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For other uses, see Shyster (disambiguation).

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 Merriam-Webster Dictionary says it is based on the German Scheißer (literally "shitter" but also used to refer to deceivers),[1] but the Oxford English Dictionary describes it as "of obscure origin", possibly deriving from a historical sense of "shy" meaning disreputable.[2] Various false etymologies have suggested an anti-Semitic origin, possibly associated with the character of Shylock from Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice, but there is no clear evidence for this.[3] One source claims that the term originated in Philadelphia in 1843 from a disreputable attorney named "Schuster."[4]

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

Cultural references[edit]

Film, radio and television
  • Sylvester Shyster (a Walt Disney cartoon character introduced in 1930) is a disbarred attorney who schemes to deprive Minnie Mouse of her inheritance
  • Monkey Business (1931 Marx Brothers film), the following lines occur: Woman: "You're awfully shy for a lawyer." Groucho: "You bet I'm shy...I'm a shyster lawyer!"
  • Flywheel, Shyster, and Flywheel (1932-3 situation comedy radio show starring Groucho and Chico Marx), depicts the misadventures of a small law firm
  • The Case of the Velvet Claws (1933), the first of Earl Stanley Gardner's Perry Mason novels, the fictional attorney tells of himself: "If you look me up through some family lawyer or some corporation lawyer, he'll probably tell you that I'm a shyster".
  • "Evidence" (1946 short story) by Isaac Asimov, the expression "shyster trick" is used, which tells about a political campaign described as "one in which the artificial atmosphere which has been created does all the work"[6]
  • "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" (1998 film adaptation) has a scene in which one of the main characters, Raoul Duke calls his friend, who is his attorney, a "scurvy shyster bastard".
  • The Professionals 1978 season 2 episode 2 "The Rack", Gordon Jackson refers George Cowley to "a shyster" lawyer
  • S.O.B. (1981), Polly Reed calls Dr. Irving Finegarten a shyster, to which Irving replies, "I could sue you for calling me that. A shyster is a disreputable lawyer. I'm a quack."
  • The Simpsons episode "Bart Gets Hit by a Car" (1991), Lisa Simpson asks lawyer Lionel Hutz, "Excuse me, Mr. Hutz. Are you a shyster?" - to which he replies: "How does a nice little girl like you know a big word like that?" In "Brother, Can You Spare Two Dimes?" (1992), Bart Simpson convinces Homer Simpson into giving a $2000 reward to his turned bum brother Herbert by saying: "Dad, you know some shyster is gonna bilk you out of your money, may as well be your brother."
  • Carlito's Way (1993 crime film), Carlito Brigante (Al Pacino) is told by a police inspector inside District Attorney Norwalk's (James Rebhorn) office that his Jewish lawyer and friend Dave Kleinfeld (Sean Penn) tried to set him up. The police inspector calls Dave Kleinfeld a "shyster".
  • Enemy of the State (1998 spy thriller film), one of the gangsters calls Will Smith's character a shyster, to which Smith responds: "I believe the slur 'shyster' is generally reserved for attorneys of the Jewish persuasion. I believe the proper term for someone like myself would be, ermm, eggplant." (The films producer seems to have believed in the unproven assertion that the term has anti-Semitic connotations).
  • The West Wing 2003 season 4 episode 21 "Life on Mars", Associate White House Council Joe Quincy (Matthew Perry) corrects Donna's claim that he is a "sawbones", indicating that since he is a lawyer and not a doctor, he is more accurately a "shyster".
  • The Wire 2003 season 2 episode 7 "Backwash", a prank regarding a paternity lawsuit includes fake papers with a telephone number to contact a lawyer that, when called, the prankster answers and identifies himself as "Shyster, Shyster, and Shyster"
  • Queer Duck: The Movie, a 2006 animated film, the title character is portrayed as working as a nurse in a hospital named "Shyster Extramente." (A veiled satire of the Kaiser Permanente hospital group)
  • Law and Order: SVU 2009 episode "Lead", Captain Cragen (Dann Florek) tells a couple of his detectives to talk to a hospital representative to find out information about a suit filed against them: "Talk to the hospital, find out what Keppler and his shyster lawyer are up to."
  • Meet the Press 2010 interview with former United States president George W. Bush who encourages donations for the 2010 Haiti earthquake and says, "One of my concerns is shysters show up and take advantage of people's good will and generosity".
  • Gravity Falls (2012) Grunkle (great-uncle) Stan, one of the main characters and owner of the tourist trap "The Mystery Shack," is described as being a shyster.
  • Professional wrestler Mike Rotunda used the name "Irwin R. Schyster" (initials: "I.R.S."), as part of his "tax man" gimmick.
Video games


  1. ^ "Shyster". Merriam-Webster. Retrieved 2008-08-30. 
  2. ^ Oxford English Dictionary, Second Edition, 1989, retrieved from
  3. ^ Quinion, Michael (19 May 2007). "Shyster". World Wide Words. Retrieved 2009-11-15. 
  4. ^ Karrass, Chester L. (1974). Give & Take. New York: Thomas Y Crowell. p. 194. ISBN 0-690-00566-0. 
  6. ^ Asimov, Isaac (1993). Robot visions. London: VGSF. ISBN 0-575-05527-8.