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Monthly Archives: November 2009

The American Malefactor’s Dictionary: air and exercise

air and exercise – 1. a short term of imprisonment, hence “two stretches of air and exercise” means two years in prison; 2. working in the stone quarry at Blackwell’s Island or at Sing Sing. In England, air and exercise originally referred to someone being whipped at the cart’s tail or, as it was more […]

Early American Crimes: Burglary, Part II

Note: This post continues Early American Crimes: Burglary, Part I. In the earliest days of colonial America, burglary was not considered much of a problem. Most people in the community knew each other, and strangers could be quickly identified. But as more people settled in America and cities grew bigger, burglary became a much more […]

The American Malefactor’s Dictionary: ackruffs

ackruffs – River thieves; river-pirates (obsolete by 1900). The word is an American variant of Ark Ruffians, who rob and murder on fresh water. One of their schemes is to pick an argument with a passenger on board the vessel and use the occasion to strip the passenger, throw him or her overboard, and then […]

Early American Crimes: Burglary, Part I

Outside of murder, which cuts to the core of who we are as human beings, burglary is perhaps the ultimate criminal transgression in America. Burglary violates two strong American principles at the very same time: the protection of property and the right to privacy. It also brings with it a potential for violence, since confronting […]

The American Malefactor’s Dictionary: Adam

Adam – a henchman, an accomplice. The word is also used in combination, as in Adam tiler (or tyler), a pickpocket’s accomplice. This latter term refers to the person to whom the pickpocket quickly passes off his or her gains for safekeeping and to avoid suspicion. Sources: Matsell, George W. Vocabulum: Or, the Rogue’s Lexicon.. […]