From Italian saltimbanco. Used thus in English because of the association with street performers, seen by the settled population in English-speaking culture as not to be trusted. A more usual and more accurate English word, derived from similar sources, is mountebank.
saltimbanco (plural saltimbancos)
From saltare in banco ‘leap (or somersault) on the bench’. The etymology of the word reflects its acrobatic associations. A 'salto' is a somersault in Italian; 'banco' in this connection is a trestle holding a board, set up as a temporary stage for open-air performers. 'Saltimbanchi' were thus those who performed somersaults on a temporary platform -- wandering acrobats, performing as buskers in the open air, the platform giving their audience a better view and encouraging them to stay longer and (hopefully!) put more money in the collecting-hat. The descendants and successors of these performers are familiar to us as circus artistes, in many cases following their family traditions by touring to perform as their ancestors did.
English has lost the word 'saltimbank' from current usage; but it is still very familiar in Italian and Spanish as 'saltimbanco', and in French as 'saltimbanque'.--Chris Barltrop 14:29, 8 October 2008 (UTC)
saltimbanco m (plural saltimbanchi)