• grift •
grift • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: 1. A swindle, confidence game, obtaining money by deception or threats. 2. The money made from swindling people.
Notes: Today's Good Word is a rarity: a word spelled exactly the way it is pronounced! Someone who practices this form of crime is known as a grifter. It may be used as a verb meaning "to swindle". That is the full extent of this word's lexical family.
In Play: Grift usually involves money obtained by threat: "Reggie hadn't figured the cost of grift in running a business in downtown New York; the cost of the protection racket drove him out of business." But money obtained by deception also qualifies as grift: "Arnaldo called his work on Wall Street 'intellectual grift'."
Word History: Today's Good Word is probably an underground corruption of graft, a word that was graft "ditch" from grafan "to dig (up)" in Old English. In Britain it became slang for "working hard", whence it was just a short hop to "grift". This English word has relatives in several Germanic languages, like German graben "to dig", Dutch graven "to dig, delve", Icelandic grafa "to dig", and Norwegian grave "to dig". These all were derived from PIE ghrebh-/ghrobh- "to scrape, dig", remainders of which we see in Russian grob "grave" and pogrebat' "to bury", Latvian grebt "to carve" and greblis "rake", Albanian gërmoi "to dig", English grave, Czech hřeben "comb" and hrábě "rake", and Serbian greben "comb" and grablje "rake". (Now a word of thanks to Barbara Beeton, an active Agoran and frequent contributor, for today's shady Good Word with an even shadier past.)
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