Gyp or gip, pronounced with a soft g, got its start as a derogatory term for Gypsy.
The term dates to the mid-19th century. From Gipsey Davy, found in Francis Child’s English and Scottish Ballads, and written sometime before 1840:
There was a gip came o’er the land.1
The sense of a thief or swindler is an American one. Gip is glossed as a thief in George Matsell’s Rogue’s Lexicon of 1859.1 The use of the term to mean a fraud dates to the early 20th century. From Jackson and Hellyer’s 1914 A Vocabulary of Criminal Slang:
Current in polite circles. The act of short-changing; a duplicity; a defrauding by substitution; an action that belies a professed sincerity. Example: “Look out for this guy, he’s a clever agent to slip you a gyp.” Derived from the popular experience with thieving Gypsies.
Some general currency, but especially significant amongst short changers. To flim-flam; to cheat by means of guile and manual dexterity.3
The verb is glossed in the Century Dictionary with a citation from 1880:
gyp (jip) v.t. [< gyp n.] To swindle; cheat.
Philadelphia Times May 27, 1880. [Slang.]4
2Historical Dictionary of American Slang, v. 1, A-G, edited by Jonathan Lighter (New York: Random House, 1994), 1005.
3Louis E. Jackson and C.R. Hellyer, A Vocabulary of Criminal Slang (Portland, OR: Modern Printing Co., 1914), 41.
Copyright 1997-2013, by David Wilton