Green’s Dictionary of Slang

stall n.1

[SE stall, a decoy bird]

1. (also stale) a pickpocket’s helper who distracts the attention of the victim whose pocket is being emptied or purse cut.

[UK]Lyly Euphues (1916) 81: ‘Then I perceive, Lucilla,’ said he, ‘that I was made thy stale and Philautus thy laughing stock.’.
[UK]Greene Disputation Betweene a Hee and a Shee Conny-Catcher (1923) 12: [...] then dogge the partie into a presse where his staule with heauing and shouing shall so molest him, that hee shall not feele when wee strip him of his boung.
[UK]Dekker Belman of London (3rd) H1: He that picks the pocket is called a Foist. He that faceth the man, is the Stale. [Ibid.] H2: Then does the Stall keepe a thrusting and a Iustling, whilst in the mean time the Foist is either in their pocket or the Nip hath the purse fast by the strings.
[UK]Middleton & Dekker Roaring Girle V i: He with the wand is both a stale, whose office is, to face a man i’ the streets, whilst shells are drawn by an other.
[UK]Beaumont & Fletcher Little French Lawyer III iv: Are we made stales to one another?
[UK]J. Taylor ‘A Brood of Cormorants’ in Works (1869) III 8: Liues like a Gentleman by sleight of hand, / Can play the Foist, the Nip, the Stale, the Stand, / The Snap, the Curb, the Crossbite, Warpe and Lift, / Decoy, prig, Cheat (all for a hanging shift).
[UK]Ragged School Mag. Dec. 294: I was sometimes the ‘tool,’ and sometimes the ‘stall’ or ‘nark’. Our profession was ‘moll tulers (or ladies’ pickpockets) .
[US]Matsell Vocabulum 85: stall One whose business it is to conceal as far as possible the manipulation of his confederate who is trying to pick a person’s pocket. The stall places himself either in front, back, or side-ways, or by any strategem attracts the attention of the intended victim. Any thing said or done by which the attention is directed from the true state of the case is called a stall.
[UK]Leaves from Diary of Celebrated Burglar 8/2: In an instant he was surrounded, and prevented by the front ‘stalls’ from advancing from the park, while the rear ‘stalls’ pressed sufficiently strong to keep him in the fix wanted.
[US]Nat. Police Gaz. (NY) 7 Sept. n.p.: Finally, Charley James, the ‘stall,’ [...] took him in tow and made him an adept.
[UK]Five Years’ Penal Servitude 243: Don’t yer know what a ‘stall’ is? Why, to be convenient, handylike, in the way to stow the ‘foulcher’ when she’s nobbled it.
[Aus]Crowe Aus. Sl. Dict. 80: Stall, or Stallsman, the assistant of a pickpocket, or thief.
[US]A. Pinkerton Thirty Years a Detective 39: Two of the ‘stalls’ will immediately manage to get in front of the man – and these men are called ‘front stalls’ – this is done for the purpose of stopping him.
[US]J. Flynt Tramping with Tramps 387: The dip’s companion, the one who bumps up against the victim or otherwise diverts his attention while the dip robs him, is called the ‘stall’.
[US]Number 1500 Life In Sing Sing 260: The tool picked his mark and the stalls crushed him against the tail of the rattler.
[US]Wash. Post 3 July 3/1: ‘What’s the matter, Hop? What’s gettin’ fierce?’ asked big Joe, the stall.
[US]P. & T. Casey Gay-cat 303: A pickpocket’s companion, or confederate, is called a stall.
[US]‘Dean Stiff’ Milk and Honey Route 215: Stall [...] also refers to the yegg assisting the high diver or pickpocket.
[UK]Thieves Slang ms list from District Police Training Centre, Ryton-on-Dunsmore, Warwicks 10: Stall: Man who blocks entrance to tram to allow confederates to pick pockets.
[US](con. 1905–25) E.H. Sutherland Professional Thief (1956) 17: One of the operations in picking pockets is to ‘prat a man in,’ which means that one of the stalls backs into a prospect and pushes him around gently in order to get him in a proper position.
[US]Monteleone Criminal Sl. (rev. edn).
[US] ‘I Was a Pickpocket’ in C. Hamilton Men of the Und. 76: The duty of the ‘stalls’ was to distract the attention of the ‘sucker’ [...] or otherwise hide the operations of the ‘dip’.
[US]Ragen & Finston World’s Toughest Prison 819: stall – A pickpocket’s partner, the man who jostles the victim in order that the ‘wire’ may work to better advantage.
[US]‘Iceberg Slim’ Pimp 86: A ‘cannon’ [...] took the vacant stool in my right. His ‘stall’ took the one on my left.

