What is a con or to con? Definition and example

The noun ‘Con’ refers to a dishonest trick to get people’s money or make them do what you want. It may also refer to a disadvantage, as in “One of the cons of having a large house is its maintenance costs.”

In the United Kingdom, a possible abbreviation of ‘conservative’ is ‘con.’

We sometimes refer to somebody who is in prison as a con (slang). In this case, the word is short for ‘convict.’

As a verb, the term means to trick somebody. Usually, when somebody cons another person, they use tricks and deception to take their money. In other words, they use a ‘confidence trick,’ hence, the term. The verb means to swindle, defraud, cheat, trick, dupe, mislead, scam, or hoodwink.

Con definition and examples
The word ‘con’ has many different meanings.

Etymology of ‘con’

Etymology is the study of where words came from, i.e., their origins. It is also the study of how the meanings of words have changed over time.

The term emerged in the English language meaning ‘disadvantage, opposite of pro’ in the 1570s. It is the short form of the Latin word contra, which means ‘against.’

In 1849, in the United States, the term ‘con man’ appeared, meaning ‘a swindler.’ It is the short form of ‘confidence man.’

During the 19th century, it became a slang term for many words. Examples include contract, convict, conformist, conundrum, and confidant. In the 20th century, it also became a short form of conductor and conservative.

Con artist

Over that past few decades, many gender-specific terms have turned into gender-neutral ones. For example, salesperson instead of salesman or saleswoman, or chairperson (or simply chair) instead of chairman.

In most cases, the word ‘person’ has replaced ‘man’ or ‘woman.’ The term con man, however, did not acquire the word ‘person.’ The gender-neutral term is ‘con artist.’

A con artist uses deception to make money. They cheat, lie, and fool people into thinking one thing when something else or nothing is really happening.

In some cases, the trickster fools the target or the mark into thinking they will make a lot of money. They subsequently discover that not only do they not make a lot of money but that they have also lost money.

Some swindlers take advantage of people’s weaknesses. Insecurity, poor health, ignorance, naivety, and loneliness, for example, are weaknesses that confidence tricksters exploit.

A con versus a rip-off

Although the two terms have very similar meanings, they are quite different.

A con or scam involves wrongdoing. In other words, doing something illegal. A rip-off means charging too much for something. However, a rip-off is not illegal.

If I dislike my haircut, I might say “That super-expensive hairdresser is a total rip-off.” However, the hairdresser is not doing anything illegal.

If, on the other hand, somebody talks me into cutting my hair but does nothing, and I paid, that is a con. Maybe he asks me for $10 and tells me to close my eyes and not open them until I have counted to 100.

When I open my eyes, he is nowhere to be seen, and neither is my $10. He vanished as soon as I closed my eyes.

Con and fraud have similar meanings. However, fraud tends to refer to more serious crimes. If the illegal activity went on for a very long time, possibly years, it was fraud and not a con.


A catfish is a person who assumes a fake identity on Facebook or other social media platforms. They rapidly become romantic with some users and develop a relationship that can last years. Their ultimate aim is to extract money from the victims, i.e., to con them.

Catfishing often involves the perpetrator sending fictional sob stories or promises of a future together to manipulate the victim’s emotions.

Compound phrases with “con”

Here are six compound phrases containing the word “con,” along with their definitions and example sentences:

  • Con Merchant

The term means the same as “con artist,” i.e., a person who cheats or tricks others by persuading them to believe something that is not true.
Example: “The con artist convinced everyone that he was a wealthy prince in need of a small loan to unlock his fortune.”

  • Con man

The term means the same as “con merchant” or “con artist,” but in this case it only refers to males. It is a man who deceives or swindles someone by means of a confidence trick.
Example: “The notorious con man traveled from town to town, scamming unsuspecting victims.”

  • Con game

A deceptive scheme or trick used to cheat someone out of something, especially money.
Example: “The elaborate con game involved fake jewels and a supposed treasure map.”

  • Con job

An act of deceiving, manipulating, or taking advantage of someone.
Example: “He realized too late that the investment opportunity was nothing but a con job.”

  • Con trick

A confidence trick or act of deception to gain advantage or financial benefit.
Example: “The email promising a huge inheritance turned out to be a con trick to get her bank details.”

  • Con sequence

A play on words that combines ‘con’ with ‘sequence,’ typically referring to the result or outcome of a deceitful action.
Example: “The con sequence of his actions was a tarnished reputation and a lengthy jail sentence.”

Two Videos

These two interesting  educational video presentations, from our sister YouTube channel – Marketing Business Network, explain what ‘A Con or To Con’ and ‘Scam’ mean using simple, straightforward, and easy-to-understand language and examples.

  • What is a Con?

  • What is a Scam?