Green’s Dictionary of Slang

grifter n.

[grift v.]

1. (US Und., also grift) a confidence trickster; any form of non-violent criminal living primarily on his or her wits; also attrib.

J.L. Mathews Log of the Easy Way 200: ‘Who are you?’ [...] ‘A grifter — like yourself.’ ‘What's your lay?’ ‘Gallery, canes and wheel. Can I fix it?’ .
Bookman 39 369/2: Can a grifter work flash slum unless he’s got a Stetson on his bean? He kin not; indeed he kin not!
[US]G. Bronson-Howard God’s Man 366: We grifters had a damn good right to nick a front or peel a poke so long as Wall Street and Washington were picking everybody’s pockets. [...] 263: I tell you a guy’s got a nut of pure ivory when he’s a grift [...] ’Cause grifting ain’t what it used to be.
[US]J. Callahan Man’s Grim Justice in Hamilton Men of the Und. 292: The dicks tossed a grifter into one of the cells.
[US] (ref. to late 1898) N. Kimball Amer. Madam (1981) 259: The wrong crowd hung out there – lags and pete men, paper kiters, carny grifters.
[US]D. Maurer Big Con 1: Of all the grifters, the confidence man is the aristocrat.
[US]R. Chandler Long Good-Bye 58: In the bleak light he looked young-old, tired, and cynical, but he didn’t look like a grifter.
[US]J. Scarne Complete Guide to Gambling 524: Anyone who bucks percentages ranging from 40% to 100% deserves the names the grifter knows him by: sucker, chump, mark or mooch.
[US]B. Jackson Get Your Ass in the Water (1974) 108: I can show any pennyweight thief or grift any kind a game they try to play.
[US]‘Iceberg Slim’ Airtight Willie and Me 11: Grifters often got bone tired and foot sore searching for a qualifiable mark.
[US]R. Campbell In La-La Land We Trust (1999) 1: He was a petty grifter.
[UK]Guardian Guide 25–31 July 23: He plays a young con-man born into a clan of Irish grifters from the American South.
[US]N. Tosches Where Dead Voices Gather (ms.) 213: Keith and Albee had similar backgrounds as circus grifters and sideshow spielers.
[US](con. 1962) in E. Bunker Stark 10: The title character is a hophead and a grifter out to fill his pockets with gelt.
Twitter 20 Nov. 🌐 Trump isn't the real menace; he's a two-bit grifter. The menace is the monsters he's enabling.
[Aus]D. Whish-Wilson Old Scores [ebook] Thjese guys are grifters, not muscle.
[US]T. Pluck Bad Boy Boogie [ebook] ‘I want to put you away where you belong. You and your grifter parents’.

2. (US Und.) a small-change swindler, thus any small-time gambler.

Editor 24 Feb. 153: Grifters — short change swindlers, or swindlers of small caliber [HDAS].
[US]P. White ‘A Circus List’ in AS I:5 282: Grifter — The old time gamblers and short-change artists who followed the circus.
[US]W. Mahoney ‘The Ruse in Cocaine Alley’ in Und. Detective Mar. 🌐 A petty grifter with a burning ambition to become an underworld big shot.
[US]R.L. Bellem ‘Feature Snatch!’ Dan Turner - Hollywood Detective Feb. 🌐 He was a cheap two-bit grifter and penny ante louse around town.
[US]B. Schulberg Harder They Fall (1971) 114: You and I both know him for a grifter, but that’s why he’s right for the job.
[US]T. Thackrey Gambling Secrets of Nick The Greek 19: The little grifter with the horse-blanket coat.
[US](con. early 1950s) J. Ellroy L.A. Confidential 151: The dump was a known grifter hangout.

3. (US Und.) a thief.

[US]American Mag. 78 35/3: There wasn’t a ‘grifter’ [thief] in the place that any of us would take a drink with.
[US]J. Lait ‘Charlie the Wolf’ in Beef, Iron and Wine (1917) 41: It seems the grifters were more entertaining in the old days.
[US]C.S. Montanye ‘Perfect Crime’ in Penzler Pulp Fiction (2007) 355: It will be of wonderful assistance to young, ambitious crust-floppers, grifters and heavymen.
[US](con. 1905–25) E.H. Sutherland Professional Thief (1956) 13: The coppers got the car, the stuff, and the money, and the grifters got the debts.
[US]N. Algren Neon Wilderness (1986) 34: Old rogues and wagon grifters, shakedown artists and coneroos, heel thieves and strong-arm merchants, [...] cat burglars from Brooklyn and live wires from nowhere.
[US]C. Hamilton Men of the Und. 322: Grifter, A thief.
[US]S. King Stand (1990) 158: Arizona and New Mexico police were coordinating the largest manhunt in forty years, all for a couple of small-time grifters.
[US]H. Huncke ‘Boxcar Bertha’ in Huncke Reader (1998) 336: This Boxcar Bertha commanded the respect of all the bums and yeggs and reds and grifters of the road.
[US]J. Stahl I, Fatty 150: Kiddies’ baseball heroes really a bunch of grifters?

4. a worker, a struggler.

[US]A.J. Pollock Und. Speaks n.p.: Grifter, a grafter.
[US]R. Chandler Long Good-Bye 64: You’re a piker, Marlowe. You’re a peanut grifter. You’re so little it takes a magnifying glass to see you.

5. (US campus) a scrounger, someone living off other people.

[US]College Sl. Research Project (Cal. State Poly. Uni., Pomona) 🌐 Grifter (noun) One who freeloads.