Escrocs et escroqueries

Escrocs et escroqueries

ess-cro ay ess-cruh-KREE. Click below to hear this.*

Scams, scammers and scamming.

I’ve been playing around in the etymological sand pile this morning. I’m all covered with words. Would you help me brush off?

Thanks. That’s better. Oh, here are a couple that stuck. Shall we talk about them?

Un escroc (silent c at the end of the word; don’t be taken in) is a scam, a swindle. It’s also the person who practices such scams. L’escroquerie is the general practice of scamming. (Don’t be taken in!)

Where did such an odd-looking pair of words come from?

Surprise! They are from the 16th-century Italian scroccare, which means to unhook. Un escroc uses fraudulent means to relieve you of your possessions–to unhook them from you, literally or figuratively.

And that sounds a lot like a crook to me. The English word crook comes from a Middle English word, crok, meaning hook. It referred to anything with or reminding one of a hooked shape, from a shepherd’s staff to a bishop’s crozier to…well, a thief.

And that Middle English word is likely connected to the Old French word croc or croche, meaning–you guessed it–hook.

But here’s the kicker. In English, we have this odd word escrow, which sounds and looks a good deal like escroc. Are they related? Is my bank a crook collecting my property tax and my mortgage interest? Not at all!

Don’t be taken in! Despite the similarity in the two words, they are not related at all. Escrow comes from a completely different Old French word: escroul orescroue, which also gave us the English word scroll. Originally, an escrow was a deed held by a third party until certain conditions were met. By extension, the bank holds your property tax in escrow until you (well, they, on your behalf) pay them.

Now wasn’t that fun?

*Some mobile phones, such as Blackberries, won’t display the audio player. If no player appears, here’s an alternative link to the audio file:

escrocs_et_escroqueries.mp3

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