L'Escamoteur

Discuss the historical aspects of magic, including memories, or favorite stories.

Postby Guest » 01/03/03 10:30 AM

Does anyone out there know the history of the term escamoteur? The well-known Heironymous Bosch painting of the cups and balls performer is usually referred to as L'Escamoteur, but Bosch was Dutch, and this was probably a title assigned later. Is there a relationship between the English word "scam" and the word escamoteur?
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Postby George Olson » 01/03/03 11:13 AM

I just did a "Google" search and got 850 "hits" with some interesting results. Give it a try. :p
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Postby Guest » 01/03/03 11:23 AM

Hardly any of those 819 hits is in English!

This link is pretty good for cups and balls history:

Cups and Balls
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Postby George Olson » 01/03/03 10:19 PM

look carefully, there is a statement "Translate this page or something like that that gives you a straight translation; quite helpful and interesting.
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Postby Guest » 01/05/03 05:56 PM

The French "escamoteur" = conjuror.

The verb "escamoter" = to conjure away; to get round, skirt round a problem, dodge a question; to thieve, steal.

According to three dictionaries that i've checked, the origin of "scam" (U.S. slang) is unknown. However, it could have originated from the British "scamp", often used to describe: "A rogue; a rascal; highway robber; mischievous youngster".

I'm really shooting in the dark... but on the face of it there may be an etymological link between these two sets of words, escamoteur/escamoter and scamp, particularly when one takes into account that scamp was once also used to describe someone who "roams about idly" and then compares that to "the ethereal escamoteur wander[ing], as he has done for centuries, from village to village, stopping here and there to lure a circle of people, hungry for diversion..." (as one writer put it).

Food for thought.

HappyTrickster
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Postby Guest » 01/10/03 04:49 PM

"escamoter" means : to put out of seight, to steal something. It's an old french verb, which is rarely use nowourdays.
"l'escamoteur" is the person who does the steal.
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Postby Guest » 01/11/03 12:10 AM

In the middle ages, conjurers in France were called "escamoteurs" and their art "escamotage." Both of these words come from the word "escamot"--a cork ball. The Cups and Balls was such a part of the jongleur's art that the performer was named for the prop.

The ancient Romans thought much the same way. The Roman word for magician was acetabulari from the Latin word for "cup"--acetabulum.

I would not be surprised if the word "scam" came into our language from the French "escamoteur." This happened before as Ron Wohl pointed out to me. It seems that the archaic English word "Bonnet" for a shill in a con game, came from the French "Bonneteur" meaning con man.

Bonneteur meant literally one who tips his cap (from bonneteau = "little cap" This referred to a man's billed cap).

The term bonneteur originally referred to strangers or courtiers who were overly friendly--up to something. Eventually it began to mean a conman, and today refers almost exclusively to Three-Card Monte men. Bonneteau is now the French term for three-card monte.

The English may have just naturally related the term bonneteur and its implications to the English word bonnet, which at that time was a man's cap.

I suspect scam came into our language about the same time and about the same way.
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Postby Guest » 01/29/03 04:04 PM

I had hoped someone might have something further to say on the subject. There must be some more info on the word "scam," and while we are at it, "shill" is another word of obscure and uncertain origin. Are there other words that fill out our "argot" as magicians whose origins and meanings might be enlightening?
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Postby Guest » 01/29/03 05:07 PM

According to the OED it looks like scam is derived from Scaum an old english word meaning to burn. An excerpt from their dictionary follows

a1670 SPALDING Troub. Chas. I (Bannatyne Club) II. 247 Ane fyrie cros of tymber, quhairof everie point of the cros was scamit and brynt with fyre. 1808 JAMIESON App., To Scam, to scorch. 1825 To Scaum, Scame, v.a. to burn slightly; to singe. 1841 W. AITKEN Poet. Wks. 53 Some had their claes tied in a clout To keep them frae be'n scaumed. 1882 Pall Mall G. 26 July 4/2 Then comes a bitter March wind, with snow and sleet, which scam the soft plants, and leave them withered as if they had been touched by fire.

One is burned, or scamed by a con

This seems to make more sense than it being derived from escamoteur.
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Postby Guest » 01/29/03 05:18 PM

That is possible, I guess, Payne. But how recent is the use of "burned" as a synonym for "cheated?" I expect it is relatively recent. If the slang "burned" does not go back very far, how could the connection have been made to an archaic word such as "scaum?"

Does the OED actually make the connection from "scam" as a con game to "scam" as burned, or is that a connection that you inferred?
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Postby Guest » 01/29/03 09:50 PM

Originally posted by Whit Haydn:
That is possible, I guess, Payne. But how recent is the use of "burned" as a synonym for "cheated?" I expect it is relatively recent. If the slang "burned" does not go back very far, how could the connection have been made to an archaic word such as "scaum?"

