Green’s Dictionary of Slang

gonnof n.

also ganef, ganev, ganov, gon, gonaff, gonaph, gonef, gonif, goniff, gonnauf, gonnif, gonnofer, gonnoff, gonnoph, gonof, gonoff, gonoph, gonov, gunnif
[Heb. gannabh, thief; Hotten (1860) suggests that the word is ‘as old as Chaucer’s time’, but his ref. is to gnoff, a peasant, a lout, which comes from East Frisian knufe, lump and gnuffîg, thick, rough, coarse, ill-mannered; note S.Afr. goniva, a stolen diamond]

1. a thief; an ‘amateur pickpocket’ (Hotten, 1859).

[UK]W.A. Miles Poverty, Mendicity and Crime; Report 168: Cocum gonnofs flash by night the cooters in the boozing kens, and send their lushy shicksters out to bring the ruin in.
[UK]Flash Mirror 10: Why is a gonuff who has been robbing a carpenter of a certain useful material like a man who has got a very bad disease? — Because he’s got the glue.
[US]Nat. Police Gaz. (NY) 1 Nov. 83/3: It is our duty to announce the presence in this country of a most distinguished ‘gonnauf’ [...] The man figured in London [...] as one of the leaders of the swell mob, and was considered as the best ‘screwsman’ and ‘fitter’ in the mteropolis, but was finally ‘served’ with a term in Botany Bay.
[US]N.Y. Herald 15 Jan. 1/5: In the meantime, we would caution all persons to be very careful if their ‘dummy’ for the gonneifs [sic] can be seen flying about in all directions in this city, like so many humble bees.
[UK]Swell’s Night Guide 68: She chummed vith a gonniff, and they took a crib and did the fence and bawdykin dodge.
[UK]Fast Man 6:1 n.p.: I know a house in Ivy-lane where the gonuffs (thieves) use.
[UK]Peeping Tom (London) 1 4/3: the swell’s guide [...] A curious specimen of the Flash Patter [...] Dialogue between a Shickster and a Goniff — Between a Swell Mob’s-Man and a Fogle Hunter.
[UK]Dickens Bleak House (1991) 265: I am obliged to take him into custody. He’s as obstinate a young gonoph as I know.
[UK]‘Ducange Anglicus’ Vulgar Tongue 39: [as cit. 1839].
[UK](con. 1840s–50s) H. Mayhew London Labour and London Poor III 315/1: The ‘gonaff,’ (a Hebrew word signifying a young thief, probably learnt from the Jew ‘fences’ in the neighbourhood).
[Aus]Melbourne Punch ‘City Police Court’ 3 Oct. 234/1: The Mayor. – You are as gammy a gonnof as ever I saw, and I expect your doxy’s as bad.
[US]T. Winthrop John Brent (1876) 295: Luck has druv him out of hisself and made a reg’lar gonoph of him.
[US]H.L. Williams N.-Y. After Dark 46: The same innocent gets himself kicked into the Wall Street gutter and the box ‘lumbered’ by some daring ‘gonnoff’.
[US]Memphis Dly Appeal (TN) 12 Mar. 3/3: A pickpocket is known as a ‘gonneff’.
[UK]C. Hindley Life and Adventures of a Cheap Jack 146: Oh, you tief! you cheat! you gonnof!
[UK]J. Greenwood Dick Temple III 18: He called them [i.e. boy thieves] ‘young gonophs.’.
[Aus]Sydney Sl. Dict. (2 edn) 4: Gonnoff - A thief.
[Aus]Bulletin (Sydney) 28 Feb. 22/3: If Juggins should happen to turn upon the siren distrustfully, she may laugh or beg his pardon, [...] but if he does not, the gonoph in front may have a fine time of it.
[UK]‘Morris the Mohel’ ‘Houndsditch Day By Day’ Sporting Times 18 Jan. 3/1: ’Ave ye seen Pontius Abryam’s new book vhat he’s juth published? Ith called ‘A Guide for the Gonovim; or, the Location of the Loot’.
[UK]P.H. Emerson Signor Lippo 95: Someone must be here to go round with the rozzers when they comes for a burglar or gonnofer.
[UK]A. Morrison Tales of Mean Streets (1983) 153: Why did other gonophs get lucky touches for half a century of quids at a time.
[Aus]Crowe Aus. Sl. Dict. 33: Gonnoff, a distinguished thief.
[UK]Binstead & Wells Pink ’Un and Pelican 54: ‘Sharper! Gonoph!’ yelled Denby, blue with rage.
[Aus]Sun. Times (Perth) 14 Aug. 4/7: There were moshkin men and Methodists, / And a gonaph from Donegal.
[US]A.H. Lewis Apaches of N.Y. 131: He joined out wit’ that mob of gons Goldie Lovie took to Syracuse last fall.
[US]Jackson & Hellyer Vocab. Criminal Sl. 38: gonif A thief of any class; a pickpocket. The term is taken intact from the Hebrew and is used mostly by pickpockets.
[US]M. Glass Abe and Mawruss 16: I don’t want no ganef working round my place.
[US]Wash. Post 11 Nov. Miscellany 3/6: ‘Goniff’ is used when recalling a thief, among the flash denizens of the underworld.
[US]G. Henderson Keys to Crookdom 42: The gun mob gets his name from the Jewish term ‘gonif,’ meaning thief.
[US]Wood & Goddard Dict. Amer. Sl. 20: gonof, gonoph. Pickpocket; expert thief.
[US]D. Runyon ‘Hold ’Em, Yale!’ Runyon on Broadway (1954) 147: His monicker, the Gonoph, [...] is Yiddish for thief. The term ‘cannon’ is used to designate the pickpocket and also the racket of picking pockets. The theory of the origin of this term is that the pickpocket some centuries ago was called a gonnif, which is the Jewish word for thief. This term was then abbreviated to ‘gun’; later someone in a moment of smartness referred to a pickpocket as a ‘cannon’ to designate a big gun, and the term ‘cannon’ then became general. The term ‘gun’ is still used to refer to pickpockets, and the female pickpocket who operates upon men is called a ‘gun-moll.’.
[US]Ersine Und. and Prison Sl. 40: gon, gonif, n. (from the Hebrew.) A thief.
[US]A.J. Pollock Und. Speaks n.p.: Gonof, a thief.
[UK]F.D. Sharpe Sharpe of the Flying Squad 16: Moisher the Gonnof was a wizzer.
[US]Monteleone Criminal Sl. (rev. edn) 94: ganov A thief. [Ibid.] 103: goniff Jewish word for thief.
[US]Mad mag. Oct.–Nov. 21: [cartoon title] Ganefs!
[UK]I, Mobster 63: I don’t trust him, Tony. At heart he’s a goniff.
[US]B. Appel Tough Guy [ebook] [T]he two new guys, Ed Roscamino and Leo the Goneph.
[US]Ragen & Finston World’s Toughest Prison 801: gonoph or gonov — A thief; usually allied with pickpockets or cheap pilferers.
[SA]L.F. Freed Crime in S. Afr. 106: A ‘gon’, ‘gonef’, or ‘five-finger’ is a thief.
[US]L. Bruce Essential Lenny Bruce 77: Jimmy Walker — a heavy gonif, a master gonif, man.
[US]‘Red’ Rudensky Gonif 40: I had picked up a basic education in crime from other young gonifs.
[US] in S. Terkel Working (1975) 243: They call you a thief, they call you a ganef.
[UK]D. Powis Signs of Crime 185: Ganef A thief (Yiddish); Ganev See Ganef. [Ibid.] 186: Gonnoph Male thief (Yiddish).
[US]R. Campbell In La-La Land We Trust (1999) 10: The rain had washed all the baby prostitutes and twangy boys, the chicken hawks and queer bashers, the gonifs and petty grifters off the four corners of Hollywood and Vine.
[US]S. Morgan Homeboy 117: He’d probably be ashamed, say I was a cheap goniff.
[US]S. Bellow Actual 69: ‘You little gonif,’ my impatient mother used to call me.
[UK]J.J. Connolly Layer Cake 48: We did all the normal stupid kids stuff [...] nicking anything, a right pair of gunnifs we were.
[US]Simon & Pelecanos ‘Middle ground’ Wire ser. 3 ep. 11 [TV script] Clay Davis: that gonnof was born with his hand in someone’s pocket.
[UK]J.J. Connolly Viva La Madness 280: Big trouble if that gunnif disappears with them [ rediot] cards.
[UK]J. Meades Empty Wigs (t/s) 620: ‘[M]e diligent study of Country Life magazine... the gonif’s catechism... where to find rich pickins.

