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

In Britain, the idea of a 'shyster' is a person who earns a living in a fairground or in the 'coconut shy', generally believed to use unscrupulous and dishonest ways of earning money and avoiding giving out prizes. The word is used for anyone with the same traits.


The etymology of the word is not generally agreed upon. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary says it is based on the German Scheißer (literally "defecator" 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, but there is no proof for that.[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
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.