the verb gank

Arnold Zwicky zwicky at CSLI.STANFORD.EDU
Thu Nov 18 02:30:31 UTC 1999

one of the consequences of being a Known [Admitted, Confessed,
Acknowledged] Linguist is that non-linguist friends expect you to know
the answer to any random question about language(s), or at least to
have the resources for finding the answer at your fingertips.
yesterday's Ask the Linguist query came from a friend who teaches
at appalachian state university in boone, n.c.:

>Where does the term "gank," for stealing, as in "I ganked
>this t-shirt from my ex-boyfriend." come from? Is it a
>blend of "grab" and "yank"?

my friend was surprised to hear that i'd never heard this verb
before, and that it was listed in neither RHHDAS nor DARE.  i
probed a bit:

>> how long have you heard this verb?  where, from whom, in what
>> contexts?

and she confirmed my suspicion that it was a piece of college slang
(and also added some semantic details):

>I've heard it over the past several months, primarily from
>college students. In asking around about the word today, most
>of my colleagues have not heard it in use. Students say that
>they've been using the word since at least this summer and that
>it is primarly used by college-aged individuals, but might be
>infiltrating down into high schools now. Also, while "ganking"
>clearly refers to stealing, the word denotes that the stealing
>is minor (ganking a roommate's pencil for an exam) or that the
>"victim" won't care (one of my colleagues ganks one of his
>brother's shirts almost every holiday that they spend time
>together). So, ganking kinda means "I stole this, but it
>doesn't matter, so it's not really stealing."

now, i'm no expert on the spread of lexical items, or on slang
(though i once played Dr. Slang on tv in columbus, ohio - a very
limited engagement), but i do wonder if this is a specifically
appstate thing, or if it has wider (probably collegiate) currency,
and if the latter, whether anything has been observed about its

(as for the semantics, it's close to that for the verb "swipe" of my
childhood.  useful to have a verb with less gravitas than "steal"...)

arnold (zwicky at

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