Mark Liberman of Language Log has an enjoyably discursive post on the use and misuse of the word fakir, properly ‘a Muslim religious mendicant’ (it’s from Arabic faqi:r ‘poor’) but with an extended meaning ‘Hindu ascetic or religious mendicant, especially one who performs feats of magic or endurance’ (in the words of the AHD definition); when I asked my wife what image she associated with the word, she said “a guy lying on a bed of nails,” which fits the second sense exactly and I think would be the most common answer if you took a poll.
But Mark seems to think the meaning has been broadened even farther, to overlap with faker; his entry begins:
In connection with a post on Thomas Jefferson’s attempt to learn Gaelic, I read an interesting paper by Jack Lynch entitled “Authorizing Ossian”, in which he calls James MacPherson “history’s most perfidious literary fakir”. Lynch is being unfair to fakirs — though in a characteristically American way. Fakirs were not fakers, before a series of 19th-century American shifts of meaning.
After an excursus on Edmund Wilson, he goes on: “Wilson was reflecting a common usage that arose out of the American spiritualism craze of the 19th century…” The implication, it seems to me, is that ‘faker’ is not just an occasional misuse but a common US meaning, and I don’t agree. It’s certainly an easy mistake to make, and I’m sure one could come up with more citations than the OED’s four, but I would interpret each as an individual confusion rather than a feature of American English. But I’ll throw the floor open for discussion; my awareness of the Arabic and of the Indian use may be blinding me to vox populi. (I’ll add also that it’s possible the word is a simple typo in the online paper.)