Intermediate+ Word of the Day: con

con (noun, verb, adjective) /kɑn/ LISTEN

As a verb, con means ‘to trick or deceive’ or ‘to persuade by deception.’ As an adjective, con describes someone or something that is dishonest and deceitful. As a noun, a con is a lie or a trick. In slang, a con is a criminal who is in prison. A con can also be a reason not to do something and, as an adjective, it can describe the position of being against something.

Example sentences

  • Bill was sentenced to five years in jail for conning the old man out of his savings.
  • On April Fools' Day, Karen conned me into thinking she was moving abroad, but it was just a joke!
  • You should always be careful of emails from people you don't know who are offering you money; those people are usually con artists.
  • The deal sounded too good to be true and, of course, it turned out to be a con.
  • When Mark went to jail, he was afraid of the other cons, but most of them turned out to be OK.
  • When making a decision, it is often helpful to weigh up the pros and cons.
  • There are more con arguments than pro ones; I don't think you should do it.

Words often used with con

pros and cons: the reasons for and against something. Example: “Sheila weighed the pros and cons of quitting her job.”

con trick: a trick or tactic designed to con somebody. Example: “Calling old people on the phone and pretending to be their grandchild is a common con trick.”

con artist (or, con man, con woman): a person who makes a habit of conning others. Example: “Don’t listen to anything Fred says; he’s a con artist.”

ex-con: someone who was formerly in prison for committing a crime. Example: “Many states allow ex-cons to vote in elections.”

In pop culture

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels is a 1988 movie about two con artists, played by Steve Martin and Michael Caine. You can watch the trailer here:

Did you know?

In many of its forms, con is a shortened version of another word. In the meanings relating to deceit, it is short for confidence—a confidence trick is when you gain another person’s trust, or confidence, in order to deceive them. As a slang term for someone who is or has been in jail, it is short for convict and, as a reason not to do something, it is short for the Latin word contrā, meaning ‘against.’

Additional information

As a verb, con can also mean ‘to study something’ or ‘to learn something by heart.’ Example: “The actor spent the afternoon conning his lines.”

Origin

The oldest meaning of con is actually the one related to studying and learning, which dates back to before the year 1000, as the Old English verb cunnian (to know), which became the Middle English cunnen (‘to study, get to know or carefully examine something,’ as well as ‘to try and seek to do something’ or ‘to make an attempt’). It can be traced back to the Proto-Germanic kunnjanan (to be mentally able or to have learned), from the Proto-Indo-European root gno– (to know). In English, it evolved into the word can (which lost the studying and knowing senses), and is also related to the words know, notion, narrate, and many more, as well as words related to knowing and knowledge in many other languages. As a noun and adjective meaning ‘a negation’ or ‘a reason not to do something,’ con dates back to the late 16th century, and is a short form of the preposition and adverb contra (against, on the opposite side, on the contrary or counterwise), which came into English in the mid-14th century directly from the Latin contrā, formed by joining the Old Latin com- (together) and the comparative suffix –ter. Con, as a slang term meaning convict, dates back to the early 18th century. Finally, con, as an adjective meaning ‘dishonest or deceitful,’ dates back to the late 19th century, and was first used in con man, a shortened form of confidence man (mid-19th century). The verb dates back to around the same time, and comes from the adjective, as does the noun.

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