Green’s Dictionary of Slang

nab v.1

[ety. unknown, but cf. nap v.1 (6)]

1. (also nib) of objects, to snatch, to steal, to seize.

[UK]Mercurius Democritus 10-26 Aug. 102: After her departure he found two shillings had been nib’d from him by vertue of her fingers exercis’d in his Fob.
[UK]Head Eng. Rogue I 51: Nab, To take or To cheat.
[UK]B.E. Dict. Canting Crew n.p.: I’ll Nab ye, I’ll have your Hat or Cap.
[UK]New Canting Dict. [as cit. c.1698].
[UK]Bailey Universal Etym. Eng. Dict. [as cit. c.1698].
[UK]Poor Robin n.p.: Money is now a hard commodity to get, insomuch that some will venture their necks for it, by padding, cloying, milling, filching, nabbing, etc., all of which in plain English is only stealing [F&H].
[UK]Grose Classical Dict. of the Vulgar Tongue.
[UK]Oxford Jrnl 4 Mar. 3/2: How coudst say that the golden stick [...] is stuck all with diamonds, and that there was a design to nab it.
[UK] ‘The Flash Man of St. Giles’ in Farmer Musa Pedestris (1896) 75: I at his jazy made a snatch, / And try’d for to nab his rattle.
[UK]B. Bradshaw Hist. of Billy Bradshaw 9: I could make a purse or nab a pocket-book with the best.
[UK] ‘The Exciseman Outwitted’ in Holloway & Black (1979) II 99: He [...] eagerly grab’d / At those contraband goods, which in fancy he’d nab’d.
[UK]‘An Amateur’ Real Life in London I 181: I’m the boy for a bit of bobbery, / Nabbing a lantern, or milling a pane.
[UK] ‘A Shove In The Mouth’ in Regular Thing, And No Mistake 62: And when that I found seven-pen’orth you nabb’d, / So cut up and cast down was I.
[UK]Egan ‘The Bould Yeoman’ in Farmer Musa Pedestris (1896) 136: With his pops so bright and airy, / And his prad just like a fairy, / He went out to nab the gold!
[UK] advert in ‘Ducange Anglicus’ Vulgar Tongue (1857) 45: Mr. H. nabs the chance of putting his customers awake, that he has just made his escape from Russia.
[UK]Leaves from Diary of Celebrated Burglar 109/1: Thus taking the ‘derry’ off the real party who had ‘nabbed’ the ‘bloke’s stuff’.
[US]W.H. Thomes Bushrangers 103: You remember, Mr. Commissioner, that some diamonds were nabbed at the government house, a few weeks ago?
[US]Day Book (Chicago) 12 Sept. 8/2: Here, waiter, nab this frog-tinted ten caser and make it cover the damage.
[US]Day Bk (Chicago) 23 Nov. 17/1: Some ‘knab-the-kale’ guy put a tax on tea.
[UK]Boy’s Own Paper XL 4 176: We nabbed this board for a stretcher.
[US]S. Lewis Arrowsmith 103: Uncle Clif has nabbed off a twenty-five-buck-a-week job, with commissions, selling autos.
[US]D. Runyon ‘Butch Minds the Baby’ in Runyon on Broadway (1954) 341: Spanish John nabs one of my potatoes.
[US]W.R. Burnett Asphalt Jungle in Four Novels (1984) 243: If you’re thinking about a reward, well . . . cops nab the rewards.
[UK]P. Larkin letter 2 Apr. in Thwaite Sel. Letters (1992) 160: How good of you to [...] offer to come on the road with me, nabbing chickens no doubt & stuffing our pockets full of washing from the lines.
[UK]H.E. Bates A Little of What You Fancy (1985) 437: She asked me if I ever saw one to nab it for her.
[UK]Indep. on Sun. Real Life 5 Sept. 12: Car boot sales [...] tend to be haunted by dealers who nab the good stuff.
