In German there is a term Beutelschneiderei which in all dictionaries I have currently access to is being translated as "daylight robbery". However, Beutelschneiderei in German is a very picturesque word (evoking mediaeval sceneries), and my impression is that "daylight robbery" is more of a sober description of the activity.

Here is the question: What better terms could I use in an English text to render German Beutelschneiderei.

I found


as a term for the person involved in that business; cut-purse being an exact translation of Beutelschneider, which is the person; whereas Beutelschneiderei is the activity, or the trade, so perhaps something like

cut-pursery (?).

Note that the term Beutelschneiderei does not only describe the occupation of a person concretely cutting with a knife or scissors people's purses off their belt. It can be used also metaphorically for any fraudulent activity aiming at taking money from people without returning a due service. For example "Trump University" could in German quite correctly be refered to as Beutelschneiderei. It is this metaphorical use that I am after, not so much the original physical activity of pursecutting.

Note also that Beutelschneiderei is not a legal term. In legal terms, a cut-purse would be prosecuted for theft (Diebstahl) or robbery (Raub), because these terms are defined by penal law.

I am sure there are nice words or idioms in English, given for example the rich 19th century literature describing life in the poorer parts of society.

A concise version of this question would be: What (ideally picturesque, possibly slightly ironic) expressions are there to describe fraud?

Later found:

Having had now access to one more dictionary, I can contribute to the list (that meanwhile has formed thanks to contributors):


And finally...

... as forum members have posted quite a number of beautiful and interesting answers, and I see now that the semantic field is pretty broad, with all kinds of variables in it, here is the actual context where I want to use the expression: Speaking about various new forms of teaching and learning, I have here somebody claiming that "Providing a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) to learn leadership would simply be [your idiom for Beutelschneiderei]".

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    I can think of a few, but can you remove the single-word tag? English does not expand concepts into single words as neatly as German does.
    – wetcircuit
    Commented Oct 3, 2018 at 12:29
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    'Being mugged' springs to mind which not only refers to being physically robbed by violence but can also be related to underhand and devious methods of separating people from their hard earned.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Oct 3, 2018 at 12:35
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    dict.leo of Beutelschneider gives 'swindle' (a perfectly good english word). So 'a swindle' (the theft or fraud) or 'the swindler' (the person doing it) might work for you. 'Cut-purse' is pretty good metaphorically, but 'cut-pursery' just sounds wrong for the act.
    – Mitch
    Commented Oct 3, 2018 at 15:43
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    Daylight Robbery is not about robbery committed in day light in English is more used in this way "what £7.50 for a pint of Guinness that's daylight robbery " Commented Oct 3, 2018 at 20:44
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    Yes, daylight robbery has become far more metaphorical over the years, the idiomatic use for blatant overcharging comes out of the old idea that most theft type crimes used to happen in the dark for lack of witnesses and stealth, so only the most skilled and bold thieves would dare commit a crime in full daylight, where they had a much greater chance of both being apprehended in the act, and observed by witnesses, and apprehended later. The metaphor takes the "blatant and bold" part and applies it to charges for goods and services.
    – Wenlocke
    Commented Oct 4, 2018 at 10:48

10 Answers 10


A well-known idiom is Highway Robbery.


enter image description here

It refers to 18th Century "highwaymen" who robbed travelers on a public but unprotected road in broad daylight. Highwaymen are romanticized for being "bold" and eluding capture, and are typically depicted as being gentry or noble class with refined manners, above the "common" criminal because they own expensive items like a horse and a pistol.

The idiom is used for unfair business practices, especially price gouging, and implies the situation is somehow immune to corrective market forces, protected from competition, or taking advantage of a legal loophole.

  • Can you perhaps include the definition of "Highway Robbery" in your answer? While a picture is worth a thousand words, I can't tell which of those are the definition :)
    – scohe001
    Commented Oct 3, 2018 at 16:03
  • @scohe001 editing...
    – wetcircuit
    Commented Oct 3, 2018 at 16:08
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    This has two points to recommend it over other answers: the aspect of brazen theft and the fact that it's a common phrase for the purpose. A variant is daylight robbery
    – Chris H
    Commented Oct 4, 2018 at 6:46
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    Stand and deliver! Your money or your life!
    – erickson
    Commented Oct 4, 2018 at 13:19
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    @ChristianGeiselmann I think "Robin Hood" is overstating it a bit. I've never heard somebody use "highway robbery" in a positive connotation, its just that it really emphasises the sheer brazen-ness of the act.
    – mbrig
    Commented Oct 4, 2018 at 20:13

How about skullduggery?

(It doesn't seem to be related to 'skull', so in that sense it's not really visual, more onomatopoeic)

dishonorable proceedings; mean dishonesty or trickery: bribery, graft, and other such skulduggery.
n.1856, apparently an alteration of Scottish sculdudrie "adultery" (1713), sculduddery "bawdry, obscenity" (1821), a euphemism of uncertain origin.

Hocus pocus might also do the trick.

3.trickery; deception.

