[Ads-l] Antedating of "Loan Shark"

Ben Zimmer bgzimmer at GMAIL.COM
Sun Mar 1 01:53:33 UTC 2020

On Sat, Feb 29, 2020 at 8:03 PM Shapiro, Fred <fred.shapiro at yale.edu> wrote:

> loan shark (OED 1905)
> 1875 _Leicester Chronicle and Leicestershire Mercury_ 24 Apr. 12/2
> (Newspapers.com)  It was not the privileges of Parliament that were
> involved, but the interests of loan sharks and lobbyers.
> NOTE: This citation calls into question the statement "Originally U.S." in
> OED.

I wrote about "loan shark" last May for the Wall Street Journal:


Researching the column, I clipped the 1875 item that Fred cites:


However, it's not at all clear that this usage relates to the meaning that
developed in American slang, referring to someone who charges excessive
interest on a loan. The rest of the sentence reads: "...the interests of
loan sharks and lobbyers, who are panic-stricken at the disclosures made
and promised before the Foreign Loans Committee." From this we can assume
the "loan sharks" were somehow involved with the UK government's Select
Committee on Loans to Foreign States.

As I wrote in the WSJ column, the familiar American usage can be dated to
1876, based on this:

Topeka (Kans.) Daily Blade, Feb. 22, 1876, p. 2, col. 1
It is wonderful, bordering on the God like, and quite reaching to the
sublime, to see the grand confidence of the Kansas farmer, as he walks up
to the counter of some Loan and Trust Company, with corn at 20 cents per
bushel, hay at 2 dollars per ton, and butter at 10 cents, and puts another
mortgage on his farm. Interest 12 per cent, and commission to the smiling
shark behind the counter at 10 per cent, on the whole sum borrowed.
Interest compounded four times, each and every year, and attorney fees 10
per cent. He has a touching confidence, that, long before it is due, he
will be amply and abundantly able to "lift it." He does not know that the
Loan shark, looks at his retreating form, as he walks away and smiles to
himself as he says: "We've got him sure."

I'd imagine that if the OED included the 1875 cite in a revised entry, it
would get the bracketed treatment.


The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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