[US]C. Cook Robbers (2001) 328: Same as he’d done with the Caddy when he’d nabbed it off a Wal-Mart lot in Dallas.
[UK]Head Eng. Rogue I 51: Nab, To take or To cheat.
[UK]B.E. Dict. Canting Crew n.p.: I’ll Nab ye, I’ll have your Hat or Cap.
[UK]New Canting Dict. [as cit. c.1698].
[UK]Bailey Universal Etym. Eng. Dict. [as cit. c.1698].
[UK]Poor Robin n.p.: Money is now a hard commodity to get, insomuch that some will venture their necks for it, by padding, cloying, milling, filching, nabbing, etc., all of which in plain English is only stealing [F&H].
[UK]Grose Classical Dict. of the Vulgar Tongue.
[UK]Oxford Jrnl 4 Mar. 3/2: How coudst say that the golden stick [...] is stuck all with diamonds, and that there was a design to nab it.
[UK] ‘The Flash Man of St. Giles’ in Farmer Musa Pedestris (1896) 75: I at his jazy made a snatch, / And try’d for to nab his rattle.
[UK]B. Bradshaw Hist. of Billy Bradshaw 9: I could make a purse or nab a pocket-book with the best.
[UK] ‘The Exciseman Outwitted’ in Holloway & Black (1979) II 99: He [...] eagerly grab’d / At those contraband goods, which in fancy he’d nab’d.
[UK]‘An Amateur’ Real Life in London I 181: I’m the boy for a bit of bobbery, / Nabbing a lantern, or milling a pane.
[UK] ‘A Shove In The Mouth’ in Regular Thing, And No Mistake 62: And when that I found seven-pen’orth you nabb’d, / So cut up and cast down was I.
[UK]Egan ‘The Bould Yeoman’ in Farmer Musa Pedestris (1896) 136: With his pops so bright and airy, / And his prad just like a fairy, / He went out to nab the gold!
[UK] advert in ‘Ducange Anglicus’ Vulgar Tongue (1857) 45: Mr. H. nabs the chance of putting his customers awake, that he has just made his escape from Russia.
[UK]Leaves from Diary of Celebrated Burglar 109/1: Thus taking the ‘derry’ off the real party who had ‘nabbed’ the ‘bloke’s stuff’.
[US]W.H. Thomes Bushrangers 103: You remember, Mr. Commissioner, that some diamonds were nabbed at the government house, a few weeks ago?
[US]Day Book (Chicago) 12 Sept. 8/2: Here, waiter, nab this frog-tinted ten caser and make it cover the damage.
[US]Day Book (Chicago) 23 Nov. 17/1: Some ‘knab-the-kale’ guy put a tax on tea.
[UK]Boy’s Own Paper XL 4 176: We nabbed this board for a stretcher.
[US]S. Lewis Arrowsmith 103: Uncle Clif has nabbed off a twenty-five-buck-a-week job, with commissions, selling autos.
[US]D. Runyon ‘Butch Minds the Baby’ in Runyon on Broadway (1954) 341: Spanish John nabs one of my potatoes.
[US]W.R. Burnett Asphalt Jungle in Four Novels (1984) 243: If you’re thinking about a reward, well . . . cops nab the rewards.
[UK]P. Larkin letter 2 Apr. in Thwaite Sel. Letters (1992) 160: How good of you to [...] offer to come on the road with me, nabbing chickens no doubt & stuffing our pockets full of washing from the lines.
[UK]H.E. Bates A Little of What You Fancy (1985) 437: She asked me if I ever saw one to nab it for her.
[UK]Indep. on Sun. Real Life 5 Sept. 12: Car boot sales [...] tend to be haunted by dealers who nab the good stuff.
[US]C. Cook Robbers (2001) 328: Same as he’d done with the Caddy when he’d nabbed it off a Wal-Mart lot in Dallas.