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    So far, and based on the definition given in the box, skullduggery seems like a really good word for me, indeed! Commented Oct 3, 2018 at 15:31
  • 'skullduggery' is accurate as primary definition, but it has old-fashioned connotations and sounds quaint.
    – Mitch
    Commented Oct 3, 2018 at 15:44
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    Skulduggery, at least as I've heard it used, doesn't evoke theft as I believe cut-purse does. Commented Oct 3, 2018 at 15:45
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    It's a great word but it not necessarily robbery at all.
    – Lambie
    Commented Oct 3, 2018 at 15:46
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    Great word. In its defence, robbery's not necessarily part of the answer OP wants. (The question could be much clearer.)
    – tmgr
    Commented Oct 3, 2018 at 20:00

enter image description here"purse-snatching" is the kind of robbery where a purse, handbag or small package is grabbed from another person.

The National Incident-Based Reporting System defines purse-snatching as "the grabbing or snatching of a purse, handbag, etc., from the physical possession of another person."

EDIT - The OP edited and added "I have here somebody claiming that "Providing a MOOC to learn leadership would simply be __________________".

In this case you're looking for a word or phrase that can be used metaphorically for "a crooked deal". I then suggest what was mentioned by the OP "daylight robbery".

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    Which related to the actual snatching of actual purses. Good to have that word. But would it be applicable also metaphorically to more general fraud? Commented Oct 3, 2018 at 15:32
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    @ChristianGeiselmann I don't recall ever hearing purse-snatching in English to mean anything but taking of personal property held on someone's person - I would not suggest it for more general fraud. Commented Oct 3, 2018 at 17:55
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    Why is that woman yelling at a man skateboarding while carrying an Erlenmeyer flask? Commented Oct 3, 2018 at 21:59

Since you did bring it up and made changes to your original question, I must include "trumpery" which can be used as a noun to express fraud.



Are you engaging in trumpery, Sir?

I am not sure about its dubious "picturesque" qualities (see second link), but perhaps this lesser/obscure definition will gain future acceptance.

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    It's trumpery, not Trumpery. Commented Oct 3, 2018 at 16:44
  • How did I not see that? Thanks.
    – user22542
    Commented Oct 3, 2018 at 16:49
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    Haha! Well answered, Sir! Trumpery may have been not so picturesque initially, but recently it seems to have gained picturesqueness, I do not know exactly why. I am considering to use this for my purpose (it might be a bit strong, but... well... why not; for the sake of being contemporianious...) Commented Oct 3, 2018 at 19:51
  • Ah. If you only knew. Always good to be of help.
    – user22542
    Commented Oct 3, 2018 at 22:26
  • There is a word trumpery? No way! Commented Oct 4, 2018 at 18:07

As you are looking for a picturesque / metaphorical expression, idiomatic if possible, I immediately thought of the handywork of a Quacksalber. Someone who is selling / promising a fraudulent product.

Providing a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) to learn leadership would simply be snake oil peddlery

Or even simpler

Providing a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) to learn leadership would simply be snake oil


Providing a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) to learn leadership would simply be quackery

Other terms that are related might also fit well here: see Schwindel and find gems like: mare's nest, rip-off, hanky-panky, swizz, goldbrick, sham, shenanigans, swindle, bogusness, skullduggery, quackery, fiddle, diddle, flam, humbug, boodle, hokum

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    Snake oil is a great word (and so very picturesque!) but probably fits best for a fraudulently ineffective remedy. As an example, the German blogger Felix von Leitner uses it for anti virus programs (which open more attack paths than they close, in his opinion). For a MOOC it doesn't seem to fit so well. For a therapy course, by contrast, it would. Commented Oct 4, 2018 at 18:15

That would be the colorful idiom "pickpocket". It is picturesque, similar in meaning, and can be used as both a noun and a verb.

Is she a pack rat or a pickpocket?

He pickpocketed those a long time ago.

and also:

Pickpocketing, as an activity, is the subject of my book.


  • But is there a similary nice noun for the activity (rather than the person)? Pick-pocketry? Pick-pocketing? And is pick pocket not rather used for concrete theft of purses and other valuables, and not so much in a metaphorical way (as for Trump University or whatever other fraudulent endeavour)? Commented Oct 3, 2018 at 12:54
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    The most common word for the activity would be "pickpocketing" It sounds like a cheerful activity. It could even be offered as a vocational course.
    – user22542
    Commented Oct 3, 2018 at 13:10
  • Cheerful is good. Beutelschneiderei similarly has a touch of being a nice, pleasant, eco-friendly, sociable activity (as long as the original physical activity is meant; the cheerfulness does not apply to the broader sense of fraud). Commented Oct 3, 2018 at 15:36
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    pickpocketing and petty thievery: books.google.com/…
    – Lambie
    Commented Oct 3, 2018 at 15:49
  • The Victorians had the phrase finger smith for a pick pocket. So the crime would be finger smithery
    – JGNI
    Commented Oct 4, 2018 at 14:32

Given that you want the activity to sound picturesque and that you seem to be open to words relating to fraud in general, rather than just pickpocketing:


(verb) to commit armed robbery; steal

(noun) armed robbery; holdup; also theft

Dictionaries differ on exactly what a heist constitutes. In American English (and perhaps elsewhere), it can be a straight theft or robbery (as in the Merriam-Webster definition above) but it often suggests a planned criminal enterprise. Macmillan gives the following definition:


an organized attempt by thieves to steal something

Wikipedia describes a heist as:

...a grand, high-end theft from an institution such as a bank or a museum, or any theft in which there is a large haul of loot.