Does the OED actually make the connection from "scam" as a con game to "scam" as burned, or is that a connection that you inferred?
Burned as a synonym for cheated goes back to the 1600's
From the OED

1655 R. BAILLIE Let. (1842) III. 290 Our people were so ill-burnt, that they had no stomach for any farder medling. [a1700 B. E. Dict. Cant. Crew, Burnt the Town, when the Soldiers leave the Place without paying their Quarters.] 1808 JAMIESON, Burn, to deceive, to cheat in a bargain. 1844 Philad. Spirit of Times 19 Aug. (Th.), Two negro burners were arrested in the act of trying to burn two Pottsville boatmen with a plated chain worth about fifteen cents. 1926 J. BLACK You can't Win ix. 106 If you'd burnt Shorty for his end of that coin, you'd have been here just the same. 1969 Sunday Truth (Brisbane) 16 Mar. 39/2, I figured I'd burn the guy for a thousand

Sham is equally as old first occuring in 1677
Again from the OED

1677 WYCHERLEY Pl. Dealer III. i. 44 Law. Why, I'm sure you jok'd upon me, and shamm'd me all night long. Man...Shamming! What does he mean by't Freeman? Free. Shamming, is telling you an insipid, dull Lye, with a dull Face, which the slie Wag the Author only laughs at himself; and making himself believe 'tis a good Jest, puts the Sham only upon himself. 1688 SHADWELL Sq. Alsatia II. Wks. 1720 IV. 42 Sirrah! most audacious rogue! do you sham me? do you think you have your uncle to deal with? 1693 Humours Town 69 Their highest Excellence is, to banter the Vintner, to bilk their Lodgings, to sham their Bookseller. 1821 BYRON To Mr. Murray iv, So, if you will, I shan't be shamm'd.

Scam, which the OED states is "obs. form of SHAME; var. SCAUM v., Sc.", seems to be a rather recent arrival in the lexicon appearing 40 years ago.

One last time from the OED

1963 Time 28 June 48/2 My boss was scammin' from the public, and I was scammin' from him. 1966 Wall Street Jrnl. 9 Sept. 1/1 "Scam' originally was a carnival term meaning "to fleece the public'. 1974 Whig-Standard (Kingston, Ont.) 9 Apr. 4/1 Scamming..is a form of criminal bankruptcy in which a front man buys out a legitimate firm and then uses the credit rating of the firm to buy large quantities of merchandise. Ibid. 4/3 Scamming, he said, ranks second only to bookmaking in financial importance to criminals. 1977 New Yorker 30 May 96/2 Local citizens..try to avoid being scammed by the familiar tergiversations of city politicians.
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Postby Guest » 01/31/03 01:28 PM

That is really interesting stuff, Payne. Still, the first published use of the word "scam" that I've found is about 1920. If the archaic word was suddenly brought back, I suspect it must have come from a related language or dialect in which the word was still being used. Perhaps in some Irish, Welsh, or Scottish dialects the word was still common?

The American term "shill" came from the Welsh "shillaber" which meant "a fellow participant in a job of work." "Scam" may well have been a word common among immigrants from Ireland or Wales, coming from the same archaic usage you described. Since it first appears in print in America in 1920, it was probably in use for some years before.

This would place its appearance during the 19th century height of immigration from Ireland and Wales. I would vote for a probable Irish or Welsh connection to "scaum" if it does not come from the French "escamotage," which I still think could be a possibility.
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Postby Guest » 01/31/03 09:59 PM

Just want to put my two cents in. This thread is one of the most intelligent and entertaining that I have encountered on the net. My hat is off to all of you who have taken the trouble to look something up before making a statement.

Of all things I find scholarship the most entertaining. The ability to locate facts in reference books impresses me far more than digital dexterity.

As far as the discussion of validity of particular dictionaries goes I would say what I usewd to tell prospective customers during my years in charge of the reference section of a large bookshop. When you are contemplating the purchase of a dictionary, look up in at least four the last three words for which you needed a dictionary. then choose that which most fills your needs. What is a good dictionary for one person might not be for another -- we each bring to the dictionary our own vocbulary. Personally, for American English I prefer the Merriam Webster -- the Second Edition rather than the Third. I have both and consult both.
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Postby Bill Mullins » 04/29/08 07:10 PM

Anonymous wrote:That is really interesting stuff, Payne. Still, the first published use of the word "scam" that I've found is about 1920. If the archaic word was suddenly brought back, I suspect it must have come from a related language or dialect in which the word was still being used. Perhaps in some Irish, Welsh, or Scottish dialects the word was still common?


Is there any way of knowing who wrote this post originally?
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Postby Brandon Hall » 05/01/08 06:51 PM

Bill,
By reading the above quote insert from Whit Haydn, I'd say it sounds like his phrasing...maybe Richard can say for certain
"Hope I Die Before I Get Old"
P. Townshend
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Postby Jim Maloney » 05/01/08 10:15 PM

Comparing the IP address of the original post that was quoted at the top of this page, and the IP address of the post Bill quoted, I can safely say that yes, they were both made by the same person -- apparently Whit Haydn.

-Jim
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Postby Naphtalia » 05/02/08 05:33 PM

Dictionaries certainly do differ in quality. When it comes to Etymology, I like to start with The OnLine Etymology Dictionary . It's not necessarily the best resource, but one of the quickest when I don't have others at hand.

When it comes to Online dictionaries, I'll invariably start with The University of Mass.' s Catalog of On-Line Dictionaries.

I still prefer the book forms, but don't always have access to my home references - Merriam Webster's Third New International Dictionary - unabridged....a total splurge but well worth it.

And lets never forget Ambrose Bierce's Devil's Dictionary for sheer brilliance and creativity.
Naphtalia


Impropriety is the soul of wit.
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