2. any form of decoy who works with a criminal gang.

[UK]J. Taylor ‘Travels of Twelve-pence’ in Works (1869) I 71: To Sharkes, Stales, Nims, Lifts, Foysts, Cheats, Stands, Decoyes / T’a Cut-purse, and a pocket picking Hound.
[UK]J. Hall Memoirs (1714) 6: Faggot and Stall, Such as break into Peoples Houses, and taking away what they please, gag all therein.
[Aus]Vaux Vocab. of the Flash Lang.
[UK]Flash Dict. in Sinks of London Laid Open 125: Stool [sic], help, assistance.
[UK]Birmingham Dly Post 26 Dec. 3/4: ‘We worked our “garotting business” [...] My mate in front of the man was called “Front Stall”; the other [...] behind the man, was called “Back Stall” ’.
[US]G.P. Burnham Memoirs of the US Secret Service 62: They also declared that I was only ‘a stall’.
[UK]Clarkson & Richardson Police! 320: A watch or watcher ... A marking, stall, whisper, stump, crow.
[UK]F.W. Carew Autobiog. of a Gipsey 414: I used to go wirin’ in the main-thoroughfares with the Brennans to stall back and front. [*Footnote: when a juvenile prig attains the dignity of a ‘single-handed wire,’ he is usually accompanied during ‘working hours’ by two comrades who act, respectively, as ‘front’ and ‘back stalls’. The duty of the ‘stall’ is to keep a sharp look-out for the police, and to relieve the operator of any watches, purses, etc.].
[US]A.H. Lewis Confessions of a Detective 79: It never occurs to him that he’s being used as a ‘stall’ for a lot of finished grafters.
[US]G. Bronson-Howard Enemy to Society 42: The bosses put some guy on the ticket fer mayor or governor who’s got a good rep and use him fer a stall to elect a lot of crooked guys.
[US]G. Henderson Keys to Crookdom 419: Stall. Thief’s assistant.
[US]E.H. Lavine Third Degree (1931) 153: A well-dressed young girl [...] makes an excellent lookout or ‘stall’ for her male companions.
[UK]V. Davis Phenomena in Crime 138: The purpose of the ‘stall’ being to distract the attention of the shop assistants.
[US]Schindler in Hamilton Men of the Und. 51: These three expert bank ‘stalls’.
T. Calvano Crnal Close-Out n.p.: The ‘moll-buzzing’ went on also [...] Invariably, this was a two-girl operation; they had to have a ‘stall’ to pass the purse to as they fled.

3. (UK Und.) a pickpocket’s manoeuvre whereby a target is pinioned and rendered open to theft.

[UK]G. Parker Life’s Painter 159: Here it will be necessary to explain making of the stall, as they term it, one pick-pocket gets in front and squeezes backwards, another behind you, and pushes forward; one each side of you, which, if they can get your arms up, they will prevent your getting them down, again, and then you are sure to be robbed.
[Aus]Vaux Vocab. of the Flash Lang. in McLachlan (1964) 269: stall a violent pressure in a crowd, made by pick-pockets for the more easily effecting their depredatory purposes; this is called making a rum stall in the push.

4. a pretext, an excuse, esp. that which offers an opportunity to steal or cheat.

