Monday, July 25, 2011


The word bankster, a negative term for (especially big) bankers, has gotten really common since the major bank bailout. (Today, it gets 2.24 million raw google hits.) But it's not THAT established ... OED Online doesn't have it.

It was interesting, I thought, to see the old -ster suffix being productive in the current scene. It used to be highly productive and we still have lots of examples around and not all really old. I had just uncritically reckoned that it was that suffix, with the negative semantics probably by association to terms like huckster, gangster, shyster, and so on.

But in UrbanDictionary and other sources, it's treated as a blend of banker and gangster. Not sure I buy that. Anybody got any info or arguments on this?

The best history of the word I've seen so far is Nancy Friedman's discussion here (with reference to other stuff), but she doesn't probe the etymological angle particularly. She talks about it being used from fringe right people, but today it's widespread in progressive circles, definitely (but maybe also used by the far right still?) And while you're at it, check out the Culturomics data on this word (and compare it to gangster, etc.). It's never been really common, but it's older than you might think and had a big bump during the Depression:

The sharp rise might be consistent with it being coined in the media or something. Appropriate that it's come back now, eh?

Anyway, I'd be curious if others know more about this one.


ALM said...

This is the first time I've seen the term "bankster," but I would pronounce it identically to "gangster" except for the first syllable (I insert a [k] between the velar nasal and s in "gangster"), so the connection sounds plausible to me.

ALM said...

That should read "except for the first SEGMENT!"

Ellen K. said...

It's perhaps notable that bankster and gangster are near rhymes.

I'm thinking it could be both. And I think that the similarity in to gangster certainly makes it read as a blend, regardless of origin.

Also, bankster rhymes with prankster. (That discovered via spell check.)