The origins of the words scam go back into antiquity, through many derivations. The modern form of the word is first noted in a 1963 entry in an American slang dictionary. It is considered a “carnival term of unknown origin. Perhaps it’s related to 19th century. British slang scamp “cheater, swindler” This is the most plausible explanation of the word and provides a clue for further research.
In a dictionary published in 1837, the word scamp is defined as “do in a hasty manor.” From this reference, it is traced back to a Scandinavian source. The origin n Old Norse, from which the word may have derived is the word “skemma” to shorten. And “skemma” is believed to derive from skammr “short.” Thus far, imagistic ally, we can see a definite relation to the word scam. A scam artist, for example, might “short” his customer by not providing him with the full value of the service requested. He might do this by providing service in a hasty manor.
In this line of thought, the origin of the word seems to be the Old Norse word skamt, a form of skammer which dervies from the Proto German skamma related to the old OE scamm, all meaning “short.” The word scant, itself is said to have derived back in 1350 from the Old Norse word skamt, a form of skammr, which derives from the P Germanic skamma. So directly or indirectly, it appears that scam derives from the Germanic skamma, and the OE scamm, Interestingly, all of these terms are related to the old Germanic word. skemmen “to shorten” . Since taking off the top of something will shorten it, the word skemmen is sometimes taken to mean “hornless,” and one must wonder if there is a connection to the word” skim,” since the skimming process takes the top off of a food product. In any case, one might tie the meanings together, when one considers again, that a scam artist, “shorts,” a person.
Yet another possible derivation of the word scam goes through the word scamper, which means to run away. Scamper is related to the “Flem. schampeeren, frequentative of schampen “run away,” from O.N.Fr. escamper (O.Fr. eschamper) “to run away, flee,” from V.L. *excampare “decamp,” lit. “leave the field,” from L. ex campo, from ex “out of” + campo, ablative of campus “field” Both scamp, a likely derivative of scam, and scamper, connote haste. While it might be the result of coincidence more than intent, it’s worth noting that people who do scams, such as people who do moving scams frequently scamper away to avoid being caught.
Should the word scam derive from the word scamper, it is interesting to note that the Latin word campuse is related to the Proto Indo European word kampos a “corner” or “cove” from the base word kamp – “to bend”
It would be interesting to know if there is a Semitic derivation for the word scam. The common origins of Semetic languages and Indo-European languages go back 60,000 years, so it is impossible to know for sure, however, it is tempting to suggest that the word Kpoph, meaning “to bend” is distantly related to kamp “to bend,” since both words have the K and P sounds.
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