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17 Slangy Terms for Pickpockets to Put in Your Wallet

There have probably been pickpockets for as long as there have been pockets. And since crime and slang go together like peanut butter and chocolate, there are dozens, maybe hundreds, of terms for this delicate but illegal art. Please enjoy the following terms, all recorded in the wonderful Green’s Dictionary of Slang (GDoS), which has recently been released in a digital edition. Please enjoy these old-timey terms while keeping an eye peeled for their sneaky referents.

1. FINGER-SMITH

This term, around since the 1800s, might be the most logical. Since a locksmith is good with locks, a finger-smith is good with fingers, especially the kind of nimble digits that covertly snatch an iPhone or other pocket pal.

2. KNUCKLER

Here’s another hand-centric term, accentuating the primary tool of the pickpocket’s trade. It’s been around since the late 1700s, and a 1795 example from Sporting Mag is a righteous and florid denouncement of “A most daring gang of villains, denominated the genteel knucklers, who [...] supported themselves in extravagance and debauchery by the most atrocious acts of plunder.”

3. ABSTRACTIONIST

While an abstractionist can be the kind of artist whose work makes you rub your chin or scratch your head, it can also be a pickpocket, due to the sense of abstracting as taking away a meaning. I wonder if a painterly type of abstractionist has ever been down on their luck and became the dastardly type.

4. SLIP-GIBBET

Since the 1600s, slip-gibbet—a word that sounds like it could have been coined by Lewis Carroll—has been a pickpocket or other sort of thief. Why slip-gibbet? Because they slip the gibbet, of course—meaning they avoid the gallows.

5. AND 6. WORKER AND WORKMAN

While every pickpocket is working, this term has a specific sense when abstractionists are working in pairs: the worker is the one who actually grabs the wallet. In 1914, Walter Sickert wrote of a finger-smith: “All these he would carry with him so that he, the ‘worker,’ or the ‘tool,’ might have his mind and his hands freed for the masterstroke.” A worker can also be called a workman, as well as the more specific following term.

7. LEATHER WORKER

This term alludes to the usual composition of a wallet, a slip-gibbet’s object of desire. 

8. ST. GILES BUZZMAN

Green gives helpful background to this term, which is inspired by “the criminal slum, in the parish of St. Giles, at the junction of Oxford Street and Tottenham Court Road, London, destroyed when New Oxford Street was cut through in 1847.” A buzzman buzzes (picks a peck of pocket)—much as a scofflaw from the following entry whizzes. Another related term is St. Giles’ Greek, a fantastic euphemism for slang, especially the criminal sort.

9., 10., 11., AND 12. WHIZ BOY, WHIZ MAN, WHIZ MOB, AND WHIZZER

Whiz Boy sounds like the worst teenage sidekick ever, but it would be a better name for a teen villain, because whiz (or whizz) boy is a part of a family of pickpocketological terms. You can also be a whiz artist, whiz man, or part of a whiz mob, if you pickpocket via gang. All those dastardly hoodlums can be described as on the whiz when working. This group of terms turned up in the early part of the 1900s.

13. AND 14. NIPPER AND BUNG-NIPPER

While nipping has several meanings, in this case, it’s the kind you don’t want to experience in a crowded subway car. Or anywhere, really. GDoS and the OED record an example from 1585: “Fleetwood in Ellis Original Letters 1st Ser. II. 278: He that could take a peece of sylver out of the purse without the noyse of any of the bells, he was adjudged a judiciall Nypper.” You can also be a bung-nipper, which involves an out-of-use sense of bung as a purse or pocket.

15. DUMMY-HUNTER

This term, which has been around since the early 1800s, would seem to cast aspersions on the intellect of the victim of a bung-nipper. Actually, the real etymology involves the quietness of a wallet, which presumably holds bills but no coins, helping the dummy-hunter greatly.

16. SLANGER

Given the healthy marriage of crime and slang, how appropriate that the word slang itself has stood for criminal activity once in a while. This term refers to a pickpocket who has an assistant, specifically one who scampers away with the goods after the thief slings them. Sling gave way to slang, thus this term.

