"yegg" (safecracker, burglar)--its etymology was discovered by Barry Popik

Cohen, Gerald Leonard gcohen at UMR.EDU
Tue Jun 27 21:12:10 UTC 2006

First, let me put in a plug for Merriam-Webster's "Word of the Day" series. I enjoy receiving it every day.  --- Secondly, I'd like to clarify one point: The item below says 'No one is quite sure where "yegg" came from,' but in fact Barry Popik has already convincingly solved this problem by locating a relevant 1904 newspaper article.  For a treatment of this whole subject see our joint article '19th/Early 20th Century "Yegg/Yeggman" (= Safecracker, Burglar) -- Its Origin From A Tramp Named John Yeager.' in: Studies in Slang, VI (volume co-authored by Barry A. Popik and Gerald Leonard Cohen) 1999, Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang Verlag, pp. 21-26.

Gerald Cohen


From: word at m-w.com [mailto:word at m-w.com]
Sent: Mon 6/26/2006 11:50 PM
To: Cohen, Gerald Leonard
Subject: yegg: M-W's Word of the Day

The Word of the Day for June 27 is:

yegg   \YEG\   noun
     : safecracker; also : robber

Example sentence:
     "[Her] attorney does admit that his client had developed 'platonic' relationships with two cons, a couple of yeggs named Ollie and Marvin, but only to gather information." (_Fort Collins Coloradoan_, December 6, 2002)

Did you know?
     "Safecracker" first appeared in print in English around 1825, but English speakers evidently felt that they needed a more colorful word for this rather colorful profession. No one is quite sure where "yegg" came from. It first appeared in the _New York Evening Post_ on June 23, 1903, in an article about "the prompt breaking up of the organized gangs of professional beggars and yeggs." By 1905, it had acquired the variant "yeggmen," which was printed in the _New York Times_ in reference to unsavory characters captured in the Bowery District. "Yegg" has always been, and continues to be, less common than "safecracker," but it still turns up once in a while.

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