Green’s Dictionary of Slang

best v.

[orig. dial.]

1. to get the better of.

[UK]Egan Life 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.
[UK]Worcester Jrnl 9 Nov. 3/1: O’Connell is surely bested, / His tricks will no longer prevail.
[UK]Bury Times 29 Nov. 4/6: When he says that he is ‘bested’ he means that he is [...] utterly spiflicated and catawumpus’d.
[UK]J.C. Parkinson Places 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.
[UK]C. Hindley Life and Adventures of a Cheap Jack 69: I must ‘dry up,’ for the fellow’s bested me.
[US]J.F. Macardle Moko Marionettes 4: Dey’s bested us dis time agin.
[UK]M. Davitt Leaves from a Prison Diary I 48: They [...] have no more compunction in ‘besting’ one of themselves than in robbing outsiders.
[Aus]‘Rolf Boldrewood’ Colonial Reformer II 42: If you go barneying about calves, or counting horses that’s give in, he’ll best ye.
[UK]Hull Dly Mail 15 Dec. 4/1: The Man who ‘Bested’ Sherlock Holmes. A complete story.
[UK]Boy’s Own Paper 3 Aug. 692: He had no doubt now of besting Jopling in the matter.
[UK]Dundee Eve. Post 25 Aug. 3/1: Shamrock Again Bested at the Star [...] Runs off with a good lead but finds a keen rival.
[UK]G. Stratton-Porter Harvester 368: Wouldn’t that best you?
[UK]Liverpool Echo 20 May 4/2: [headline] Germans Bested In The Air.
[US]‘A-No. 1’ From Coast to Coast with Jack London 101: The hobo who will undertake to best me, isn’t born yet, sonny!
[UK]Eve. Teleg. (Dundee) 12 Feb. 6/2: A woman of 74 [...] claimed that she had ‘bested’ two young women of 20 and 24 in a fight.
[Ire]‘Flann O’Brien’ At Swim-Two-Birds 121: Anyway, didn’t your man get into a dark corner with his butties till they hatched out a plan to best the sergeant.
[Ire]S. O’Casey Cock-A-Doodle-Dandy Act II: Gimme it! I won’t be the one odd. You can’t best me!
[UK]A. Sillitoe Sat. Night and Sun. Morning 156: The two swaddies had got him at last [...] and had bested him.
[Ire]P. Boyle At Night All Cats Are Grey 132: That dog’ll never best a brock.
[Ire](con. 1930s) L. Redmond Emerald Square 320: We had finally made it, got him off the job and bested the Oul’ Fella!

2. to cheat.

[UK]C. Hindley Life and Adventures of a Cheap Jack 234: His game was besting everybody, whether it was for pounds, shillings, or pence.
[UK]Tamworth Herald 24 Jan. 6/5: When I went to the fence, he bested (cheated) me because I was drunk, and only gave me £8 10s. for the lot.
[UK]Sheffield Eve. Teleg. 16 Sept. 6/3: [They] forced half a crown into the hand of prosecutor’s Soudanese butler, who could not speak English, and so ‘bested’ him out of the boiler.
[UK]Burnley Exp. 5 July 5/2: When they entered into the agreement they were badly bested.
[Aus] (ref. to 1890s) ‘Gloss. of Larrikin Terms’ in J. Murray Larrikins 202: besting: defrauding.

In derivatives

bested (adj.)

defeated, defrauded.

[UK]J. Hogg Brownie of Bodsbeck II 55: Father – the thing is impossible. Was ever a poor creature so hard bested!
[UK]Hotten Dict. of Modern Sl. etc.
[UK]Hotten Sl. Dict.
[UK]B.M. Carew Life and Adventures.
[UK]G.F. Northall Warwickshire Word-Book 28: Bested. Cheated, overreached.
[UK]Dly Record (Glasgow) 22 Sept. 3/4: [headline] Five Enemy Warships Enaged and bested.
[Ire]L. Doyle Dear 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.’.
[UK]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.
bester (n.)

1. a villain who is equally happy to use physical force or verbal deceits to extract money from victims.

[UK]H. Mayhew Great 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.
[UK](con. 1840s–50s) H. Mayhew London Labour and London Poor IV 24: ‘Bouncers and Besters’ defrauding, by laying wagers, swaggering, or using threats.
[Aus]S. James Vagabond 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.
[UK]Morpeth Herald 27 Oct. 5/3: Bouncers, Besters, Wheezers .
[UK]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.

[UK]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.

3. a fraudulent bookmaker.

[UK]Hotten Dict. of Modern Sl. etc. 5: bester, a low betting cheat.
[UK]Hotten Dict. of Modern Sl. etc. [as cit. 1859].
[UK]Sl. Dict. 82: Bester, a low betting cheat, a fraudulent book-maker.
[Aus]Baker Popular Dict. Aus. Sl. 9: Bester, a fraudulent bookmaker.
[Aus]G. Seal Lingo 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.

[Aus]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 .

In phrases

get money at the best (v.)

to live as a professional criminal.

[UK]Vaux Vocab. 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.
[UK]Egan Grose’s Classical Dict. of the Vulgar Tongue.