the Patois of confidence men

What is “telling the tale?”

…“running the store?”


From Cassell’s Dictionary of Slang:

Telling the tale - (1) to tell a story designed to elicit a loan (2) to flirt with in the hope of seduction (3) to tell any kind of unbelievable or pathetic story (4) to be a confidence trickster: thus teller of the tale, one who talks in any of these ways.

In Damon Runyon’s story, the eponymous Lemon Drop Kid is a teller of the tale at the racetrack. He finds his mark and, using definition (3), persuades him to invest on a horse to the tune of a C note. The Kid pockets the cash, not expecting this very moderate animal to win. Of course in this story the horse does win, and at a big price, leaving the Lemon Drop Kid with some explaining to do.

This is difficult without context. From Eric Partridge’s A Dictionary of the Underworld:

“To practise the race-course swindle known as telling the tale, a species of confidence trick; in C. 20, to operate as confidence men.”

as a noun, run is “an attempt to rob a place, esp. a bank.”

Again as a noun, “decoy (person or thing, bait.” Esp. for the last two, there are quite a lot of other possibilities.

Hannah Arendt had it right. Evil lacks the intrigue suggested by fiction and is instead banal.

A patois more often used to describe a dialect. I believe the word you intended was cant, though argot, while not precisely the correct word, would’ve done.

Ain’t linguistics fun? :smiley:

And, despite what Conmen would have you beleive, their main “mark” is not greedy and dishonest rich dudes, it is usually older people, often on fixed incomes. They prey mainly on the honest, lonely and confused; not the greedy and “looking for a quick buck”.

Of course this will require a huge crew, and the biggest Ethel Merman of all times.

The standard volume on confidence men is David W. Maurer’s The Big Con. He was a linguist who specialized in argot, but in doing so studied the lives and technical knowledge of the criminal subcultures who used it.

According to The Big Con:

To tell the tale. 1. For the inside man to tell the mark the story of his illicit dealings. (The big con.) 2. To tell any story to a prospective victim. (Short con.)

“Running the store” would mean running one of the big store cons:

The Big Store An establishment against which big-con men play their victims. For the wire and the pay-off, it is set up like a poolroom which takes race bets. For the rag, it is set up to resemble a broker’s office. Stores are set up with a careful attention to detail which makes them seem bona fide. After each play, the store is taken down and all equipment stored away in charge of the manager.

To Rope To secure a mark for a confidence game. Also, to lug, to steer, and to guide.

There is good reason why the best cons depend on the victim having “larceny in their hearts,” and having committed themselves to swindling someone else and so are less likely to beef when they tumble. Maurer and others would make this a sharp distinction between a professional Con Man and other kinds of grifters who depend on a victim’s powerlessness or desperation rather than complicity. But these two groups share a history, a set of techniques, an argot and often personnel. Even the romantically ideal Con Man who preys only upon the avaricious probably got the money to run those big store cons by victimizing some poor widow who needed more money to pay for her medicine.