If you type in "Hatton Garden", Google suggests "heist", at least at the time of writing.

Heist is surprisingly non-judgemental as a word, and could be perhaps used in the lighthearted way you seem to want. Indeed, the word heist is often used in movie titles and is often (but not exclusively) used to romanticise crime.

I've also included the entry from Oxford Living Dictionaries, mainly for the example sentences, rather than the definition, which isn't great:

heist (noun, informal)

a robbery

a diamond heist

The panel suggested a radical re-think of sentencing for all types of robbery, ranging from street muggings to professionally-organised heists.

Sure, the men behind the robbery looked pretty clever in the immediate aftermath of the heist.

The work is filled with mentions of murders, drug heists and beatings, but the focus ultimately - and affectingly - rests on the more quotidian dramas.

So, despite this week's raid, heists will always be rare, with most real criminals dealing in the nastier side of law-breaking: petty theft, often involving violence, and drugs.

Collectively the three escapees faced three charges of murder, 16 counts of attempted murder and seven armed robbery charges relating to cash-in-transit heists across the province.

More light-hearted again is caper. To give a full sense of how jovial a word it is, it's worth looking at the full definition:


(verb, no object, with adverbial of direction)

skip or dance about in a lively or playful way

Children were capering about the room.


1 a playful skipping movement

She did a little caper or dance.

2 (informal) an illicit or ridiculous activity or escapade

I'm too old for this kind of caper.

2.1 a light-hearted, far-fetched film, especially about crime

a cop caper about intergalactic drug dealers

It's the second sense we intend here, of course, and you can see the flavour of the word is decidedly upbeat, and that caper is more general a term than heist.

Further example sentences for the second sense from the same dictionary follow:

Unfortunately, far too many films contain wacky crime capers that lead into shenanigans which gives way to witty, edgy banter.

Women wrestled then befriended adultresses, men abducted brides, light-hearted capers segued into murder.

The election board and the local Council, with their haphazard and non-accountability attitude, should have stopped this caper when it was first seen years ago.

Now he may face the full 10 years, plus punishment for the grave-robbing caper.

A guy comes up with a caper, he puts together a team, they plan, and then they pull off the heist.

Pickled flower buds aside, Macmillan gives the following definition:

caper (informal)

an activity that is not honest or not very serious

The Pink Panther involves a heist but it is also definitely a caper, in several senses of the word.

Shenanigans, the name of countless faux Irish bars the world over, featured in one of the example sentences earlier, but is also worth consideration in its own right:


silly, dishonest, or immoral behaviour

Shenanigans again, is a very light-hearted and general term for the kind of antics a rogue or a rascal might get up to. You might be up to or engage in shenanigans.

  • Thank you for this exhaustive answer with various good expressions. Heist would be, I suppose, something that is openly wrongdoning. If so, it would not fit well into where I need it (for something hiddenly wrong), but still it is good to have a broader field of notions available here. Commented Oct 3, 2018 at 19:47
  • Also, all related to cons (a subset of fraud, I suppose), sting, scam, bunco, flimflam, swindle, grift and hustle are also all worth consideration. Perhaps because of the way that confidence tricksters are often romanticised on TV and in film, these words can convey a certain cheeky or roguish charm. You may look them up yourself, if you're interested!
    – tmgr
    Commented Oct 3, 2018 at 20:17
  • A heist isn't necessarily out in the open. Nor indeed is a caper! Shenanigans is quite like skulduggery in its general import, but far less sinister.
    – tmgr
    Commented Oct 3, 2018 at 20:20

I don't see it used much in the current times but (and perhaps therefore) chicanery may fit the bill too.

Speaking about various new forms of teaching and learning, I have here somebody claiming that "Providing a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) to learn leadership would simply be chicanery".


chicanery NOUN

The use of deception or subterfuge to achieve one's purpose.

‘His sky-rocket ascent was almost certainly powered by bribery, manipulation, and other chicanery.’


I think you have some great answers, but I would like to add the particularly evocative of an image lifted:

4a : STEAL

had her purse lifted


c : to take out of normal setting

It evokes the image of picking something up and taking it away, though with "lifted" there is almost always a victim or a place required to use it. "I lifted this item from the store," "he lifted the phone from Sally," or "that idea was completely lifted from McDonald's!"


I suggest "hoodwink," "bamboozle," or "swindle." If it's a noun you're looking for, "hucksterism" is also a possibility.

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