What words might a thief (of any variety) use to describe the victims of his theft?

Con artists in film often use "mark", for example. Is there other jargon specific to the con branch* of crime? How about burglars? Muggers? Bank robbers? Politicians? Oh, sorry... Highwaymen? Pickpockets?

*We might call these words "con-specific". :p

  • "punters" can be used, although the people who refer to their customers that way might not like being called thieves - even when they are! – chasly - supports Monica Nov 26 '20 at 16:08

There are many terms for victim of a thief or swindler besides mark. Among them are

  • dupe
  • stooge
  • sucker
  • fall guy
  • chump
  • patsy

In games like chess, witless victims of chess sharps are called "fish" or "patzers".

In poker, victims of the poker sharks are called, variously

  • fish
  • donkeys (or "donks")
  • dead money
  • whales (fools with a lot of money; you generally see sharks circling around these players in a feeding frenzy)
  • "Whales" was also the term used by the brokers in "Boiler Room" for their clients. – jhocking May 1 '11 at 11:40
  • 1
    @jhocking: Yes, and it's been a gambling term for a long time. Casinos having been using it for decades to describe their high-roller clientele (rich people who want to impress people by dropping tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars at the tables). – Robusto May 1 '11 at 11:58
  • Yeah I saw that in your answer, interesting tidbit. – jhocking May 1 '11 at 12:39
  • BTW, I am tempted to suppose that "whale" derives from "fish" — a whale (to those unaware that a whale is a mammal) seeming like a big "fish". – Robusto May 1 '11 at 13:28

From the thematic Oxford Dictionary of Slang by Lexicographer John Ayto (including the word mark you already mention).

For a simple swindle:

fly-flat (1864) British, dated; applied to someone taken in by confidence tricksters; from fly (knowing, alert) + obsolete flat (gullible person)
• Joyce Cary: 'I don't see why we should consider the speculators.' 'A lot of fly-flats who thought they could beat us at the game.'(1938)

mark (1883) Orig US; applied to the intended victim of confidence tricksters; often in the phrase a soft (or easy) mark
• Edmund McGirr: In the twenties it was the Yanks who was the suckers, but now... it's us who are the marks. (1973)

For kidnap victims:

package (1933) Mainly US; applied to a kidnap victim
• Sun (Baltimore): The 'package', as the kidnapped victim is called, is rushed across the State line and delivered to the'keepers'. (1933)

  • Kidnappers! Nice, I didn't even think of them. – jscs May 1 '11 at 8:16
  • Nigerian scammers: Mugu
  • Politicians: voters

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.