scam from scheme/schema

Stephen Goranson goranson at DUKE.EDU
Tue Dec 19 13:04:08 UTC 2006

OED scam n. and v. (trick, etc.) from 1963 and n. (info, etc.) from 1964 "slang
(orig. and chiefly U.S.)...Origin obscure"
AmerHerD 3rd "Orig. unknown"
Websters 3rd NID 1981 and Random House 1971 lack the word.

Via google-books, a 1966 citation; I have not seen a paper copy, but this
appears to be a valid 1966 date; e.g., WordCat lists a matching title and
description with 329 pages.

Criminal Laws and Procedures: Hearings Before the Subcommittee on Criminal Laws
and Procedures...... By United States. Congress. Senate. Judiciary 1966 329 p.


Although federal agencies investigated about 1000 suspicious bankruptcies in
1964 and 1965, only 89 convictions resulted. Moreover, only one of the
convictions involved a scam mastermind. [new par.] The Justice Department
feels, however, that top scam operators can be convicted if legistation
sponsored by Senators John McClellan of Arkansas [....]

Page 204:

Called "scam" operations by the Mafia (from the carnival jargon for "scheme")
planned bankruptcies may today be the underworld's largest single [....]

[Or: from Italian, schema]

Stephen Goranson

The American Dialect Society -

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