I am looking for a word which means stealing something on its way to the recipient. For example, suppose you sent a gift to your friend. And suppose someone steals it before it reaches your friend. Is there one word (other than simply stealing) to explain this action?

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    As Robusto mentions, pilfer is good if the theft is surreptitious. And as jwpat gives, pirate is good if accompanied by violence or threat thereof. – Andrew Lazarus Dec 28 '12 at 17:07
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    If you want more emphasis on the act of stealing rather than intercepting, then the following may apply, larceny, rob, embezzle, misappropriate, raid, plunder and peculate – osknows Dec 28 '12 at 22:00
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    Hijack is probably the best here. Intercept being a close second, as it doesn't technically imply theft. Either one will get the point clearly across, though. – Phillip Schmidt Dec 28 '12 at 22:03
  • How about using the word skimmed? – abhi Dec 28 '12 at 23:19
  • "Hijack" seems to fit the bill best, since it is about transit and has a stronger connotation of wronging than "intercept". But to me, hijacking is really about taking possession of something in transit for a period of time, rather than merely making off with it; I don't like its sense of stealing as much. "Intercept" is tempting but doesn't say enough about the outcome. – Ladlestein Dec 28 '12 at 23:28

12 Answers 12


You could use intercept.

From ODO:
obstruct (someone or something) so as to prevent them from continuing to a destination:
     intelligence agencies intercepted a series of telephone calls
     I intercepted Edward on his way to work

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    +1, but wow, I think ODO really messed up there. The definition clearly does not apply to the first example, since an intelligence agency that prevented telephone calls from reaching its destination would thereby fail to gather the intelligence it's after! – ruakh Dec 29 '12 at 3:16
  • -1 This would amount to ascribing a negative sense to an otherwise innocent word. Certainly not stealing. – Kris Dec 29 '12 at 5:43
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    @Kris I don't think intercept is that innocent. An interception in football is 'stealing' the ball from the other side, for instance. – Kit Z. Fox Dec 29 '12 at 13:13
  • @KitFox ODO doesn't seem to think so. "late Middle English (in the senses 'contain between limits' and 'halt (an effect')): from Latin intercept- 'caught between', from the verb intercipere, from inter- 'between' + capere 'take'" -- the primary meaning is 'to catch', not to "Take (another person's property) without permission or legal right and without intending to return it" -- see above eg: intelligence agencies do not 'take without legal right'. – Kris Dec 29 '12 at 13:39

Besides already-mentioned intercept, consider waylay (in sense “To accost or intercept unexpectedly”) and hijack (“To forcibly stop and seize control of some vehicle in order to rob it or to reach a destination”), and also the verb to pirate.

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    waylay doesn’t seem quite right to me. You don’t waylay the package; you waylay the mailman to hijack/intercept the package. – PLL Dec 29 '12 at 5:07
  • +1 for hijacked because the thievery implication is a bit stronger than intercept. – mootinator Dec 29 '12 at 5:23
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    @PLL, while waylay is most frequently used of people, it can be used of a package or other things as well. For example, in an essay Francis Bacon wrote: “[usury] beats down the price of land; for the employment of money is chiefly either merchandizing or purchasing; and usury waylays both.” – James Waldby - jwpat7 Dec 29 '12 at 18:44

You might consider purloin, which involves a breach of trust. Otherwise, there is no exact equivalent for what you want.

Businesses usually call losses during the transport of goods pilferage.

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  • I must find an excuse to say pilferage in conversation. – Lucas Dec 29 '12 at 10:21

I was thinking of to snag but that is perhaps not a proper word?

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One that has not yet been suggested is "poached":

To take or appropriate something unfairly or illegally.

To make an alliterative compound word specific to your predicament: parcel-poached!

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  • +1 – Bang-on! (It is strange when an answer you think is perfect with only 2 up-votes, yet there are 44 up-votes (and counting) for the top answer that is only a stiff dictionary definition. This site is great, but at times certain answers lacks ..soul. [13. characteristic of soul music.]) Well done! – ipso Jan 2 '13 at 21:18
  • Warm and fuzzy. :) – KDN Jan 3 '13 at 0:49

I can only think of intercept. That can probably involve theft, but doesn't necessarily do so.

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Snatched. As from the jaws of death.

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    Try and include relevant meaning from an authoritative source. – Kris Dec 29 '12 at 14:29
  • I think "from the jaws of death" provides relevant meaning, some might even call it metaphor. – Ed McLaughlin Dec 29 '12 at 18:38

To divert has a strong sense of turning aside something in passage. If the connotation of theft were clear from context, it might serve. The phrase "diversion theft" may refer to a specific scam.

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Perhaps you are looking for seized, to indicate a profound meaning, yet similar to both intercepted and hijacked. Hijacked for some reason makes me think of a plane being taken over by terrorists, and intercepted of a "fumble" (or a football possession loss [turnover] more than the act of losing the oval). I meant to say that it's what come to mind, in the first case if someone mentioned that word it brings a memory of September 11 event and the second one, watching a game over tv of the superbowl in which one team loses the ball, so their turn gets intercepted. Please correct me if that's somewhat expressed wrongly or feel free to contribute with this answer.

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  • Disagree with your second point. The american football definition of an "intercepted" pass is one which an opposing player caught before it could reach the intended receiver. (The thing the OP asked for.) A "fumbled" pass would have reached the intended receiver before being dropped. To me "hijacked" implies an illegal activity, whereas intercepted does not necessarily. – mootinator Dec 29 '12 at 5:18

I was thinking of hijack initially. But now I'm considering "co-opt" and "appropriate."

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I think of intercept.

  • Just like intercepting the phone calls by a third party. So, each and every call which is being made will be first intercepted then reach its destination.

  • We may also have an example of Hero and Villain. The Villain has many stooges through which he can monitor all the activities of Hero before taking an action against him. (Its also like intercepting the communication of Villain and Hero via Stooges).

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how about 'take over'? as in.. 'When I was younger.. I used a lot mIRC and there was always some guys trying to take over my channel (#)! They were making the X or W (bots with higher privilege than a common user and depending on the channel owner settings even with more authority than an operator[which was a moderator] ) to execute a mass de-op (making the operators of the channel to lose their @) and then kicking them out. Since the bot X or W was still receiving orders from the user that performed a channel 'TAKE OVA!' (take over) they were placing themselves as the operators and setting rules like ban specific users, flood others, etc.. It was a nightmare!

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    Sounds more like usurp than intercept to me. – tchrist Dec 29 '12 at 15:52
  • yeah, well thanks for the correction.. and for the downvote :( – Jean Paul A.K.A el_vete Dec 29 '12 at 15:53
  • The downvote was because you made it so very difficult to read your post. – tchrist Dec 29 '12 at 15:54

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