[UK]G. Parker Life’s Painter 136: I was wipe-priging, we made a regular stall for a tick and reader, but the cull was up to us, and we couldn’t do him.
[UK]G. Hangar Life, Adventures and Opinions II 60: Various impositions, practised daily on the unwary [...] such as making a stall for a reader.
[UK][T. Wontner] Old Bailey Experience 352: [I]t is from the practice of the old women keeping a stand for the sale of fruit, as a blind or cover for their real calling, (buying of stolen articles,) that this term, ‘stall,’ is derived.
[UK]Hotten Dict. of Modern Sl. etc. 100: STALL, a pretence, a dodge. Ancient cant.
[UK](con. 1840s–50s) H. Mayhew London Labour and London Poor I 254/1: One of the lads [...] induced a woman to let him have a halfpenny for ‘a stall;’ that is, as a pretext with which to enter a shop for the purpose of stealing, the display of the coin forming an excuse for his entrance.
[UK]Five Years’ Penal Servitude 361: No men pronounce themselves as thieves by trade and everyone has what is termed a ‘stall,’ i.e. he professes to some handicraft or trade by which to designate himself, and which is a blind stall to his real proceedings.
[UK]W. Hooe Sharping London 36: Stall, a pretence.
[US]A.H. Lewis Confessions of a Detective 41: They keep a lot of old barrels and bottles for a stall, that is, a show; but never a cent of revenue has their bugjuice paid.
[Aus]Truth (Sydney) 1 Jan. 8/3: ‘Oh, strike me, / But this are a blooming stall’.
[US]G. Bronson-Howard Enemy to Society 148: We’re nothing but a lot of grafters, always looking for the best of it and using all those noble sentiments for a stall to get him to put his fingers in the fire for us.
[US]Jackson & Hellyer Vocab. Criminal Sl. 80: stall [...] A pretense; an equivocation.
[US]Ersine Und. and Prison Sl.
[US]H. McCoy Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye in Four Novels (1983) 136: If anything goes wrong you can use the old stall, you know, that you [...] just went there to grab us red-handed.

5. (UK Und.) the act of rendering a victim vulnerable to a pickpocket.

[UK]Leaves from Diary of Celebrated Burglar 30/1: He was sure there must be a ‘century’ in it [i.e. a purse] [...] and if we would give him a ‘stall’ he would ‘pinch’ her before she entered the carriage that was waiting for her.

6. an act of time-wasting or prevarication, an excuse.

[Aus]Bell’s Life in Sydney 16 July 2/6: Riley made a stall for himself, by pretending not to be aware of his criminal position.
[UK]Leaves from Diary of Celebrated Burglar 45/1: You need not sit down beside us [...] but make some ‘stall’ to the ‘bloke’ and go right out again.
[US]S.F. Chron. 6 June 11/5: He [i.e. a con-man’s victim] beefs an’ de bull con tries make a stall.
[US]H. Green Maison De Shine 180: The ideer o’ handin’ me that stall, Mis’ Mangle, when yunno I’ve sawr Bill Mangle’s legs covered by them tights, goodness knows how often!
[US]T.A. Dorgan in Zwilling TAD Lex. (1993) 78: Huh — I know that chicken he’s with – I’m just going up to buzz him for a stall.
[US]O.O. McIntyre New York Day by Day 17 Nov. [synd. col.] ‘What’s your stall, bo? Youse going to slowe me away?’.
[US]P. & T. Casey Gay-cat 207: An’ then I thinks mebbe it was a stall er somethin’.
[US]M.C. Sharpe Chicago May (1929) 253: Along comes a letter from Kelly, telling me he had been arrested in Toledo. It was a stall.
[US]J. Lait Gangster Girl 159: Annie was stumped for an answer except a stall.
[US]R. Chandler Little Sister 201: The old cigarette stall.
[US]Goldin et al. DAUL 207/2: Stall, n. [...] 2. Any maneuver to win postponement or delay.
[US]C. Cooper Jr Syndicate (1998) 52: I was able to come up with a stall.
[US]F. Elli Riot (1967) 40: I thought this list was suppos’ta be a stall while you guys tunnelled your way.
[US]E. Weiner Drop Dead, My Lovely (2005) 35: Savvy pros [...] well versed in the fine art of giving a mug like Ingalls the big stall.

