pickpocket slang (New Yorker) (UNCLASSIFIED)

Mullins, Bill AMRDEC Bill.Mullins at US.ARMY.MIL
Mon Jan 7 18:49:31 UTC 2013

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> -----Original Message-----
> From: American Dialect Society [mailto:ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU] On
> Behalf Of Ben Zimmer
> Sent: Sunday, January 06, 2013 5:07 PM
> Subject: pickpocket slang (New Yorker)
> ---------------------- Information from the mail header
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> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       Ben Zimmer <bgzimmer at BABEL.LING.UPENN.EDU>
> Subject:      pickpocket slang (New Yorker)
> --------
> http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2013/01/07/130107fa_fact_green
> Adam Green, "A Pickpocket's Tale," New Yorker, Jan. 7, 2013
> Speaking in a gravelly mixture of urban slang and old-fashioned
> street-crime lingo, he [Gary Scott] told us that he was born in
> Memphis but grew up in Chicago, where, at age thirteen, he learned how
> to pick pockets at what he called "whiz school," under the tutelage of
> two local cannons named High Pocket and Finger Wave Dave. "I been
> playing since I was knee-high to a shit-ball," he said. "At first, I
> was a moll buzzer. I used to play in the ghetto. Then I started
> playing Skokie, then I started playing downtown in the Loop. They got
> Shot-Jims down there, and if you can play at that level and beat a
> chump, right there on the corner in front of they face-believe me, you
> can play." (Rough translation: "I started out stealing from women's
> purses in my neighborhood, and then I started to ply my trade
> downtown, where I got so good that I was able to steal wallets out of
> men's jacket and pant pockets even under the eagle eye of undercover
> police officers trained in the ways of my profession.")
> --bgz
> --
> Ben Zimmer
> http://benzimmer.com/
> ------------------------------------------------------------
> The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

The article is about Apollo Robbins, a theatrical pickpocket.  Worth
reading, regardless of your interest in slang.

"Shot-Jims" may refer to policemen, but I can find no other usages of
the phrase.

Maurer has "Whiz Mob" at least back to 1955, not 1964.

Moll-buzzer -- not specifically in OED, but has Moll in 1604, and buzz
(= to pick a pocket) in 1819

_New York Sun_ 5/22/1882 p 4 col 3 (note slightly different definition)
"Woods is what is known as a "Moll-buzzer."  A woman confederate engages
a man in conversation while he robs him."

Cannon -- OED has 1915

_The Saint Paul globe_  June 03, 1902, Page 5, col 7
"Gun, cannon or dip -- A pickpocket"

Later down the same column:
"Moll buzzer -- A man pickpocket who robs women"

About 10 years ago, I was at a magician's convention in Atlanta at which
Robbins was a featured performer.  He asked for volunteers, and I was
picked.  He used me as part of the coin on shoulder routine which is
described in the article.  I'm familiar with theatrical pickpocketing,
and was expecting and watching for my watch to be stolen.  Robbins's
routine is highly structured and choreographed, and he was able to lift
my wrist watch, my cell phone, and my wallet, and I was oblivious to it
all.  Robbins is very, very good.

For anyone who cares,  a good book on theatrical pickpocketing is
_Cutting Up Touches_ by David Avadon:

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