So why are they called scalpers?

N.B. I’m talking about the guys who will sell me 2 seats on the 50-yard line for $600, not the guys who will remove a portion of my scalp for free.

“Give a man a match and he’ll be warm for an hour… Set him on fire and he’ll be warm for the rest of his life.”

The wonderful thing about the English language is that a word often has more than one meaning:
2scalp (1676)
verb transitive
1 a : to deprive of the scalp
b : to remove an upper part from
2 : to remove a desired constituent from and discard the rest
3 : to buy and sell so as to make small quick profits <scalp stocks> <scalp grain>; esp : to resell at greatly increased prices <scalp theater tickets>
verb intransitive
1 : to take scalps
2 : to profit by slight market fluctuations
scalp•er noun

©1996 Zane Publishing, Inc. and Merriam-Webster, Incorporated. All rights reserved.

Anyone want to mention where the practice of “scalping,” as in cutting off a swath of skin on one’s head, came from and why? I think Cecil spoke to that once.

Well I’ll be damned. Why can’t the most obvious answer be the correct one all of the time? :slight_smile:

As for the “other” scalping, in some cultures, wasn’t the number of scalps one owned a measure of how successful one had been in battle?

Handy, that doesn’t really answer the question posed.

The real question is: why is one definition of ‘scalp’ ‘to make a small quick profit’? Presumably, it has something to do with the practice of removing scalps, as practiced by the North American natives, at the behest of the British, if I have that right. I can’t find an etymology for that usage…

I can’t find a Straight Dope column or mailbag answer regarding the origin of scalping…

The Compton’s Encyclopedia asserts that the plains Indians took scalps as a method of counting coup (the term is French). I tend to be skeptical of traditional encyclopedic thinking regarding Amerinds… often it tends to perpetuate myths and racial stereotyping.

I was taught at one time that the British, for whom many Amerind tribes were allies, asked the scalps of foes slain be brought in for proof in order to pay bounties to them for the killings. Mayhap someone can confirm or deny this with some actual EVIDENCE, which I can’t seem to find. :slight_smile:

Indians on the eastern seaboard wore pony tails and had jet black hair. Thus, a returned black pony tail with a bit of head left on it was considered evidence enough for a reward to be paid.

Or, as Francis Jennings so eloquently put it in The Invasion of America:

“Customs and practices changed from decade to decade, even in regard to the trait of scalping, which, while apparently Indian in origin, did not exist among many Indian tribes in the early seventeenth century. It seems to have been adopted in New England, for example, as a convenient way to collect provincial bounties for heads without having to lug about the awkward impedimentia attached to the scalps.”

Indian in origin, perhaps, but performed in the name of English commerce.

The Britannica says that scalping was practiced by some, but by no means all, North American Indians and some South American Indians. It was also praciced by the Scythians, some Siberian groups, and, perhaps, by some Persians. The British did start a commerce in scalps that greatly expanded the prevalence of scalping in Northeast North America.

The OED provides a meaning, dated 1862, of a scalper who is a person who buys up the unused portion of a long-distance railroad ticket at below market value and then sells it at a profit.
My conjecture: this profit is “scalped” off the top of the price that the railroad would have preferred to collect. This is strictly WAG.