Green’s Dictionary of Slang

sneak n.1

1. in Und. use.

(a) an act of theft.

implied in on the sneak
[UK]Hell Upon Earth 3: Some are very expert for the Sneak; which is, sneaking into Houses by Night and Day, and pike off with that which is none of their own.
[UK]Hist. of Jonathan Wild 4: The Gentlemen of the Kid-Lay, File, Lay, Sneak and Buttock.
[UK]J. Fielding Thieving Detected 23: The Sneak [...] is an old proceeding.
[Aus]Vaux Vocab. of the Flash Lang. in McLachlan (1964) 266: sneak: The sneak is the practice of robbing houses or shops, by slipping in unperceived, and taking whatever may lay most convenient; this is commonly the first branch of thieving, in which young boys are initiated, who, from their size and activity, appear well adapted for it.
[US]Number 1500 Life In Sing Sing 263: I got a sneak on a jug and it swung heavy, but in making my get-away, the cush got my mug.

(b) (also sneaky) a thief.

[UK]Thief-Catcher 23: There are several other Denominations of Thieves, Rogues, and Cheats [...] some of whom are called Sneaks [...] One of the Accomplices gets into a Chat with the Maid, while the other sneaks in (as they term it) and robs the House.
[UK]J. Poulter Discoveries (1774) 36: The Night Sneak.
[UK](con. 1710–25) Tyburn Chronicle II in Groom (1999) xxvii: A Shop Sneak One that watches an Opportunity to go into a Shop unseen, and steal the Goods.
[UK]J. Fielding Thieving Detected 25: There is another kind of Sneak that confines himself to no particular time.
[UK]Whole Art of Thieving n.p.: I’m a Sneak for Chinks or Feeders I’m a Thief for Tankards or Spoons.
[UK]‘Cant Lang. of Thieves’ Monthly Mag. 7 Jan. n.p.: A Sneak for Chinks and Feeders, A Thief for Tankards or Spoons.
[UK]Lex. Balatronicum.
[UK]Key of Pierce Egan’s Trip to Ascot Races [printed panorama] He had heard of Cracks, / Spicemen, Knucklers, and Sneaks! / And he longed to be at the head of a Party, To show his authority to lag or to twist.
[UK](con. 1737–9) W.H. Ainsworth Rookwood (1857) 165: We are now degenerated from the grand tobyman to the cracksman and the sneak.
[UK]Era (London) 12 Nov. 8/3: [O]ur fighting contributor [...] has thus poetically classed them:- Cracksmen (1), grand toby men (2), buzzmen (3), cly-fakers (4), Sneaks ()5.
[US]Ladies’ Repository (N.Y.) Oct. VIII:37 317/1: Sneak, one who robs houses and steamboats by means of calebs and outsiders, &c., who never resorts to violence [...] A proficient sneak is considered as the very highest in the profession.
[Aus]Bell’s Life in Sydney 10 Mar. 3/4: From the daring burglar down to the humble filching sneak.
[UK]Duncombe New and Improved Flash Dict.
[UK](con. 1840s–50s) H. Mayhew London Labour and London Poor IV 277/1: The common thief [...] is characterized by low cunning and stealth — hence he is termed the Sneak.
[UK]Hotten Sl. Dict. 113: The crow looks to see that the way is clear, whilst the sneak, his partner, commits the depredation.
[US]A. Pinkerton Reminiscences 92: I will explain what a ‘stall’ is in connection with the neat work of ‘bank-sneak gangs’.
[Aus]Sydney Sl. Dict. (2 edn) 8: Sneaks - Those who creep into houses, while the Crow (a companion) watches.
[US]Nat. Police Gaz. (NY) 10 Apr. 1: [pic. caption] The King of the Sneaks [...] The Gay and Festive Mr Osborne Arrested [...] for Wholesale Robberies.
[Aus]H. Lawson ‘Baldy Thompson’ in Roderick (1972) 108: That’s an old cry of his, the damned old sneak.
[UK]Boy’s Own Paper 8 June 562: Two Britishers having been shot in Circle City as gold-sneaks.
[US]A.H. Lewis Boss 168: Knucks, dips, sneaks, second-story people, an’ strong-arm men have got to quit.
[US]G. Bronson-Howard Enemy to Society 147: Say a ‘house man’ or a ‘sneak’ or a ‘second-story’ man or a ‘peteman’ — anything but ‘cracksman’.
[UK]A. Brazil Fourth Form Friendship 22: ‘Well, of all the sneaks you’re the biggest! Call that your work? Why, it’s Mr. Bowden’s!—all the best parts, at any rate’.
[US]R. Lardner ‘Champion’ Coll. Short Stories (1941) 109: I’ll give you a red nose, you little sneak! Where’d you steal it [i.e. a half-dollar]?
[US]A. Baer Two and Three 17 Mar. [synd. col.] If a sneaky did snitch a hand bag, he wouldn’t be able to carry it away.
Sth Eastern Times (Millicent, SA) 27 Mar. 4/5: Sneak thieves, for instance, are of many different kinds, such as hall sneaks, hotel sneaks, band sneaks, etc.
[US]M.C. Sharpe Chicago May (1929) 111: He did not know what to make of the motley gathering. There they were, thugs, strong-arm men, sneaks, second-story workers, dips, moll-buzzers, confidence-men, safe crackers, beggars and people who looked like the Lord’s anointed.
[US]J.L. Kuethe ‘Prison Parlance’ in AS IX:1 27: sneak. A burglar who robs houses while the occupants are out.
[US]J.P. Donleavy Ginger Man (1958) 183: A pound you bastard. Festering sneak. No decency in you.
[US]C. Hiaasen Lucky You 243: I’m not a sneak.

