EganLife in London (1869) 223: ‘My dear Coz. The charley had the “best of us” last time, at Bow-Street, but we have got the best of him now, and therefore let us keep it!’ The above cant phrase puzzled jerry considerably when it was first made use of by tom. [Ibid.] 260: The Plate is a correct representation of the animation displayed upon this subject by the gay tyke-boys; and most of their nobs for low cunning are able to get the ‘best of’ the keenest barrister in the kingdom.
Worcester Jrnl 9 Nov. 3/1: O’Connell is surely bested, / His tricks will no longer prevail.
Bury Times 29 Nov. 4/6: When he says that he is ‘bested’ he means that he is [...] utterly spiflicated and catawumpus’d.
J.C. ParkinsonPlaces and People 292: ‘Besting,’ we learn, is a playful term for gaining an unfair advantage, and applies to the three-card trick, to skittle-sharping, to fraudulent tossing, and to larceny.
Dly Record (Glasgow) 22 Sept. 3/4: [headline] Five Enemy Warships Enaged and bested.
L. DoyleDear Ducks 260: ‘Well, you’re surely not goin’ to let her get the better of you, Mr. Anthony?’ sez I. ‘I never saw you bested before.’.
J. Speight ‘The Funeral’ Till Death Us Do Part [TV script] That’s typical, that is. When you’re bested – go to bed.
IndyStar.com 18 June [Internet] The 14th-ranked Trojans have rarely been bested and are one of the state’s hottest teams.
1. a villain who is equally happy to use physical force or verbal deceits to extract money from victims.
H. MayhewGreat World of London I 46: ‘Bouncers’ and ‘besters,’ who cheat by laying wagers. [Ibid.] II 90: The ‘Bouncers’ and ‘Besters’ [obtain their means] by betting, intimidating, or talking people out of their property.
(con. 1840s–50s) H. MayhewLondon Labour and London Poor IV 24: ‘Bouncers and Besters’ defrauding, by laying wagers, swaggering, or using threats.
S. JamesVagabond Papers (3rd series) 136: You have to go into general business. You must be a magsman, a pincher, a picker-up, a flatcatcher, a bester.
Eve. News (London) 21 Sept 4 1: The complainant called her father a liar, ‘a bester and a crawler.’ [F&H].
2. (UK Und.) a criminal who deceives his peers.
Leaves from Diary of Celebrated Burglar 92/2: He [...] said he was going to ‘turn up’ his ‘mob,’ for he knew well that they were a crowd of ‘besters,’ and were in the habit of ‘weeding’ the ‘pokes’ when he slung them to them.
G. SealLingo 45: A dishonest bookmaker was called a bester while a horse certain to win was a dead bird, terms that also belonged to the parlance of the wider fraternity of the turf.
4. (Aus.) one who lives by their wits.
Singleton Argus (NSW) 23 May. 3/2: Mr Taylor asked who and what this man was, and applicant replied that he was a ‘bester,’ who never worked, but got a living by singing songs at clubs .
get money at the best
to live as a professional criminal.
VauxVocab. of the Flash Lang. in McLachlan (1964) 227: best: to get your money at the best, signifies to live by dishonest or fraudulent practices, without labour or industry, according to the general acceptation of the latter word; but, certainly, no persons have more occasion to be industrious, and in a state of perpetual action than cross-coves; and experience has proved, when too late, to many of them, that honesty is the best policy; and, consequently, that the above phrase is by no means a-propos.