17. THRUFF

The GDoS has no details on the etymology of this term, which appeared in the 1800s, but it just sounds cool. Beware thruffs!

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entertainment
13 Fascinating Facts About Nina Simone
Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Nina Simone, who would’ve celebrated her 85th birthday today, was known for using her musical platform to speak out. “I think women play a major part in opening the doors for better understanding around the world,” the “Strange Fruit” songstress once said. Though she chose to keep her personal life shrouded in secrecy, these facts grant VIP access into a life well-lived and the music that still lives on.

1. NINA SIMONE WAS HER STAGE NAME.

The singer was born as Eunice Waymon on February 21, 1933. But by age 21, the North Carolina native was going by a different name at her nightly Atlantic City gig: Nina Simone. She hoped that adopting a different name would keep her mother from finding out about her performances. “Nina” was her boyfriend’s nickname for her at the time. “Simone” was inspired by Simone Signoret, an actress that the singer admired.

2. SHE HAD HUMBLE BEGINNINGS.


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There's a reason that much of the singer's music had gospel-like sounds. Simone—the daughter of a Methodist minister and a handyman—was raised in the church and started playing the piano by ear at age 3. She got her start in her hometown of Tryon, North Carolina, where she played gospel hymns and classical music at Old St. Luke’s CME, the church where her mother ministered. After Simone died on April 21, 2003, she was memorialized at the same sanctuary.

3. SHE WAS BOOK SMART...

Simone, who graduated valedictorian of her high school class, studied at the prestigious Julliard School of Music for a brief period of time before applying to Philadelphia’s Curtis Institute of Music. Unfortunately, Simone was denied admission. For years, she maintained that her race was the reason behind the rejection. But a Curtis faculty member, Vladimir Sokoloff, has gone on record to say that her skin color wasn’t a factor. “It had nothing to do with her…background,” he said in 1992. But Simone ended up getting the last laugh: Two days before her death, the school awarded her an honorary degree.

4. ... WITH DEGREES TO PROVE IT.

Simone—who preferred to be called “doctor Nina Simone”—was also awarded two other honorary degrees, from the University of Massachusetts Amherst and Malcolm X College.

5. HER CAREER WAS ROOTED IN ACTIVISM.

A photo of Nina Simone circa 1969

Gerrit de Bruin

At the age of 12, Simone refused to play at a church revival because her parents had to sit at the back of the hall. From then on, Simone used her art to take a stand. Many of her songs in the '60s, including “Mississippi Goddamn,” “Why (The King of Love Is Dead),” and “Young, Gifted and Black,” addressed the rampant racial injustices of that era.

Unfortunately, her activism wasn't always welcome. Her popularity diminished; venues didn’t invite her to perform, and radio stations didn’t play her songs. But she pressed on—even after the Civil Rights Movement. In 1997, Simone told Interview Magazine that she addressed her songs to the third world. In her own words: “I’m a real rebel with a cause.”

6. ONE OF HER MOST FAMOUS SONGS WAS BANNED.

Mississippi Goddam,” her 1964 anthem, only took her 20 minutes to an hour to write, according to legend—but it made an impact that still stands the test of time. When she wrote it, Simone had been fed up with the country’s racial unrest. Medger Evers, a Mississippi-born civil rights activist, was assassinated in his home state in 1963. That same year, the Ku Klux Klan bombed a Birmingham Baptist church and as a result, four young black girls were killed. Simone took to her notebook and piano to express her sentiments.

“Alabama's gotten me so upset/Tennessee made me lose my rest/And everybody knows about Mississippi Goddam,” she sang.

Some say that the song was banned in Southern radio stations because “goddam” was in the title. But others argue that the subject matter is what caused the stations to return the records cracked in half.

7. SHE NEVER HAD A NUMBER ONE HIT.

Nina Simone released over 40 albums during her decades-spanning career including studio albums, live versions, and compilations, and scored 15 Grammy nominations. But her highest-charting (and her first) hit, “I Loves You, Porgy,” peaked at #2 on the U.S. R&B charts in 1959. Still, her music would go on to influence legendary singers like Roberta Flack and Aretha Franklin.