(c) a sneak-thief, i.e. a housebreaker who enters premises by taking advantage of unlocked doors, windows, etc.

[UK]W.A. Miles Poverty, Mendicity and Crime; Report 91: There is a class called ‘sneaks,’ who enter shops slily, or crawl upon their hands and knees to abstract a till.
[UK]Leaves from Diary of Celebrated Burglar 127/2: Bundles of newly-washed and scarcely dried linen, stolen from the clothes lines during the night, and in fact almost everything a ‘sneak’ could make anything by, was there.
[US]Galaxy (N.Y.) Oct. 497: Many of them, however, he knows intimately, and among them [...] Jack Sheppard, who maintains the traditional glories of his name by being the most daring and expert cart thief alive; Spence Pettis, Jimmy the Kid, Shyster McLanghlin, general sneaks; and many others of less note.
[UK]J. Greenwood Dick Temple II 253: The public will stand a converted anything [...] but they won’t stand a converted sneak.
[US]A. Trumble Crooked Life in Nat. Police Gaz. 10 June 6/2: If on the hat-stand there are expensive furs, or gold-headed canes, the ‘sneaks’ are often content with them, and do not risk more.
[US]Flynt & Walton Powers That Prey 64: I say that we hunt up a good sneak an’ climber (sneak-thief and burglar).
[UK]‘Doss Chiderdoss’ ‘The Lure of the Lucre’ Sporting Times 1 Aug. 1/4: She left the bloke who loved ’er, / yus, she left ’im like a sneak.
[US]Tomahawk (White Earth, Becker Co., MN) 19 Oct. 3/4: It was a slick job, done by no ordinary sneak.
[US]Monteleone Criminal Sl. (rev. edn).
[US]C. Hamilton Men of the Und. 325: Sneak, A thief who robs by stealth during the day.
[US]J. Breslin World of Jimmy Breslin (1968) 120: He lives over his head and has to make up for it by being a sneak.

(d) (US Und.) a bank robber (using guile rather than force), thus bank sneaking, bank robbery.

