"Scam"--1963 "origin unknown" (1959)

Mon Jun 7 04:26:43 UTC 2004

        Westlaw isn't much help, beyond its descriptions of some of the frauds for which "scam" was used in the 1960s.  The earliest I found was a 1967 case, referring to events of 1962:

        <<Hartman agreed to work as a buyer and salesman. Wolcoff told him his duties were to telephone manufacturers, wholesalers and factory representatives listed in the yellow pages of the telephone book, and to place orders for merchandise. Hartman was told to keep his orders down to about $25 to $50 because 'Well, if we have to scam we have got to have small bills because the creditors won't come after us on a scam for small bills, but they would for big ones.'
. . .

        The word 'scam' was used throughout the trial. One of the defendants explained that 'scam' was the ordering of merchandise on credit and not paying for it, and thereafter going into phoney bankruptcy to beat the creditors out of the purchase price of the goods ordered.>>

United States v. Wolcoff, 379 F.2d 521, 523 (7th Cir.), cert. denied, 389 U.S. 929 (1967).

        It may be worth noting that there are references to a Scam Instrument Corporation as late as 1972.  Presumably "scam" was no longer considered a viable corporate name after about that date.

John Baker

-----Original Message-----
From: American Dialect Society [mailto:ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU]On Behalf
Of Bapopik at AOL.COM
Sent: Sunday, June 06, 2004 6:59 PM
Subject: "Scam"--1963 "origin unknown" (1959)


   All right, the LOS ANGELES TIMES digitization is up to 1963, and it's time
to work on "scam."
   There is an ocean of bad hits, usually for "seam" or "scum" or "slam" or
"scan."  All the tricks were tried--limiting the time span to a few years
before 1963, adding the words "carnival" or "carny" or "slang," and using the forms
"scamming" and "scammer."
    However, limiting the time period from 1950-1963 still yields 2,245
ProQuest "hits."
    Maybe it's a secret acronym for Santa Claus?  We still dunno.  Wait for
the CHICAGO TRIBUNE digitization.  How are the WESTLAW criminal cites for
"scam," "scamming," and "scammer"?

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