8. SHE USED HER STYLE TO MAKE A STATEMENT.

Head wraps, bold jewelry, and floor-skimming sheaths were all part of Simone’s stylish rotation. In 1967, she wore the same black crochet fishnet jumpsuit with flesh-colored lining for the entire year. Not only did it give off the illusion of her being naked, but “I wanted people to remember me looking a certain way,” she said. “It made it easier for me.”

9. SHE HAD MANY HOMES.

New York City, Liberia, Barbados, England, Belgium, France, Switzerland, and the Netherlands were all places that Simone called home. She died at her home in Southern France, and her ashes were scattered in several African countries.

10. SHE HAD A FAMOUS INNER CIRCLE.

During the late '60s, Simone and her second husband Andrew Stroud lived next to Malcolm X and his family in Mount Vernon, New York. He wasn't her only famous pal. Simone was very close with playwright Lorraine Hansberry. After Hansberry’s death, Simone penned “To Be Young, Gifted and Black” in her honor, a tribute to Hansberry's play of the same title. Simone even struck up a brief friendship with David Bowie in the mid-1970s, who called her every night for a month to offer his advice and support.

11. YOU CAN STILL VISIT SIMONE IN HER HOMETOWN.

Photo of Nina Simone
Amazing Nina Documentary Film, LLC, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons

In 2010, an 8-foot sculpture of Eunice Waymon was erected in her hometown of Tryon, North Carolina. Her likeness stands tall in Nina Simone Plaza, where she’s seated and playing an eternal song on a keyboard that floats in midair. Her daughter, Lisa Simone Kelly, gave sculptor Zenos Frudakis some of Simone’s ashes to weld into the sculpture’s bronze heart. "It's not something very often done, but I thought it was part of the idea of bringing her home," Frudakis said.

12. YOU'VE PROBABLY HEARD HER MUSIC IN RECENT HITS.

Rihanna sang a few verses of Simone’s “Do What You Gotta Do” on Kanye West’s The Life of Pablo. He’s clearly a superfan: “Blood on the Leaves” and his duet with Jay Z, “New Day,” feature Simone samples as well, along with Lil’ Wayne’s “Dontgetit,” Common’s “Misunderstood” and a host of other tracks.

13. HER MUSIC IS STILL BEING PERFORMED.

Nina Revisited… A Tribute to Nina Simone was released along with the Netflix documentary in 2015. On the album, Lauryn Hill, Jazmine Sullivan, Usher, Alice Smith, and more paid tribute to the legend by performing covers of 16 of her most famous tracks.

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Animals
Watch the First-Ever Footage of a Baby Dumbo Octopus
NOAA, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
NOAA, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Dumbo octopuses are named for the elephant-ear-like fins they use to navigate the deep sea, but until recently, when and how they developed those floppy appendages were a mystery. Now, for the first time, researchers have caught a newborn Dumbo octopus on tape. As reported in the journal Current Biology, they discovered that the creatures are equipped with the fins from the moment they hatch.

Study co-author Tim Shank, a researcher at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts, spotted the octopus in 2005. During a research expedition in the North Atlantic, one of the remotely operated vehicles he was working with collected several coral branches with something strange attached to them. It looked like a bunch of sandy-colored golf balls at first, but then he realized it was an egg sac.

He and his fellow researchers eventually classified the hatchling that emerged as a member of the genus Grimpoteuthis. In other words, it was a Dumbo octopus, though they couldn't determine the exact species. But you wouldn't need a biology degree to spot its resemblance to Disney's famous elephant, as you can see in the video below.

The octopus hatched with a set of functional fins that allowed it to swim around and hunt right away, and an MRI scan revealed fully-developed internal organs and a complex nervous system. As the researchers wrote in their study, Dumbo octopuses enter the world as "competent juveniles" ready to jump straight into adult life.

Grimpoteuthis spends its life in the deep ocean, which makes it difficult to study. Scientists hope the newly-reported findings will make it easier to identify Grimpoteuthis eggs and hatchlings for future research.

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