[US]Nat. Police Gaz. (NY) 29 Oct. 6/4: He had just stolen [$4,000] from the Lafayette Bank [...] by what is known as ‘bank sneaking’.
[US]A. Pinkerton Thirty Years a Detective 112: The ‘sneak’ will stealthily steal into the vault, and in a few minutes emerge with all the available resources of the bank, concealed beneath his coat.
[US]J. Flynt Tramping with Tramps 397: A bank sneak is a bank thief.
[US]A.H. Lewis Confessions of a Detective 222: If you had been on the trail of a bank sneak or a forger [...] you wouldn’t have come within a block of him.
[US]P. & T. Casey Gay-cat 304: Sneaks—house thieves A bank thief is called a bank sneak.
[US]Schindler in Hamilton Men of the Und. 52: The ‘sneak’ is the man who actually takes the money.

2. an unpleasant person, irrespective of tale-telling.

[UK]‘The St Giles’s Flash Man’ in Facetious Songster in Spedding & Watt (eds) Bawdy Songbooks (2011) III 250: I damn’d the quorum all for sneaks.
[UK]R.S. Surtees Handley Cross (1854) 90: I do wonder that the missis [...] countenances such a mean sneak.
[UK]Paul Pry (London 15 Aug. n.p.: George Hy, of Charlotte-street, alias the Sneak, alias the Spongy Cove, alias the Tit, and several others.
[US]E.K. Wightman letter 14 Dec. in Longacre From Antietam to Fort Fisher (1985) 91: The sneaks in the army are named Legion, and they are shameless enough to proclaim their cowardly practices openly.
[UK] ‘’Arry on the Turf’ in Punch 29 Nov. 297/1: I know as you won’t mount the tub, as some sneaks I ’ave spoke to ’ave done.
[US]‘Mark Twain’ Life on the Mississippi (1914) 27: Little Davy made them own up that they were sneaks and cowards.
[UK] ‘’Arry on Competitive Examination’ in Punch 1 Dec. 253/2: It plays into the ’ands of the mugs and the mivvies, the saps and the sneaks.
[UK]M. Marples Public School Slang 59: Boys in general have a great flair for derogatory and vituperative expression [...] swot, swank, sneak, jew, swine, tick, scoff, cad, blog, nip, oik, lout, wet, drip, squit, squirt, mug, scug, sap, simp, seet, gump, muff, goof, goop, waft.
F. Kellerman Day of Atonement 124: He’s a sneak [...] My wife doesn’t like having him over because he skulks around the house, rummages through drawers.

3. (also sneaker) an escape.

[US]J.C. Neal Charcoal Sketches (1865) 96: We’ll plump him off baste before he can say fliance, or get a sneak.
[US]‘O. Henry’ ‘By Courier’ in Four Million (1915) 236: She says yer betteer git busy, and make a sneak for de train.
[US]T.A. Dorgan Indoor Sports 14 July [synd. cartoon] Trying to Make an Early Sneak from the Office When the Mob Nails You.
[US]Ade Hand-made Fables 319: They longed to execute a Sneak and get away somewhere and hold Hands and talk mushy.
[US](con. c.1920) C.W. Willemse Behind The Green Lights 227: He’s probably getting ready for a sneak, but I don’t think he’s had time for a getaway.
[US]J.T. Farrell World I Never Made 290: But say, I did pull a sneaker on them this time, didn’t I?

4. (mainly teen) one who tells tales on their fellows, usu. in the context of school.

