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The American Malefactor’s Dictionary: amuse

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– 1. to fling dust into someone’s eyes in order to distract them; 2. to tell a false tale in order to distract and then rob an unsuspecting victim; to “entertain” deceptively.

Amusers threw dust or pepper, which they kept in their pockets, into the eyes of someone they wanted to rob. As the amuser ran away, an accomplice would enter the scene and use the pretence of helping the half-blind person to pick his or her pocket. Another scheme was to invent a plausible story, such as a child or friend who had just drowned or was run over, in order to draw people out of a store with the news. An accomplice would then use the distraction as an opportunity to steal goods from the shop.


  • Grose, Francis and Egan Pierce. Grose’s Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue. Revised and Corrected. London: Printed for Sherwood, Neely, and Jones, 1823.
  • Matsell, George W. Vocabulum: Or, the Rogue’s Lexicon.. New York: George W. Matsell, 1859.
  • Partridge, Eric. A Dictionary of the Underworld. New York: Bonanza Books, 1961.

Note: See “Cant: The Language of the Underworld” to learn more about the background of the American Malefactor’s Dictionary.

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