What is a con or to con? Definition and example

The noun ‘con’ is a 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, 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.