[UK]Vidocq Memoirs (trans. W. McGinn) II 162: A man name Pinson, who passed for a great sneak, was conducted [...] to the office of the préfet.
[UK]Egan Finish to the Adventures of Tom and Jerry (1889) 185: That long monument, sneak-looking fellow with you is of no use.
[UK]Sam Sly 20 Jan. 2/2: We advise Old Hooey-Hooey H—s, the ex-parish street sneak, or beadle, of the piggery, Euston-mews [...] to bring home shrimps, not crabs.
[UK]A. Mayhew Paved with Gold 68: ‘That sneak, Fortune!’ he muttered.
[US]C.H. Smith Bill Arp 143: Who’s sorry? Who’s repenting? Who ain’t proud of our people? Who loves our enemies? Nobody but a durned sneak.
[UK]Five Years’ Penal Servitude 288: He was much better than many of the officers, but was a bit of a sneak and very uncertain.
[US]G. Davis Recoll. Sea-Wanderer 98: An opportunity to square yards with [...] 'that slab-sided, lantern-jawed sneak of a Huntington'.
[Aus]H. Lawson ‘Macquarie’s Mate’ in Roderick (1972) 121: One of you chaps [...] called Macquarie a scoundrel, and a loafer, and a blackguard and — and a sneak, and a liar.
[UK]Boy’s Own Paper 20 Oct. 39: Nobody liked him; he turned out a regular sneak.
[UK]H. Baumann ‘Sl. Ditty’ Londinismen (2nd edn) v: Are smashers and divers / And noble contrivers / Not sold to the beaks / By the coppers an’ sneaks?
[Aus]Sun. Times (Perth) 2 Apr. 1/1: A cold tea crank at Fremantle is on the way to get walloped [He] puts in time Sherlock Holmesing neighboring shop-hands who pirouette to the pub [and] the sanctimonious sneak breaks even time in sprinting round to their boss.
[UK]E. Pugh City Of The World 243: The offspring of the comfortable classes rob orchards [...] and invent new tortures for ‘sneaks’.
[Ire]Joyce Ulysses 435: A plagiarist. A soapy sneak masquerading as a literateur.
[UK]J. Symons Man Called Jones (1949) 158: I don’t like insignificant little police-sneaks.
[UK]A. Buckeridge Jennings Goes To School 35: ‘Sneak!’ hissed Atkinson and Venables.
[UK]C. Lee diary 31 Jan. in Eight Bells & Top Masts (2001) 32: He’s the biggest sneak on the sodding ship and he’ll tell on you if he feels like it.
[US]J. Thompson Getaway in Four Novels (1983) 21: Trust the Doc to keep himself in the clear, him and his smart little sneak of wife!
[US]J. Crumley One to Count Cadence (1987) 49: No one likes to be a sneak and a tattletail [sic].
[Aus]K. Gilbert Living Black 166: He’s a bastard, he’s a rat, he’s a sneak, he’s crafty.
[UK]Indep. Rev. 13 July 14: The whistleblower is contemptuously regarded as a ‘grass’ or ‘sneak’.
J. Bayne Long Hand of Twilight 29: That means he’s a sneak, and a sneak has no business interfering in our plans!

5. (US prison) a night-guard.

[US]J. Hawthorne Confessions of Convict 14: Sneak, night-guard in jail. [Ibid.] 276: The night officer wears a species of india-rubber shoes or goloshes called ‘sneaks.’ From being a name for the shoes worn it has gradually become an epithet of the night-guard himself.

6. (US black/gang) a sneak attack on a rival gang within their territory.

[US]P. Marshall ‘Some Get Wasted’ in Clarke Harlem, USA (1971) 349: Dig, you studs, don’t let another club catch you in a sneak.

In compounds

sneak job (n.) [ job n.2 (1a)]

(US Und.) house-breaking.

[US]M.C. Sharpe Chicago May (1929) 215: It was not until the party returned to London that the chance came, and then it developed into an ordinary sneak-job, and the chief of the expedition did not get the profit or glory.
[US]D. Runyon ‘Breach of Promise’ in Runyon on Broadway (1954) 21: I am greatly opposed to house-breaking, or sneak jobs.
sneak play (n.) [baseball imagery or SE sneak + play n. (2)]

a surreptitious entrance and exit from a brothel.

[US]Maledicta IX 150: The original argot of prostitution includes some words and phrases which have gained wider currency and some which have not […] sneak play (furtive entrance and exit from whorehouse).

In phrases

do a sneak (v.)

1. (Aus.) to inform against, to tell tales on.

