• noun a dishonest, avaricious, contemptible person. The term is usually applied to unscrupulous professionals, particularly lawyers, who were the original subjects of the epithet in the USA in the mid-19th century. The etymology of shyster is open to several interpretations; shicer was a 19th-century anglicisation of the German scheisser (literally ‘shitter’); ‘shy’ was used in the 19th century colloquially to mean disreputable. In addition there is a historical record of a lawyer named Scheuster who was officially reprimanded in New york courtrooms for obstructive and unprofessional behaviour.

Origin & History of “shyster”

Shyster ‘unscrupulous lawyer’ originated in the USA in the 1840s. It is generally supposed to come from the name of one Scheuster, a New York lawyer of that era who was constantly being rebuked by judges for his sharp practices. An alternative explanation, however, is that it represents an alteration of German scheisser, literally ‘shitter’.