Definitions

from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

  • n. Slang An unethical, unscrupulous practitioner, especially of law.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

  • n. Someone who acts in a disreputable, unethical, or unscrupulous way, especially in the practice of law and politics.

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • n. A trickish knave; one who carries on any business, especially legal business, in a mean and dishonest way.

from The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia

  • n. One who does business trickily; a person without professional honor: used chiefly of Iawyers: as, pettifoggers and shysters.

from WordNet 3.0 Copyright 2006 by Princeton University. All rights reserved.

  • n. a person (especially a lawyer or politician) who uses unscrupulous or unethical methods

Etymologies

Probably alteration of German Scheisser, son of a bitch, bastard, from scheissen, to defecate, from Middle High German schīzen, from Old High German skīzzan.
(American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition)
The origin is mostly likely from German Scheißer ("incompetent worthless person"), from scheißen ("to defecate"), probably influenced by -ster (Wiktionary)

Examples

  • Well, the states still have equal suffrage in the Senate, but this kind of what I call shyster lawyerism has been used to permit the federal government to overrun the Constitutional bounds on its powers.

    The Volokh Conspiracy » The Sotomayor Vote:

  • He had begun his career as an "ambulance chaser," had risen later to the dignity of a police court lawyer, and now was of the type that might be called, for want of a better name, a high class "shyster" -- unscrupulous, sharp, cunning.

    The Ear in the Wall

  • Superspeed shootist sheriff slays sister on the way to silver bullet showdown with supervillain shyster.

    Archive 2007-06-01

  • Steve Hicks Lawrence, Kansas In his article, "That Dirty Bird," on the onomastic migrations of the shitepoke [III, 3], Steven R. Hicks makes passing reference to the intriguing word shyster, an American colloquialism dating from at least as early as 1846 (see Mitford Mathews, Americanisms, 1966).

    VERBATIM: The Language Quarterly Vol IV No 1

  • This wasn't an accidental outburst: he went on to repeat the word "shyster" twice more.

    F&C falls to a very American coup. Now what?

  • But, considerably as a consequence of Campbell's own track record (as, indeed, a "shyster"), the public is very rightly very wary of ever believing anything the government says.

    Tony Blair: The Next Labour Prime Minister?

  • Whenever I see or hear the word "shyster" a picture of L. Davis forms in my mind.

    Lanny Davis joins VoteBoth

  • Mr. Cohen said that Mr. Shulman was first to challenge that "shyster" derived from a lawyer named Scheuster.

    languagehat.com: RIP DAVID SHULMAN.

  • No one knows what Bush did, except run companies into the ground and daddy's friends bailed him out, and I'm supposed to believe Edwards is some kind of shyster for helping poor families?

    Archive 2004-07-01

  • And presently Jake Hibbard, the worst "shyster" in the village, shuffled in -- noticeable anywhere for his suit of rusty black, his empty sleeve pinned to his coat, the green patch over his eye, and his tobacco-stained lips.

    The Calico Cat

Comments

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  • I'm so glad to know that there's an alternate spelling! I've always seen it spelled with the ei instead of the y. Thought I was going crazy....

    February 28, 2010

  • Alternate spelling: scheister.

    March 31, 2009

  • Etymology from the OED:
    "Of obscure origin.
    It might be f. SHY a. (sense 7, disreputable) + -ster; but this sense of the adj. is app. not current in the U.S."

    In the quotations:

    1844 G. WILKES Mysteries of Tombs 44/1 He is consulted by the magistrates on all important points of law, and the inferior shysters look upon him with a reverence approaching veneration. 1849 G. G. FOSTER New York in Slices 20 He must..wait next day for the visits of the ‘shyster’ lawyersa set of turkey-buzzards whose touch is pollution and whose breath is pestilence. 1856 Knickerb. Mag. Apr. XLVII. 434 (Thornton Amer. Gloss.) If these two ‘shuysters’ on the other side could get one more drink down your throat, you couldn't travel at all. 1857 N.Y. Tribune 13 Mar. (Bartlett 1860) The shysters, or Tombs lawyers, were on hand, and sought to intercede for their clients. a1860 N.Y. Tribune (ibid.), When a man or woman is thrown into prison, a shyster leech gets access to him, and extorts from him his last cent under the pretence of obtaining his liberation. 1877 BLACK Green Past. xli, They..looked on a prominent civic official as a mere shyster. 1902 BOOTHBY Uncle Joe's Legacy 98 The shyster lawyer. 1943 M. H. HARRIS Vegetative Eye 15 Not to Memory, with its shyster lackey, Association. 1952 Manch. Guardian Weekly 19 June 3 They call Taft's ‘shyster methods’ so necessary. 1961 Listener 14 Dec. 1046/1 A solicitor's chief clerk who persuades his shyster employer to leave the country to avoid embezzlement charges. 1981 J. WAINWRIGHT All on Summer's Day 31 The shyster lawyers..swear blind the client's been manhandled while in police custody.

    Interesting about its origins coming from "Shylock," as marco says. That's what I had always heard. But here its earliest usage is given as 1844, which would seem to preclude an origin in the sixteenth or seventeenth centuries.

    March 31, 2009

  • I could see it coming from a Teutoninc background (Jewish/ German, etc.) The German vernacular for shit is ScheiBe (Scheisse), which sounds like the "shys" of shyster. Perhaps it's a loanword meaning "little shit".

    March 31, 2009

  • Is this word still considered a racial slur? At one time it strongly implied an unscrupulous Jewish person, as in the usurer Shylock in Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice.

    March 30, 2009