: a fugitive especially from the law
Did You Know?
Lamsters as a class are probably as old as the law from which they flee, but the term lamster didn't sneak into our language until the early 1900s, less than ten years after the appearance of the earliest known evidence of the noun lam, meaning "sudden or hurried flight especially from the law" (as in the phrase "on the lam"). Both words have an old verb relation, though. Lam has meant "to beat soundly" or "to strike or thrash" since the late 16th century (and consequently gave us our verb lambaste), but in the late 19th and early 20th centuries it developed another meaning: "to flee hastily." The origins of the verb are obscure, but etymologists suggest that it is Scandinavian in origin and akin to the Old Norse lemja, meaning "to thrash."
"After the Vivian Gordon furor died down, I began to think of going home. I needed money, I was bored with Miami, and tired of living the life of a lamster." — Polly Adler, A House Is Not a Home, 1953
"During his time as a lamster, Lepke was looked after by gangsters associated with a gang based in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn." — Marc Mappen, Prohibition Gangsters: The Rise and Fall of a Bad Generation, 2013
Test Your Vocabulary with M-W Quizzes
Test Your Vocabulary
Fill in the blanks to complete a word for a forecaster of the outcome of future events: d _ _ _ ster.VIEW THE ANSWER
Theme music by Joshua Stamper ©2006 New Jerusalem Music/ASCAP