2. to apprehend or arrest someone.

[UK]Dialogue Between Sam, Ferry-man etc. Upon a Parliament at Oxford in Harleian Misc. II (1809) 120: I know a baliff has nabbed several of them, and matters not a straw to arrest any member of the last parliament.
[UK]Motteux (trans.) Gargantua and Pantagruel (1927) II Bk V 540: We were nabbed there, and clapped into lob’s pound.
[UK]Answer to the Fifteen Comforts of Whoring 6: We Pimps and Bullies keep to be our Bail, / When Sharping Baliffs nabb us for a Jayl.
[UK]‘Black Procession’ in Farmer Musa Pedestris (1896) 39: The twentieth’s a thief-catcher, so we him call, / Who if he be nabb’d will be made pay for all.
[UK]Fielding Tom Thumb II i: Were he [...] a Bully, A Highway-man, or Prize-fighter, I’d nab him.
[UK]Smollett Roderick Random (1979) 129: They embraced the prisoner [...] and asked how long she had been nabb’d, and what for?
[UK]Smollett Peregrine Pickle (1964) 687: I was nabb’d on another score.
[UK]Nancy Dawson’s Jests 33: Twenty whores in a cellar, all nabb’d in a minute.
[UK]R. Tomlinson Sl. Pastoral 3: But since she is nabb’d, and has left me behind, / What a marvellous change on a sudden I find?
[UK]‘Peter Pindar’ ‘Sir Joseph Banks & the Emperor of Morocco’ Works (1794) II 197: Eureka, I’ve nabb’d the thief.
[UK]Sporting Mag. May XXIV 138/1: He was nabbed and conveyed to a spunging-house.
[UK]Lex. Balatronicum.
[UK]‘An Amateur’ Real Life in London I 127: They are sure to nab my gentleman before he gets much farther, so let us brush on.
[UK] ‘Love in the City’ in Bentley’s Misc. Aug. 127: I’ve been nabb’d, sirs [...] And bundled off direct to jail.
[UK]R. Barham ‘The Black Mousquetaire’ in Ingoldsby Legends (1842) 4: Once he prevailed [...] On the bailiff who ‘nabbed’ him, himself to ‘go bail’ for him.
[Aus]Satirist & Sporting Chron. (Sydney) 4 Mar. 2/1: I was nabbed (I know you understand a little flash).
[UK]G.W.M. Reynolds Mysteries of London II (2nd series) 19: He did it – and we’ve knabbed him.
[US] ‘Scene in a London Flash-Panny’ Matsell Vocabulum 98: ‘Was he nabbed on the scent?’ ‘No, his pal grew leaky and cackled.’.
[Aus]Melbourne Punch ‘City Police Court’ 3 Oct. 234/1: Prisoner. A cakey-pannum-fencer, as ought to know better, peached on her, and she was nabbed by the sharping omee, and the queer-cuffen shut her up in the jug for a moll tooler.
[UK]Kendal Mercury 9 Mar. 4/3: ‘You, nabbed by the peelers!’.
[US]Nat. Police Gaz. (NY) 23 Nov. 2/2: The car ‘cop’ Caffrey [...] ‘nabbed’ Jimmy for a ‘super’ nailed from a ‘bloke’ in Sixth avenue.
[US]J. O’Connor Wanderings of a Vagabond 364: Mr. Johnstone now interfered for the first time, and entreated ‘Ned’ to leave before he was ‘nabbed’ by the police.
[Aus]‘Rolf Boldrewood’ Robbery Under Arms (1922) 82: News like ours don’t take long to travel, and you might be nabbed very simple.
[Aus]Truth (Sydney) 5 May 5/6: Three of us garrotted an old magistrate [...] and being nabbed for the job, we got fifteen years apiece.
[US]P.L. Dunbar ‘Signs Of The Times’ in Lyrics of Lowly Life 183: He’s gwine nab you atter while.
[UK]W. Pett Ridge Mord Em’ly 67: ‘Told you I’d nab you,’ said the young constable.
[UK]E.W. Hornung Amateur Cracksman (1992) 129: Great chance – to nab me on a new job altogether.
[Aus]J. Furphy Such is Life 294: I don’t deny I done three months; but so help [...] me God, I never deserved it. I knowed no more about it nor the babe unborn, till I got it off o’ the bobby that nabbed me.
[US]O. Johnson Varmint 305: I say, we’re going to pile ’em all up on top of him and then jump on and pie him, and scoot for our rooms before old Bundy can jump the stairs and nab us.
[UK]D. Stewart Devil of Dartmoor in Illus. Police News 1 Oct. 12/2: ‘Thought you’d nab Dan Darrell, did yer?’.
[Aus]Sun. Times (Perth) 20 Mar. 2nd sect. 15/4: By Jove, that was a narrow squeak [...] I thought we were sure to get nabbed.
[US]F. Packard White Moll 145: That’s where the police nab him – running away from the murder he’s pulled.
[US]J. Lait Put on the Spot 91: Who could it be them damn dumb cops nabbed?
[US]R. Olds Helldiver Squadron 227: McFarlane nabbed a Betty coming in from patrol. One pass sent the Jap tumbling into the sea.
[Aus]D. Stivens Jimmy Brockett 131: The cops nabbed the bloke with the Russell.
[UK]P. Willmott Adolescent Boys of East London (1969) 149: I’ve had two mates who’ve been nabbed for pinching motor bikes or scooters.
[UK]A. Sillitoe Start in Life (1979) 102: I was nabbed, and the beak gave me five years.
[US]C. Heath A-Team 2 (1984) 108: We nabbed Jenko, but the others high-tailed it out of there.
[UK]Guardian G2 10 June 4: I think it unbecoming to play the scoundrel, get nabbed, then look to the deity for mercy.
[SA]Cape Argus (S.Afr.) 28 Jan. 7: Poachers nabbed as cops swoop on ‘super ducks’.

