1560s, "one who sharpens or makes sharp," agent noun from obsolete verb sharp "to make sharp" (see sharp (adj.)). The meaning "swindler, one shrewd in making bargains" is from 1680s, probably a variant of sharker (see shark (n.)). The shortened form sharpie in this sense is by 1942 (also sharpster), at that time also probably involving the "sharply dressed" sense of the adjective.
"a cheat at games," 1797, short for sharper (1680s) in this sense. Meaning "an expert, a connoisseur" is attested from 1840, and likely is from sharp (adj.). Musical sense of "a tone a half-step above a given tone" is from 1590s; as the name of the character which denotes this, by 1650s. The noun was used 14c. as "a pointed weapon, edge of a sword" and sharps is by 1834 as the name of one of the three usual grades of sewing needles (with blunts and betweens).
"a sharper, a cheat," 1590s, regarded as from shark (n.1), but probably originally a different word, and sometimes looked on as the source of shark (n.1), which see, and compare also the verb.
late 14c., sharpenen, "intensify;" mid-15c., "make a point sharp or sharper," from sharp (adj.) + -en (1). Related: Sharpened; sharpening. The older verb was simply sharp (Middle English sharpen), from the adjective and partly from Old English gescirpan (West Saxon), scerpan (Anglian) "to score, scarify;" also compare scearpung "scarifying."
To sharpen (one's) pencil in the figurative sense of "prepare to get to work" is by 1957, American English.
"worthless thing, disappointment, booby prize," 1909, American English slang; from lemon (n.1), perhaps via a criminal slang sense of "a person who is a loser, a simpleton," perhaps an image of someone a sharper can "suck the juice out of." A pool hall hustle was called a lemon game (1908); while to hand someone a lemon was British slang (1906) for "to pass off a sub-standard article as a good one." Or it simply may be a metaphor for something which leaves a bad taste in one's mouth. Specific sense of "second-hand car in poor condition" is by 1931.
"to scream; screech; utter a sharp, shrill cry," from pain, fear, grief, also of laughter, a 16c. variant of scrycke, skriken (c. 1200), from Old Norse skrækja "to screech" (see screech), probably of imitative origin. Transitive sense is from 1590s. Related: Shrieked; shrieking. The noun is attested from 1580s, "a sharp, shrill outcry," from the verb.
A shriek is sharper, more sudden, and, when due to fear or pain, indicative of more terror or distress than a scream. Screech emphasizes the disagreeableness of the sharpness or shrillness, and its lack of dignity in a person. It is more distinctly figurative to speak of the shriek of a locomotive than to speak of its scream or screech. [Century Dictionary]
1650s, from Greek euphemismos "use of a favorable word in place of an inauspicious one, superstitious avoidance of words of ill-omen during religious ceremonies," also of substitutions such as Eumenides for the Furies. This is from euphemizein "speak with fair words, use words of good omen," from eu- "good, well" (see eu-) + phēmē "speech, voice, utterance, a speaking," from phanai "speak" (from PIE root *bha- (2) "to speak, tell, say"). See also Euxine, and compare Greek Greek aristeros "the better one," a euphemism for "the left (hand)." In English, a rhetorical term at first; broader sense of "choosing a less distasteful word or phrase than the one meant" is first attested 1793. Related: Euphemistic; euphemistically.
All the ancients, but most of all the Athenians, were careful not to use ill-omened words; so they called the prison 'the chamber,' and the executioner 'the public man,' and the Furies (Erinyes) they called 'Eumenides' ('the kindly ones') or 'the Venerable Goddesses.' " [Helladius of Antinoopolis, 4 c. C.E., quoted by Photius]
Thus, in our dialect, a vicious man is a man of pleasure, a sharper is one that plays the whole game, a lady is said to have an affair, a gentleman to be a gallant, a rogue in business to be one that knows the world. By this means, we have no such things as sots, debauchees, whores, rogues, or the like, in the beau monde, who may enjoy their vices without incurring disagreeable appellations. [George Berkeley, "Alciphron or the Minute Philosopher," 1732]
early 15c., "a playing card," from Old French carte (14c.), from Medieval Latin carta/charta "a card, paper; a writing, a charter," from Latin charta "leaf of paper, a writing, tablet," from Greek khartēs "layer of papyrus," which is probably from Egyptian. The form has been influenced by Italian cognate carta "paper, leaf of paper." Compare chart (n.). The shift in English from -t to -d is unexplained.
The sense of "playing cards" also is the oldest of the French word. The sense in English was extended by 1590s to similar small, flat, stiff pieces of paper. As "small piece of cardboard upon which is written or printed the name, address, etc. of the person presenting it," from 1795: visiting-cards for social calls, business-cards announcing one's profession. The meaning "printed ornamental greetings for special occasions" is from 1862.
Application to clever or original persons (1836, originally with an adjective, as in smart card) is from the playing-card sense, via expressions such as sure card "an expedient certain to attain an object" (c. 1560).
Card-sharper "professional cheat at cards" is from 1859. House of cards in the figurative sense "any insecure or flimsy scheme" is from 1640s, first attested in Milton, from children's play. To (figuratively) have a card up (one's) sleeve is from 1898. To play the _______ card (for political advantage) is from 1886, originally the Orange card, meaning "appeal to Northern Irish Protestant sentiment."
Cards are first mentioned in Spain in 1371, described in detail in Switzerland in 1377, and by 1380 reliably reported from places as far apart as Florence, Basle, Regensburg, Brabant, Paris, and Barcelona. References are also claimed for earlier dates, but these are relatively sparse and do not withstand scrutiny. [David Parlett, "A History of Card Games"]
also cony, "rabbit," c. 1200, abstracted from Anglo-French conis, Old French coniz, plurals of conil "long-eared rabbit" (Lepus cunicula) from Latin cuniculus (source of Spanish conejo, Portuguese coelho, Italian coniglio), the small, Spanish variant of the Italian hare (Latin lepus). The word perhaps is from Iberian Celtic (classical writers say it is Hispanic).
Middle English had two forms: cony, conny, also coning, cunin, conyng; Old French had conil alongside conin. Apparently the plural form conis (from conil, with the -l- elided) was taken into English and regularly single-ized as cony. The Old French form in -n was borrowed in Dutch (konijn) and German (Kaninchen, a diminutive), and is preserved in the surname Cunningham (from a place-name in Ayrshire). Rabbits not being native to northern Europe, there was no Germanic word for them.
Rabbit arose 14c. to mean the young of the species, but gradually pushed out the older word 19c., after British slang picked up coney as a punning synonym for cunny "cunt" (compare connyfogle "to deceive (a woman) in order to win sexual favors"). The word was in the King James Bible (Proverbs xxx.26, etc.), however, so it couldn't be entirely dropped, and the solution was to change the pronunciation of the original short vowel (rhyming with honey, money) to rhyme with bony, stony. In the Old Testament, the word translates Hebrew shaphan "rock-badger."
Association with "cheating" is from coney-catcher, "A term made famous by [Robert] Greene in 1591, and in great vogue for 60 years after" [OED]
CONY-CATCHER. A sharper, or cheat. Minshew has well expressed the origin of the term: A conie-catcher, a name given to deceivers, by a metaphor, taken from those that rob warrens, and conie-grounds, using all means, sleights, and cunning to deceive them, as pitching of haies before their holes, fetching them in by tumblers, &c. [Nares, "Glossary"]
Also 16c.-17c. a term of endearment for a woman. Coney-wool (1714) "fur of rabbits" formerly was much used in making hats, etc. Coney-hole "rabbit hole" is from mid-15c.