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To stiff someone

Posted by Smokey Stover on July 15, 2008 at 14:32

In Reply to: To stiff someone posted by RRC on July 14, 2008 at 17:33:

: : 'To stiff someone', as in to not pay his bill, I believe came from the funeral industry. It may have derived from an executor's refusal to pay a dry cleaning bill for a burial suit (a suit previously left at the cleaner's by the deceased?), whether tendered by the undertaker or by the dry cleaner, I don't remember... obviously, my memory is unclear on the specifics.

: says of stiff:
: "fail to tip," 1939, originally among restaurant and hotel workers, probably from stiff (n.) in slang sense of "corpse" (corpses don't tip well, either). Extended by 1950 to "cheat."

: The idea that the undertaker would have the job of picking up the dry cleaning or that the mourner would quibble over a few dollars on a very large bill both seem unlikely.

I'm not sure anyone is going to figure out any time soon how "stiffing the waiter" came into the language. The first time I heard the expression I immediately thought of a football runner who stiff-arms those trying to tackle him. Obviously others have thought the same. See, in our archive,

But so far this hasn't risen above the category of "folk etymology."