10 Devious, Dated Words for Deceptions

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The language of scams and flim-flams is colorful. No one likes to get bamboozled, but the words for getting duped are creative and vivid. This creativity extends to out-of-fashion words for dastardly swindles. Make sure to use one of the following the next time you get hornswoggled.


This days, when we hear about canoodling, it’s usually two celebrities playing tonsil hockey or enjoying a wholesome hug. But this word has a more disreputable history. Canoodling has always had a sense of two people getting close, but originally one was trying to rip the other off. An Oxford English Dictionary example from 1864 describes someone “adept in that branch of persuasive dialectics known as ‘conoodling’.” Come to think of it, persuasive dialectics is another solid good term for trying to sell someone a bridge.


This word has nothing to do with gunk in the sense of grimy filth, though it may be worse: It’s a rare word for conning someone that dates from the 1700s. To begunk is to befool. Begunk can also be a noun, meaning an example of such nefarious treachery.


Here’s a similar term that has roots in Old English. If you’re a dastardly deceiver, you’re a beswiker.


Since the mid-1800, folks have been possuming, and it’s related to the still-common expression playing possum. When you possum, you’re usually pretending to be sick or dead, most likely for financial gain. An 1846 use by R. G. A. Levinge explains and uses another deception-centric term: “Possuming is become an idiom; a term signifying any one who is humbugging or deceiving.”


Coney was originally a term for a rabbit, but a coney-catcher is someone who’s pulled the rabbit out of the hat in a sneaky way, most likely involving a swindle. This term goes back to the 1500s. An 1894 use by poet Edmund Goose is a characteristic example: “At Hodsdon he is prevailed on to play cards with some coney-catchers, who fleece him of everything.”


This word is a variation of fub (to deceive) which itself is a variation of fob. Next time a politician is accused of corruption, the press should accuse him of fubbery, a rubbery word that deserves a comeback.


This is a word like tutee—a person who is tutored—but a gaggee is the victim of a gag, which has often referred to a deception over the years. An 1819 use by J.G. Lockhart uses the word in a description of the proper tone for successful con-artistry: “Whether the Gag come in the shape of a compliment to the Gaggee, or some wonderful story, gravely delivered with every circumstance of apparent seriousness.”


There’s a deep history linking juggling with magic, hoodoo, snake oil, and other mysterious or disreputable practices, so it’s no surprise that jugglery has sometimes referred to bamboozlement. The idea is that a huckster juggles words as smoothly as an actual juggler handles balls, pins, torches, or knives. An 1838 example by W. H. Prescott refers to “an example of political jugglery and falsehood,” a phrase that could be put to constant use today.


This colorful, fanciful term has been around since the late 1800s and can mean any sort of nonsense, but especially the kind meant to deceive. A folksy use from the Washington Post in 1896 (with an alternate spelling) shows how little trust the word conveys: “Now, thar's a sort of rannikaboo liar on earth, an' I don't mind him nor his fabrications none whatever.”


This word’s history is surprising. All its meanings involve some kind of bend or twist, like a crink in the neck. But its very first meanings, in the early 1500s, involve lies and scams rather than physical twists. As the OED puts it, a crink is “An intricate, esp. deceptive, turn or twist of thought, speech, etc.; an intricate deception or sleight.” There’s also an unrelated meaning that’s super-cool: crinks and cranks are aches and pains, which can definitely arise in the noggin region if you get canoodled and possumed.