 22:20:06 UTC 2003

   I see several people have already responded on "shyster." The
phonetic similarity of "shyster" and "Shylock" is merely coincidence.
And in spoken usage I do not see "shyster" as limited in any way to
just Jewish lawyers. Dishonest lawyers/businessmen/etc. of *any*
confession may appropriately be termed

    "Shyster" is such a forcefully expressive word that it would be a
shame to see it marginalized by misapplied political correctness.  It
is the main lexical contribution of crusading NYC editor of _The
Subterranean_ (1843-1844ff), Mike Walsh. The term derives from
British cant "shiser" (= somebody worthless), which in turn derives
from German "Scheisser" (same meaning, as in: "ein alter Scheisser"),
ultimately from German Scheisse (excrement).

    So, leave "shyster" alone. Our language will be poorer (and
unjustifiably so), if the term is ruled inadmissable in print or
vigorous speech.

Gerald Cohen
author of _Origin of the Term "Shyster"_, (Frankfurt am Main: Peter
Lang Verlag, 1982); _Origin of the Term "Shyster": Supplementary
Information_ (Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang, 1984); "'Shyster'
Again--An Update", in: _Studies in Slang_, part 2, 1989 (Frankfurt
a.M.: Peter Lang; edited by Gerald Leonard Cohen), pp. 91-96; "Update
on 'Shyster', in _Studies in Slang, part 5_, 1997 (Frankfurt a.M.:
Peter Lang), pp.152-159--information primarily from Barry Popik;
"Update on 'Shyster'--co-authored with Barry Popik, _Studies in
Slang_, part 6, 1999 (Frankfurt a.M.: Peter Lang),pp.31-40.

>At 12:24 PM -0400 4/16/03, Jesse Sheidlower wrote:
>The lead editorial in this week's _New York Observer_ takes
>the _National Review_ to task for using _shyster_ in a
>headline. They call it "a deplorable and demeaning word which
>has traditionally been loaded with anti-Semitism," and make
>some etymological comments that will no doubt upset Professor
>It's online at http://www.observer.com, via the link to the
>"Opinions" section; the site uses some frame system so I
>can't provide a direct link.
>Jesse Sheidlower

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