When someone gets taken advantage of, we would say "he got stiffed", where "stiffed" means "cheated".

What is the etymology of the word "stiff" used this way?

3 Answers 3



late 14c., "to make stiff," from stiff (adj.). Meaning "fail to tip" is from 1939, originally among restaurant and hotel workers, probably from stiff (n.), perhaps in slang sense of "corpse" (because dead men pay no tips), or from the "contemptible person" sense. Extended by 1950 to "cheat."

It appears that to cheat is derived in the 50's from its original meaning.


When crimpers went to Shanghai sailors they got paid by the body. When they couldn't get enough drunken men, they would see if there were any fresh bodies in the morgue. They sold the dead bodies to the ships captain in the dark of night as a pasted out man. The captain found out in the morning that he got "stiffed" when he found the stiff body. That is the story I was told.

  • Interesting. Have you any references for this?
    – Chenmunka
    Sep 10, 2015 at 7:36

Getting "stiffed" is an allusion to a woman offering sex to a man, and then, not following through with the completion of the offer. The suggestion of sex causes the man's penis to become erect (stiff) in anticipation. When the woman is then unwilling to engage in sex, which would return the penis to a flaccid state after ejaculation, the penis remains erect or "stiff". Hence, there is the anticipation of something desirable being offered, (sex, a tip, or a fee), and then being withdrawn. Lacking completion of the anticipated act, the allusion is to cause an erection and then deny ejaculation, causing the erection to remain. This is somewhat similar to a tease. Being "stiffed" is the verb which describes the process.

  • Do you have a source for this etymology? Apr 4, 2019 at 5:15

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