1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Cheating

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CHEATING, “the fraudulently obtaining the property of another by any deceitful practice not amounting to felony, which practice is of such a nature that it directly affects, or may directly affect, the public at large” (Stephen, Digest of Criminal Law, chap. xl. §367). Cheating is either a common law or statutory offence, and is punishable as a misdemeanour. An indictment for cheating at common law is of comparatively rare occurrence, and the statutory crime usually presents itself in the form of obtaining money by false pretences (q.v.). The word “cheat” is a variant of “escheat,” i.e. the reversion of land to a lord of the fee through the failure of blood of the tenant. The shortened form “cheater” for “escheator” is found early in the legal sense, and chetynge appears in the Promptorium Parvulorum, c. 1440, as the equivalent of confiscatio. In the 16th century “cheat” occurs in vocabularies of thieves and other slang, and in such works as the Use of Dice-Play (1532). It is frequent in Thomas Harman’s Caveat or Warening for . . . Vagabones (1567), in the sense of “thing,” with a descriptive word attached, e.g. smeling chete = nose. In the tract Mihil Mumchance, his Discoverie of the Art of Cheating, doubtfully attributed to Robert Greene (1560–1592), we find that gamesters call themselves cheaters, “borrowing the term from the lawyers.” The sense development is obscure, but it would seem to be due to the extortionate or fraudulent demands made by legal “escheators.”