[Ads-l] 'shillaber', n., antedated

James Eric Lawson jel at NVENTURE.COM
Mon Jun 26 06:24:12 UTC 2023

'Shillaber': December 2003 ADS-L (Douglas G. Wilson) and Green's DoS 
online, 14 Mar 1883; OED 1913. Both Wilson's and Green's citations are 
from the same article, reprinted from _Chicago Times_, as the 19 Jan 
1883 citation below.

1882  *Weekly Public Ledger* (Memphis, Tennessee) 26 Dec 3/6 
“Shillaber.” This is the title among the “flash” sports of Chicago given 
to the sharpest of the sharp members of the fraternity.


1883  *The Peabody Weekly Republican* (Peabody, Kansas) 19 Jan 2/1-2 
MOCK AUCTIONS (headline) There is a red flag at the door. The room is 
always small, with an office at one end where the swindled purchaser 
pays for what he buys, and so situated as to protect the shillaber in 
his sham purchase or the victim from the gaze of the crowd, for it is 
not prudent to have two “guys” at a time at the cashier’s desk.


I wonder if 'shillaber' is a compound adopted from a US use of Scottish 
Travelers cant, from 'sheel' (var. 'shill'), v., n., perhaps with the v. 
sense 5 given by _Dictionaries of the Scots Language_ (DSL),

"To “rook” (a person), win (staked money, marbles, etc.) from (ne.Sc., 
Dmf. 1970).Lnk. 1877 W. Watson Poems Dedicat.:
Forby, it's shill't my pouches bare."


plus ABER, adj., v., in amalgamated senses (as would be typical of 
Travelers cant): "(3) Sharp-sighted; keenly observant; watchful. (Jak.); 
(4) Eager, greedy.". Ultimately from "O.N. *apr*, adj., sharp, hard, bad."


Shillabers used psychological insight and their outsider roles to shuck 
off initial resistance from prospective marks at fake auctions, etc.

James Eric Lawson

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

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