7. (Aus./US) a hoax; a disappointment.

[US]S. Ford Shorty McCabe on the Job 101: Hammond couldn’t tell it was a stall. He blazes merrily ahead surveyin’ [...] when the rumor comes to camp that this new line is all a fake.
[Aus](con. WWI) A.G. Pretty Gloss. Sl. [...] in the A.I.F. 1921–1924 (rev. t/s) n.p.: stall. A hoax; disappointment.
[US]P. Singer ‘The Electric Warden’ Prison Stories Mar. 🌐 Dis is a stall [...] Dis book is queer! Whoever heard of a banker givin’ kale to a warden?

8. (US Und.) a fraudulent alibi.

[US]V.W. Saul ‘Vocab. of Bums’ in AS IV:5 345: Stall—A faked alibi.

9. a misdirection.

[US]F. Packard White Moll 216: it looked as though Deemer [...] wore the money-belt for a stall, and that he had the sparklers safe somewhere else all the time.

In compounds

stall off (n.)

see separate entry.

stallsman (n.) (also stalsman)

a pickpocket’s or other thief’s assistant; also attrib.

[UK]H. Brandon Dict. of the Flash or Cant Lang. 165/2: Stalsman – an accomplice.
[UK]Liverpool Mercury 14 Jan. 38/2: [They] were as good stallsmen for the dip as they ever had and [...] they deserved their whack.
[UK]Hotten Dict. of Modern Sl. etc. 101: stallsman, an accomplice.
[Aus] gloss. in Occurence Book of York River Lockup in Seal (1999) 37: I want a stalsman buttoner to nail prads.
[UK]Hotten Sl. Dict. [as cit. 1859].
[Aus]Sydney Sl. Dict. (2 edn) 8: Stallsman - An accomplice.
[UK]Clarkson & Richardson Police! 320: An accomplice ... A stalsman, blocker, riveter, edgeman.

In phrases

at the stall (phr.)

(UK und.) working as a look-out.

[UK]Thieves Slang ms list from District Police Training Centre, Ryton-on-Dunsmore, Warwicks 1: At the stall (or long stall): Watching out while confederates commit crime.
chuck (someone) a stall (v.)

(UK Und.) to carry out a pickpocketing technique in which one member of the team walks in front of the victim, slowing him or her down while another picks the pocket.

[UK]Hotten Dict. of Modern Sl. etc. 21: Chucking a Stall when one rogue walks in front of a person while another picks his pockets.
[UK]Hotten Sl. Dict.
Greenwood Seven Years Penal Servitude n.p.: I said to my pal, ‘chuck me a stall and I’ll have that.’ What did I mean? Why, keep close to me, and cover what I’m doing [F&H].
[UK]F.W. Carew Autobiog. of a Gipsey 416: My missus – as fly a bewer, she were, as ever chucked a stall, a reg’lar tip-top tamtart.
put up a stall (v.)

to act in a deceptive, misleading manner; to play for time.

[US]Cincinnati Enquirer (OH) 26 Apr. 4/3: It was funny to see [Honus] Wagner put up a stall in the ninth [...] in an effort to show he could step from one side [...] to the other.
New Cambria Leader (MO) 26 Oct. 3/5: The clerk put up a stall. ‘I’ll have to send for the auditor to open the safe,’ he told the stranger.
[Aus]Aussie (France) VII Sept. 3/1: By the way, Sergeant, give us yer name and number, so that they’ll know that I’m not putting up a stall, and here’s mine.
[UK](con. WWI) Fraser & Gibbons Soldier and Sailor Words 269: Stall, To Put Up A: To mislead: to deceive.