[Aus] ‘Jimmy Sago, Jackaroo’ in ‘Banjo’ Paterson Old Bush Songs 49: When the boss wants information, on the men you’ll do a sneak.

2. (also make a sneak, make one’s sneak, take a sneak) to leave, to escape.

[US]J. London ‘’Frisco Kid’s Story’ in High School Aegis X (15 Feb.) 2–3: He gives de push de shake, and does de swift sneak.
[US]E. Townsend Chimmie Fadden Explains 115: I taut de geezers would make a sneak, but not on you life.
[US]A.H. Lewis ‘Hamilton Finnerty’s Heart’ in Sandburrs 66: I was dead aware that you might do a sneak at the last minute.
[US]E.H. Babbitt ‘College Words and Phrases’ in DN II:i 61: sneak, n. In phrase ‘take a sneak’, to go away.
[US]E. Townsend Chimmie Fadden and Mr Paul 56: How can we make a sneak?
[US]A.H. Lewis Boss 313: ‘Get out, or I’ll have you chucked out!’ [...] ‘Do a sneak!’.
[US]‘Hugh McHugh’ Out for the Coin 77: I don’t do no sneak until I pull off a meeting with the High Card.
[Aus]Sydney Sportsman (Surry Hills, NSW) 24 Aug. 3/5: [H]ad the same John Hop seen three rats of larrikins kicking an old man to death [...] he’d have done a sneak round tho corner and ducked into a pub for safety.
[US]S. Ford Shorty McCabe 34: Just as I was makin’ my sneak this quiet-speakin’ chap falls in alongside and begins to talk to me.
[US]G. Bronson-Howard Enemy to Society 294: So Stevey takes a ‘quiet sneak’ while this here Miss Duress is a-talkin’ to th’ mayor.
[US]S. Ford Torchy 159: Mr. Pepper don’t like the idea, though, of doin’ the gumshoe sneak.
[US]F. Packard White Moll 177: So youse just take a sneak wid yerself, an’ fix a nice little alibi fer us so’s we won’t be takin’ any chances.
[US]S. Lewis Babbitt (1974) 56: If a man is bored by his wife, do you seriously mean he has the right to chuck her and take a sneak.
[US](con. 1900s) S. Lewis Elmer Gantry 31: Whadja take a sneak for?
[US]‘Paul Cain’ Fast One (1936) 205: We’d better take a sneak while we’re all in one piece.

3. (US) to approach surreptitiously.

[US]F. Hutchison Philosophy of Johnny the Gent 66: ‘[Y]ou could go to him an’ break him, provided you done a sneak on him while he was asleep an’ worked on him wit’ the chloroform bottle.
go on the sneak (v.) (also go upon the sneak)

(UK Und.) to go out working as a sneak-thief or petty pilferer.

[UK]B.E. Dict. Canting Crew n.p.: Sneak c. goes upon the Sneak at Munns, c. he privately gets into Houses or Shops at Night, and Steals undiscover’d.
[UK]C. Hitchin Regulator 21: His Wife Looks to a parcel of Young lads that goes on the Sneake, that is, to creep into a House in the Evening and taking what they can find.
[UK]New Canting Dict. n.p.: sneak Goes upon the Sneak at Darkmans; He privately gets into Houses or Shops at Night, and steals undiscover’d.
[UK]J. Dalton Narrative of Street-Robberies 31: He could not wholly support himself [...] and was therefore oblig’d to go upon the Sneak.
[UK]Bailey Universal Etym. Eng. Dict. [as cit. 1725].
[UK]Proceedings Old Bailey 9 Dec. 8/1: We thought it too late to go on what they call the evening sneak.
[UK]J. Poulter Discoveries (1774) 8: I went on the Sneak and stole a Silver Tankard without a Lid, from the Black-Moor’s Head.
[UK]Proceedings Old Bailey 21 Feb. 142/1: Going on the sneak, is to go into houses that are open to take things: going on the budge, is to burst the doors open.
[UK]Grose Classical Dict. of the Vulgar Tongue (2nd edn) n.p: .To go upon the sneak; to steal into houses whose doors are carelessly left open. Cant.
[UK]Proc. Old Bailey 18 Sept. 376/2: He told us he was going out that night with Batts and Rawley; they were going upon the sneak. Q. What is that, among thieves - A. It means going into a house slyly; and that is distinguished from breaking forcibly.
[UK]‘Jon Bee’ Dict. of the Turf, the Ring, the Chase, etc. 162: ‘Sneak — to go upon the,’ to walk about [...] to see what may be picked up, and what houses stand exposed to the next evening’s depredation.
[UK] ‘A Blowen in a Alley Pigg’d’ in Comic Songster and Gentleman’s Private Cabinet 34: Now Joe, at night went on the sneak.
[UK]Leaves from Diary of Celebrated Burglar 8/2: They go in strong on the ‘sneak’ when dark, or at the break of the races, when in the confusion [...] a ‘tog’ or ‘spread’ is sure to change owners.
on the sneak (also upon the sneak)

