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I'm not a native speaker so it might just be me finding this strange, but why is the auto in grand theft auto at the end?

Shouldn't it be grand auto theft or something like this?

I thought the expression described the crime of stealing cars?

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up vote 15 down vote accepted

The term should be "Grand Theft, Auto". It is one of those officialese terms like IBS standing for "Inflatable Boat, Small". My guess is that it's based on the law (in California, at least) making an exception for automobiles to the minimum value of property stolen in order to be considered grand, as opposed to petty, theft.

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It also comes from the days when everything was on paper and you had to look up things in alphabetical order. It was a common practice to file things using a category, subcategory system so all items of the same category would be next to each other in the index or filing cabinet or book or catalog. So why isn't it Theft, Grand, Auto? Because that would be a sub-subcategory, and that was too unwieldy for most uses, although it does show up here and there. –  Old Pro May 30 '12 at 7:02
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