Based on the OED informal definition of "Artist" - "...a habitual practitioner of a specified activity: a con artist ..." a number of expressions came into being involving the word 'artist' and words for crime/criminal, usually, but not always, petty crime - Fraud Artist - Short-Change Artist - Rip-Off Artist, and the OED's own example: A Con Artist.
I'm trying to discover where and when these figures first came into being. The language communities I have so far searched within are, Criminal and Military - in that there is significant history of militaries colluding with both criminals and with artists - and come up with nothing.
Any advice or clues would be most appreciated.
OED entry for artful says
This use began in 1659, and is still popular today. Maybe Dickens in 18somethings? 2. a.
Skilfully adapted for the accomplishment of a purpose; ingenious, clever. Hence: cunning, crafty, deceitful. b.
Of a person: skilful in adapting means to ends, so as to secure the accomplishment of a purpose, adroit. Hence: skilful in taking unfair advantage; using stratagem; wily, cunning, crafty, deceitful. Cf. Artful Dodger
n. at Special uses.
Now the most common sense.
I think it's easy to derive fraud-, rip-off-, and short-change-artist from con-artist, so maybe when artful came to describe "skillfully deceitful", "artist" could then naturally describe someone who was so skilled.
Thank you for the dating on 'artful' and the suggestions for the association chain.
Originally Posted by zackcentury
Yes, Dickens and 'the artful dodger' had surfaced as a significant clue. Your endorsement reveals to me that I must now carefully examine the linguistic environment that Dickens inhabited.
- Robyn Banx
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