AskDefine | Define pickpocket

Dictionary Definition

pickpocket n : a thief who steals from the pockets or purses of others in public places [syn: cutpurse, dip]

User Contributed Dictionary



  1. One who steals from the pocket of a passerby. Usually using sleight of hand as a means.


Extensive Definition

This article is about the crime. For the Robert Bresson film, see Pickpocket (film)''.
Picking pockets without a persons knowledge or approval of you picking their pocket is a crime, a form of larceny which involves the stealing of money and valuables from the person of a victim without their noticing the theft at the time. It requires considerable dexterity and a knack for misdirection. Someone who picks pockets is known as a pickpocket.
Pickpockets and other thieves, especially those working in teams, sometimes apply distraction, such as asking a question or bumping into the victim. These distractions sometimes require sleight of hand, speed, misdirection and other types of skills.
The crime used to be punishable by death—even though public hangings were considered prime targets for pickpockets. William Shakespeare referenced this in his play The Winter's Tale, where the rogue and pickpocket Autolycus observes,
... every lane's end, every shop, church, session,
hanging, yields a careful man work.
Famous fictional pickpockets include The Artful Dodger and Fagin, characters from the Charles Dickens novel Oliver Twist. Famous true-life pickpockets include the Irish-American prostitute Chicago May, who was profiled in the books Chicago May, Queen of the Blackmailers and Hell Hath No Fury: Famous Women in Crime.
Pickpocket skills are also used by magicians, either to take an item from a spectator or to return it without their knowledge.

Further reading

pickpocket in German: Taschendiebstahl
pickpocket in French: Vol à la tire
pickpocket in Hebrew: כייסות
pickpocket in Dutch: Zakkenroller
pickpocket in Japanese: スリ
pickpocket in Finnish: Taskuvarkaus
pickpocket in Swedish: Fickstöld
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