3. (UK Und., also knab) to catch or capture a person unawares; to catch, in sense of to hit; to take or seize.

[UK]J. Shirley Triumph of Wit 194: The Ruffin nab the Cuffin-quere, and let the Harmanbeck trine with his Kinchins about his Coloquaron [Let the Devil take the Justice, and let the Constable hang with his Children about his Neck].
[UK]Bridges Burlesque Homer (3rd edn) 161: agenor’s broomshaft flew so pat off, / It nabb’d him as he pull’d the hat off.
[UK]J. Poole Hamlet Travestie III vi: laertes: I’ll nab him; —but it goes against my conscience. hamlet: Laertes, you’re afraid to hit.
[UK]W.S. Gilbert ‘Gentle Alice Brown’ Fifty ‘Bab’ Ballads 141: I will nab this gay young sorter, terrify him into fits.
[UK]Boy’s Own Paper 24 Aug. 751: He just tore into the middle of us all, nabbed the Ghost and Hamlet.
[UK]P. Closterman (trans.) Big Show 141: I succeeded in nabbing one [i.e. a German fighter aircraft] [...] shells exploded under his belly [...] the usual tail of thick black smoke.

4. (US) to obtain for oneself, to grab; thus in a sexual context, to seduce.

[Ire]K. O’Hara Midas II i: An upstart lout Has nabb’d my fickle Daph.
[UK] ‘Pray Remember Jack’ in Jovial Songster 83: Hard knocks I’ve nabb’d enough.
[UK]Lytton Paul Clifford II 113: Nabbing, grabbing all for himself.
[UK]A. Mayhew Paved with Gold 280: This looks queer [...] Not much to be nabbed here.
[US]Ade Girl Proposition 105: He was waiting for a Chance to nab the Girl.
[UK]Chillicothe (MO) Constitution 5 July 2/2: [headline] Wise Janes Nab Candy Says Poet.
[US](con. 1920s) J.T. Farrell Judgement Day in Studs Lonigan (1936) 619: Studs [...] watched the centre fielder gracefully nab the ball on the run.
[US] in G. Legman Limerick (1953) 282: A lecherous fellow named Babbitt / Asked a girl if she’d fuck or would nab it.
[US]S. Lewis World So Wide 185: That woman has been trying to nab him. She takes advantage of his good nature.
[UK]Observer Rev. 17 Oct. 10: Jeremy Paxman nabbed Lamont for Start the Week and got a lot of good bankable malicious mileage.
[US]J. Ellroy ‘Hot-Prowl Rape-O’ in Destination: Morgue! (2004) 281: He still ‘nabbed nymphos’ and ‘bagged bitches’ that way.

5. (also nib) to catch someone out, esp. if cheating.

[UK] ‘The Potato Man’ in Farmer Musa Pedestris (1896) 55: For nibbing culls i always hate.
[UK]J. Burrowes Life in St George’s Fields 15: I let him see that I hadn’t lived in Chancery Lane without learning a bit of the Law — but however he nabbed me at last.
[Aus]‘Miles Franklin’ My Brilliant Career 162: Watching Joe Archer, who was blushing and as uneasy as a schoolgirl when nabbed in the enjoyment of an illicit love-letter.
[Aus]T.A.G. Hungerford Riverslake 212: Besides, I never got nabbed.

6. (US tramp) to steal a ride on a train.

[US]R.A. Bruns Knights of the Road 14: Still nabbing an occasional slow freight .

In compounds

nab-crib (n.)

the police cells.

[UK]‘Nocturnal Sports’ in Universal Songster II 180/2: The vatch [...] booked us for a night’s lodging in the nab crib.
nabman (n.) (also nabbing-cull) [SE man/cull n.1 (4)]

1. a policeman.

[UK]R. Tomlinson Sl. Pastoral 11: Will no blood-hunting foot-pad, that hears me complain, / Stop the wind of that nabbing-cull, constable Payne?
[UK]D. Terry Guy Mannnering ii 3: Old Donton has sent the nabman after him at last [F&H].
[UK]‘An Amateur’ Real Life in London I 546: ‘[...] Merrywell—’ ‘In the hands of the Nab-men’.

2. (UK Und.) a bailiff.

‘Tom Stokes Lived Once’ in Maginn O’Doherty Papers (1855) 232: But debts, tho’ borish, must be paid, / And Bailiffs a’nt bam’d for many hourse. / Ah! that the Nabman’s evil eyes / Should ever come hither.

