Green’s Dictionary of Slang

graft v.3

[graft n.1 ]

1. to acquire (money) through trickery, fraud; thus grafting n.

[US]Nat. Police Gaz. (NY) 14 May 3/4: Liz Thompson and her husband [...] do not intend going out to ‘graft’ until the summer season sets in, when they are going to Newport, Saratoga, and other fashionable watering resorts, at which game she made out so good last season .
Sun. Mercury (N.Y.) 3 Sept. 4/2: The granting of licenses (payable monthly) to ‘graft’ on the City Railways is a great accommodation [DA].
[UK]W. Newton Secrets of Tramp Life Revealed 13: We find him changing his ‘Gadget’ or ‘Grafting the Gravney,’ or ring [...] With this bait thrown there is a rush for his rings.
[US]F. Hutcheson Barkeep Stories 59: ‘I ever tellin’ you ’bout de time I was out graftin’?’.
[US]A.H. Lewis Confessions of a Detective 44: Them revenue sharps are graftin’ same as us.
[US]J. Lait ‘Canada Kid’ in Beef, Iron and Wine (1917) 178: It’s a shame to do it, I know. And I’m ashamed to be grafting for chicken-feed myself.
[US]N. Anderson Hobo 50: I am not going to beat around the bush. I am not going to do any of this petty grafting to get enough to live on.
[US]E.H. Lavine Third Degree (1931) 162: The cop himself is subjected to petty grafting.
[US]R. Chandler Farewell, My Lovely (1949) 161: My dad didn’t get it [i.e. money] grafting on the cops either.
[UK]B. Hill Boss of Britain’s Underworld 4: We thieves [...] didn’t mind the Sabinis grafting as they did on the race-tracks.
[US]R. Chandler Playback 204: You must have had a lot of chances to graft.
[UK]R. Cook Crust on its Uppers 20: We [...] grafted four ton apiece from the old dear.
[UK]‘P.B. Yuill’ Hazell and the Three-card Trick (1977) 91: Give us a chance to do some graftin’.
[UK]‘Derek Raymond’ He Died with His Eyes Open 97: He couldn’t graft his way out of a wet paper bag.

2. to steal; thus grafting n.; thus grafting pal n., one with whom one forms a team of thieves.

[UK]Leaves from Diary of Celebrated Burglar 6/1: The day following our arrival in Leeds [...] the ‘guns’, in different ‘mobs,’ set out to ‘graft the kirks’. [Ibid.] 127/2: Jenny Dempster [...] was another of the school and a ‘grafting pal’ of Poll Hawkins.
[US]Memphis Dly Appeal (TN) 12 Mar. 3/3: ‘Grafting a spark-fawney’ is [...] stealing a diamond ring.
[Aus]Crowe Aus. Sl. Dict. 33: Grafting, helping in stealing.
[UK]Hull Dly Mail 19 Oct. 4/4: Grafted Cycles. At the Thames Police-court [...] young men in bicycle suits were charged with stealing and receiving bicycles.
[US]A.H. Lewis ‘The Humming Bird’ in Sandburrs 25: An’ what wit’ squarin’ a con or brakey if youse are graftin’ on a train.
[US]E. Booth Stealing Through Life 140: It’s a shame to be grafting off a poor woman like that.
[US](con. 1910s) D. Mackenzie Hell’s Kitchen 84: Many a job was planned in Millie’s flat, and many a gang ‘went out to graft’ (commit a burglary) from Millie’s.
[UK]‘Charles Raven’ Und. Nights 22: I thought we agreed not to graft again for another three weeks.
[UK]J. Sparks Burglar to the Nobility 122: I shall not know a moment’s peace [...] while you’re out grafting with Billy Hill’s mob.
[UK]N. Barlay Hooky Gear 13: Uncle prefer landline call after a nights graftin so I always carry a 10p.
[UK]B. Hare Urban Grimshaw vii: Grafting Earning money for drugs by whatever means, mostly shoplifting, card fraud, blagging, street robbery, car crime, or prostitution.
[UK]Guardian 25 Aug. 🌐 We do grafting. Mostly cars, I suppose I rob about two cars a month and sell them on.

3. to live as a professional criminal; thus grafting n.

[US]A.H. Lewis Boss 165: Some crook who’s been kicked out o’ Tammany for graftin’ without a license.
[US]Marion (OH) Daily Star 25 Mar. 6/3: A ‘dead criminal’ is one who has become discouraged, reformed, or given up grafting.
[UK]J. Curtis You’re in the Racket, Too 29: There was still plenty of time to be filled in before he could get to graft.
[UK]F. Norman Fings I i: I’m gonna graft over the city.... (He mumbles to himself).
[UK]P. Fordham Inside the Und. 50: You want to graft proper.
[UK](con. 1950s–60s) in G. Tremlett Little Legs 39: Two half-caste boys [...] who used to graft with me.
[UK]N. Barlay Hooky Gear 16: I graft for the father. I graft for the son.

4. to acquire political gain though bribery or extortion.

[US]J. Flynt World of Graft 17: Wherever you see guns and grafters as strong as they are here you can put it down in your note-book that the police force is grafting.
[US]B. Hecht Gaily, Gaily 204: She would rather burn forever in hell than lay eyes on Mike McDonald again in whatever heaven he had grafted his way into.

5. to fool, to hoax.

[US]Flynt & Walton Powers That Prey 49: I was a little shaver sellin’ papers an’ graftin’ molls.
[US]M.C. Sharpe Chicago May (1929) 223: She was rich and was always befriending crooks. Many of them grafted on her.
[UK]J.J. Connolly Layer Cake 206: They grafted him like a Yank tourist gets grafted on Oxford Street with a three-card trick.
[UK]J.J. Connolly Viva La Madness 122: They’ve both got the most innocent expressions on their faces. I’m obviously getting grafted here.

6. to take bribes; cit. 1910 refers to working as a prostitute.

in H. Asbury Gem of Prairie (1940) 267: Hell, they all graft. There is not a policeman around here that doesn’t hold us girls up [DA].
[US]C. Stoker Thicker ’n Thieves 42: [I]f there were no enforcement of the laws against prostitution and gambling. [...] [Y]ou would have many Brenda Allens and Mickey Cohens—a condition that is possible with the help of grafting politicians, public officials and law enforcement agents.

7. to live as a parasite.

[US]R. Lardner You Know Me Al (1984) 101: That stuff is O.K. for Allen because him and Marie has been grafting off us all winter.

8. (US) to bribe.

[UK]A.J. Querle ‘Allah il Allah!’ 37: [T]he gentle art of grafting is not confined to places like New York and Chicago. [...] I took out my well-filled wallet and saw his eyes glint .
[UK]P. Cheyney Dames Don’t Care (1960) 56: I take a thousand that Granworth had [...] an’ I graft the watchman to keep his trap shut.
[US] in T.I. Rubin Sweet Daddy 60: And the squares who don’t graft customers with tail, so chances are they’re Johns themselves.

9. in a non-criminal context, to pretend, to fake.

[Aus]D. Niland Shiralee 36: He didn’t care whether she was grafting or not.

10. (UK drugs) to sell drugs; also attrib.

[UK]Guardian Society 13 July 🌐 He [the policeman] bit me [phone] chip in half, thinking that, yeah, were a grafting phone, thinking that would stop our money.