2. (also goornough, gounof) a scoundrel, fool.

[UK]Hotten Dict. of Modern Sl. etc. (2nd edn).
[UK]H. Kingsley Hillyars and Burtons (1870) 117: Take your cousin home and mind him, you cheeky gonoff.
[UK]B.M. Carew Life and Adventures n.p.: Gounof a foolish fellow, a bungler, an unsuccessful pickpocket.
[Aus]Sydney Sl. Dict. (2 edn) 4: Gonnoff - Used in Sydney to signify a fool.
[UK] ‘’Arry on the Ice’ Punch 23 Feb. 85: The old gonophs may grumble along o’ the cold and the dark.
[Aus]Dead Bird (Sydney) 21 Dec. 8/4: So we had to try and raise the wind / By taking gonophs down.
[UK]Sporting Times 1 Mar. 1/4: It was only a fragment of the old gonoph’s tie that the Pitcher had to give in charge when the constable came.
[US] ‘Hotel Sl.’ in AS XIV:3 Oct. 239/2: gonnof Unpleasant guest.
[US](con. 1920s) ‘Harry Grey’ Hoods (1953) 211: All you goornoughs with horns, get to one side.
[US]T. Thackrey Gambling Secrets of Nick The Greek 20: That little goniff never so much as saw a real high roller in his whole chiseling life.
[US]G. Wolff Duke of Deception (1990) 42: He was a gonif, a schnorrer. He was just a bum.
[US](con. early 1950s) J. Ellroy L.A. Confidential 55: Ha! Go, you fucking gonif.
[US]E. Little Another Day in Paradise 136: He’s gotta [...] make an example out of the ganef that stung us.
M. Chabon in 30 May 🌐 But one day I saw video footage of some male Haredim in Jerusalem assaulting a group of young girls for the sin of daring to learn, all these pious ganefs throwing rocks at little girls.

In derivatives

Gonnoftown (n.)

(US) Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

[US]Nat. Police Gaz. (NY) 26 Oct. n.p.: The region of ‘Gonnofftown’ (Williamsburg) has been once more the theatre of wildly bloody crime.

In phrases

arch-gonnof (n.)

(UK Und.) the leader of a gang of thieves.

[US]Matsell Vocabulum 8: arch-gonnoff The chief of a gang of thieves.
[Aus]‘Lela’ in Maitland Mercury (Aus./NSW) 31 Mar. 2: The arch gonnoff is dusty, you’d better wish.
[UK]Barrère & Leland Dict. of Sl., Jargon and Cant.
[UK]Farmer & Henley Sl. and Its Analogues.
[Aus]C. Crowe Aus. Sl. Dict 4: Arch Gonnoff, chief of a gang of thieves.
[US]D. Hammett ‘The Big Knockover’ Story Omnibus (1966) 283: ‘And who is this arch-gonif?’ I asked.