My wife bought a puppet from a roadside salesman. She noticed a policeman taking away the money from the salesman forcefully.

Is there an appropriate word for the policeman's behaviour? Bribe is not the word because the salesman was not trying to bribe here. Words like rob, steal, loot come to my mind. But I want to know if there is a better fit.

Update: The way the incident was perceived by my wife (and the original intention in my question) is that the policeman did this for his personal gain and was not doing it as a part of his duty.

  • 3
    Whether there is a better fit than steal will depend on the circumstances. It is possible (although you make it sound unlikely) that there was a legal justification for the action. If not, then steal is absolutely correct.
    – Fortiter
    Aug 20, 2013 at 7:04
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    Was the policeman doing this for personal gain or legitimately as part of his job? I'd argue confiscate wouldn't fit the former as well. Aug 20, 2013 at 11:08
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    @Fortiter: I may be in the minority, but to me "steal" still implies stealth.
    – Beta
    Aug 20, 2013 at 12:45
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    @Beta "steal" doesn't imply stealth to me: "He just stole my purse!"
    – Izkata
    Aug 20, 2013 at 17:57
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    @LeonardChallis The assumption here is the policeman was doing this for personal gain. I will edit the question to clarify.
    – chitti
    Aug 21, 2013 at 9:13

9 Answers 9


The appropriate word to use in this context (abuse of authority) is extortion.

Strictly applied confiscate refers specifically to appropriation for the public treasury (fisc).

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    Strictly according to whom? That's it's origin, but not its only meaning. Aug 20, 2013 at 7:59
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    @Matt: Spot on.
    – J.R.
    Aug 20, 2013 at 8:45
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    confiscate verb to seize or take (something) away, usually as a penalty. The teacher confiscated the boy's comic which he was reading in class. Kernerman English Multilingual Dictionary © 2006-2013 K Dictionaries Ltd. Sounds like the teacher was being strict here, but I bet he didn't mail the Beano to the Treasury. Seriously, I'm pretty sure that the most common usage (and thus the one most sensibly deduced, except when a specialist register is obviously being used) is the one instanced here. The entries in most dictionaries don't seem to reflect this. Aug 20, 2013 at 9:47
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    Regardless of the origin, if you were to say "The police officer confiscated the money", I think most people would assume that the police office was acting within his official duty and that the seller had done something wrong, like not having a permit. If the police officer was not acting within his official duties, and was taking the money for himself, then extortion, shakedown, or one of the other suggestions would be more appropriate.
    – Kevin
    Aug 20, 2013 at 14:32
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    "Confiscation" implies that the act was justified; "extortion" implies that it was not. Aug 20, 2013 at 18:33

Previously-suggested extortion (“The practice of extorting money or other property by the use of force or threats”) is quite appropriate; also consider verb shake down (“To get money from someone using threats”).

Edit: As noted in a comment, as a noun shakedown means “an act or instance of shaking someone down; especially : extortion”. Some other terms related to a policeman forcibly taking money from a salesman might include:
graft, “Illicit profit by corrupt means, especially in public life”, “A cut of the take”, “A bribe, especially on an ongoing basis”
squeeze (mentioned earlier by Daniël), “To oppress with hardships, burdens, or taxes; to harass”
put the arm on, “Fig. to apply pressure to someone. [eg] John has been putting the arm on Bill to get him to cooperate.”
muscling in, “[using] power or influence, esp. when based on force or threats of force”
on the take, “trying to profit in a personal and usually financial way from a situation”, which might apply if the policeman knows of infractions but is turning a blind eye for a split of the stand's profits.

Note, cambridge.org has thesaurus pages for specific topics, including Cheating & tricking which may be relevant.

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    m-w's shake-down: 3: an act or instance of shaking someone down; especially : extortion
    – Jack Ryan
    Aug 20, 2013 at 12:41

Colloquially it is also referred to as a shakedown or squeeze.

In a clear case of corruption or a racketing it can also be called a pay off or protection money.

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    Nothin' shakin' on shakedown street! Aug 20, 2013 at 14:08

confiscate : To use one's authority to lay claim to and separate a possession from its holder.


It depends on where the event took place.

In some jurisdictions, the policeman may well have been acting within the law of the land if the salesman had no licence, and the term confiscation would be correct (Collins being superior to the 'stricter' AHD here, of course).

Robbery is the alternative, for the taking of money / possessions illegally by force.


At first read, I thought "appropriate" would be appropriate:

The policeman appropriated the salesman's money.

Suitable or proper in the circumstances.
Take (something) for one's own use, typically without the owner's permission.
adjective. proper - suitable - fit - fitting - apposite - convenient
verb. assign - allocate


  • I was also thinking of 'appropriate'. I think that it is connotatively a little more neutral than 'extort', though, and is often even used when the action is sanctioned by the narrator, as in 'I appropriated Fido from an abusive neighbour and he turned out to be a faithful companion'. Aug 26, 2013 at 23:58

Extortion under color of law / color of official right

2404 Hobbs Act — Under Color of Official Right

While the definition of extortion under the Hobbs Act with regard to force, violence or fear requires the obtaining of property from another with his consent induced by these means, the under color of official right provision does not require that the public official take steps to induce the extortionate payment: It can be said that "the coercive element is provided by the public office itself."

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    Please explain your answer. See here.
    – TrevorD
    Aug 20, 2013 at 14:51
  • It seems pretty self explanatory, but it's a regional manner of stating the previously suggested extortion. Aug 20, 2013 at 16:09
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    I don't understand "under color of". Do you mean "under cover of"? If it's regional, please explain - which region(s)?
    – TrevorD
    Aug 20, 2013 at 16:56
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    @TrevorD en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Color_(law) it's a legal term in the US.
    – Random832
    Aug 20, 2013 at 17:05
  • @Random832 Thanks. I'd never heard of it (in the UK).
    – TrevorD
    Aug 20, 2013 at 17:24

Depending on the circumstances, seize would be my first thought. Usually it is part of a search and seizure.

Another alternative would be impound, but that generally refers to vehicles. The definition is broader than common usage, though.

  • 1
    I woud question whether "seize" necessarily implies "forcefully" as requested by OP. Seizure (in this context) would be forceful only if there were resistance.
    – TrevorD
    Aug 20, 2013 at 16:54
  • @TrevorD seize Verb Take hold of suddenly and forcibly: "she jumped up and seized his arm". Capture (a place) using force. Moderation is healthy in moderation ;) Aug 21, 2013 at 2:10

If the policeman did not simply grab the money but rather force the salesman to hand it over:

blackmail: to extort money from (a person) by the use of threats.

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