investment scam by which early investors are paid off from the contributions of later ones, 1957, in reference to Charles Ponzi (1882-1949), who perpetrated such a scheme in the U.S. 1919-20.
by 1942, noun ("a cowardly escape, an evasion") and verb ("sneak off, escape, give up without trying"), American English slang, perhaps from cop a plea (c. 1925) "plead guilty to lesser charges," which is probably from northern British slang cop "to catch" (a scolding, etc.); as in cop a feel "grope someone" (1930s); see cop (v.). Sense of "evade an issue or problem" is from 1960s.
"smoked herring" early 15c. (they turn red when cured), as opposed to white herring "fresh herring." Supposedly used by fugitives to put bloodhounds off their scent (1680s), hence metaphoric sense (1864) of "something used to divert attention from the basic issue;" earlier it simply meant "a false lead":
Though I have not the honour of being one of those sagacious country gentlemen, who have so long vociferated for the American war, who have so long run on the red-herring scent of American taxation before they found out there was no game on foot; (etc.) [Parliamentary speech dated March 20, 1782, reprinted in "Beauties of the British Senate," London, 1786]
also hotdog, "sausage on a split roll," c. 1890, American English, from hot (adj.) + dog (n.). Many early references are in college student publications; later popularized, but probably not coined, by cartoonist T.A. "Tad" Dorgan (1877-1929). It is said in early explanations to echo a suspicion (occasionally justified) that sausages contained dog meat.
Meaning "someone particularly skilled or excellent" (with overtones of showing off) is from 1896. Connection between the two senses, if any, is unclear. Hot dog! as an exclamation of approval was in use by 1906.
hot-dog, n. 1. One very proficient in certain things. 2. A hot sausage. 3. A hard student. 4. A conceited person. ["College Words and Phrases," in Dialect Notes, 1900]
Related: Hot-dogger; hot-dogging.
1761, "any disabled person or thing;" especially Stock Exchange slang for "defaulter."
A lame duck is a man who cannot pay his differences, and is said to waddle off. [Thomas Love Peacock, "Gryll Grange," 1861]
Sometimes also in naval use for "an old, slow ship." Modern sense of "public official serving out term after an election" is recorded by 1863, American English. The quote attributed to President Lincoln ("[A] senator or representative out of business is a sort of lame duck. He has to be provided for") is from an anecdote of 1878.
It is well known to everybody who knows anything of its history, that this court [Court of Claims] was made a sort of retreat for lame duck politicians that got wounded and had to retreat before the face of popular condemnation. That is just exactly what it was for, a safe retreat for lame ducks; and it was so filled up; (etc.) [Sen. John P. Hale, New Hampshire, Congressional Globe, Jan. 12, 1863, p.271]