surreptitiously, on the sly.

[UK]B.E. Dict. Canting Crew : n.p.: Ken-miller, ’Tis a bob Ken, Brush upon the Sneak, ’tis a good House, go in if you will but Tread softly.
[UK]A. Smith Lives of Most Notorious Highway-men, etc. (1926) 207: Friend John, or sweet Tom, ’tis a bob ken, brush upon the sneak, i.e., ’tis a good house, go in if you will, but tread softly and mind your business.
[UK]J. Dalton Narrative of Street-Robberies 44: He fell into the hands of some sly Prig upon the Sneak.
[UK]Grose Classical Dict. of the Vulgar Tongue (3rd edn).
[UK]Lex. Balatronicum.
[UK]Egan Grose’s Classical Dict. of the Vulgar Tongue.
[UK]Bell’s Penny Dispatch 3 Apr. 3/1: And when I’m short of tin my boys, / I get it on the sneak, / [...] / For I’m the boy for cheek.
[UK]T. Taylor Ticket-Of-Leave Man Act I: Pottering about on the sneak, flimping or smashing a little when I get the chance.
[UK]Leaves from Diary of Celebrated Burglar 85/1: One day she had made a visit on the ‘sneak’ to a small chandler’s close by, the owner being engaged in a room on one side of the shop.
[US]A.H. Lewis Confessions of a Detective 12: Barney got the hunch on the sneak that, if you wanted to pass, you’d have to come up with the long green.
[US]D. Maurer Big Con 177: There were hundreds more roping against unprotected stores which ran ‘on the sneak’.
[US]‘Curt Cannon’ ‘Now Die In It’ in I Like ’Em Tough (1958) 56: She used to meet him on the sneak.
E. Wilson Show Business Laid Bare 270: ‘If there’d been any whispers about Piaf being up there on the sneak, I’d have known about it’.
on the sneak tip (also on a sneak cue)

(US black) surreptitiously, deceitfully.

[US](con. 1985–90) P. Bourjois In Search of Respect 155: My boss, Bill, be drinking on the sneak cue. [Ibid.] 289: I knew Primo was having a simultaneous relationship with both Maria and Jaycee. I had no idea, however, that he was also seeing Flora ‘on the sneak tip.’.
[US]Ebonics Primer at 🌐 sneak-tip Definition: to be done without anyone knowing Example: Yeah I did his old lady on the sneak tip so as he would not find out.
pull a sneak (v.)

1. (US black) to act in a surreptitious manner.

[US]‘Digg Mee’ ‘Observation Post’ in N.Y. Age 24 Jan. 9/4: For give me for pulling off the ‘sneak’, for foraaking you last week.

2. (US black/gang) to enter a rival gang’s territory, usu. to harass or fight.

[US]P. Marshall ‘Some Get Wasted’ in Clarke Harlem, USA (1971) 349: Them Crowns been messing all over us. Pulling sneaks on our turf.