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Shyster /ˈʃstər/ is a slang word for someone who acts in a disreputable, unethical, or unscrupulous way, especially in the practice of law, sometimes also politics or business.


The etymology of the word is not generally agreed upon. The Oxford English Dictionary describes it as "of obscure origin", possibly deriving from a historical sense of "shy" meaning disreputable.[1]

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary deemed it probably based on the German Scheißer (literally "defecator", "shitter"[2]). A book published in 2013 traces the first use back to 1843, when scammers in New York City would exploit prisoners by pretending to be lawyers. These scammers were disparagingly referred to as "shisers", meaning "worthless people" in British slang, which in turn was originally derived from the German "Scheißer".[3]

Various false etymologies have suggested an antisemitic origin, possibly associated with the character of Shylock from Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice, but there is no clear evidence for this.[4] One source asserts that the term originated in Philadelphia in 1843 from a disreputable attorney named "Schuster."[5]

The Soviet nuclear missile R-5 Pobeda ("Victory") was given the NATO reporting name "Shyster".[6]

Cultural references[edit]


  1. ^ Oxford English Dictionary, Second Edition, 1989, retrieved from
  2. ^ "Shyster". Merriam-Webster. Retrieved 2008-08-30.
  3. ^ On the Origin of 'Shyster', Allan Metcalf, 2013-05-06
  4. ^ Quinion, Michael (19 May 2007). "Shyster". World Wide Words. Retrieved 2009-11-15.
  5. ^ Karrass, Chester L. (1974). Give & Take. New York: Thomas Y Crowell. p. 194. ISBN 0-690-00566-0.