In phrases

nab the regulars (v.) (also nap the regulars) [regulars n.]

(UK Und.) to take one’s usual share of a robbery’s proceeds.

[UK]Lytton Paul Clifford III 245: Ve vent and fenced the swag that wery night and afterwards napped the regulars.
[UK]Hotten Dict. of Modern Sl. etc. 67: NAP THE REGULARS, to divide the booty.
[UK]Vanity Fair (N.Y.) 9 Nov. 216: Then nap the regulars and go a hazard.
[UK]Sl. Dict. 234: Nap the regulars to divide the booty.
[UK]F.W. Carew Autobiog. of a Gipsey 4: The ‘right-screw’ receives money from the convict’s friends outside, and keeps up a running account with the prisoner – having previously ‘napped his regulars,’ or deducted his commission.
[UK]D. Stewart Shadows of the Night in Illus. Police News 7 Dec. 12/4: ‘Time enough to map [sic] the reglars (divide the booty) when we’re out of this!’.
[UK]J. Ware Passing Eng. of the Victorian Era 180/2: Nap (knap) the regulars (Thieves’). Receive or grab the customary portion of the money resulting from the sale of stolen property.
nab the rust (v.) [SE rusty, refractory (of horses)]

1. orig. of horses, to be ill-tempered, sullen.

[UK]Grose Classical Dict. of the Vulgar Tongue n.p.: To nab the rust; to be refractory; properly applied to a restive horse, and figuratively to the human species.
[UK] ‘Modern Dict.’ in Sporting Mag. May XVIII 101/1: To nab the rust; a jockey’s term for a horse that is restive.
[US]Port Folio 16 May 313/2: Upon which Mrs. Basset, in the language of the Old Bailey, nabbed the rust; insisted upon some liquor, would not quit the house without it, and began to blow up the hostess and blast the rose.
[UK]Lex. Balatronicum [as cit. 1785].
[UK]Egan Grose’s Classical Dict. of the Vulgar Tongue [as cit. 1785].
[UK]Duncombe New and Improved Flash Dict.
[UK]Hotten Dict. of Modern Sl. etc. (2nd edn).
[UK]Hotten Sl. Dict.
[UK]Sl. Dict.

2. to be punished.

[UK]Partridge DSUE (8th edn) 774/2: from ca. 1890.

3. (UK Und.) to receive money.

[UK]G. Andrewes Dict. Sl. and Cant.
[UK]G. Kent Modern Flash Dict.
[UK]Flash Dict. in Sinks of London Laid Open.
[UK]A. Mayhew Paved with Gold 284: There’s no chance of ‘nabbing any rust’ (taking any money).
nab the snow (v.) [snow n.1 ]

(UK Und.) to steal linen that has been put out to bleach or dry.

[UK]Grose Classical Dict. of the Vulgar Tongue ms. additions n.p.: To Nab the Snow, to Steal Linnen left out to Bleach or Dry. Cant.
[UK]Grose Classical Dict. of the Vulgar Tongue (2nd, 3rd edn).
[UK]Lex. Balatronicum.
[UK]Egan Grose’s Classical Dict. of the Vulgar Tongue.
[UK]E. de la Bédollière Londres et les Anglais 316/1: nab the snow, [...] voler le linge étalé pour sécher.
nab the stifles (v.) [SE stifle, the condition of being choked]

(UK Und.) to be hanged.

[UK]Farmer & Henley Sl. and Its Analogues V 4/1: to nab the stifles = to be hanged.
nab the teize (v.) (also nab the tease, ...teaze, nap the teaze, ...teize) [tease v.1 ; whippings were often public]

for a prisoner to be flogged as a punishment while in prison, rather than in public.

[UK]G. Parker View of Society II 75: The Scrobey is being whipped in the Sessions-House yard before the Justices. To nap the teize is to receive this correction privately.
[UK]Grose Classical Dict. of the Vulgar Tongue.
[UK] ‘Flash Lang.’ in Confessions of Thomas Mount 19: Napatees, a man to be flogged.
[UK]Lex. Balatronicum.
[UK]Egan Grose’s Classical Dict. of the Vulgar Tongue.
[US]Matsell Vocabulum.
[UK]Hotten Dict. of Modern Sl. etc. 67: NAP THE TEAZE, to be privately whipped in prison.
[UK]Hotten Sl. Dict.
[Aus]Australasian (Melbourne) 17 July 8/5: To be flogged is to nap the tease.
[UK]Sl. Dict.