Green’s Dictionary of Slang

grift n.

[graft n.1 ]

1. one’s criminal occupation.

[US]Jackson & Hellyer Vocab. Criminal Sl. 44: ‘What’s his grift?’ ‘He’s on the hoist.’.
[US]D. Hammett ‘The Big Knockover’ Story Omnibus (1966) 221: I couldn’t find out what her grift was. She talked a blend of thieves’ slang and high-school English.
[US]R. Chandler Big Sleep 47: Got a grift, brother — or just amusing yourself?
[US]R. Chandler Little Sister 66: He had some kind of a grift, but he don’t have the looks or personality to bounce checks.
[US]L. Block ‘Badger Game’ in One Night Stands (2008) 25: He made her grift at once — it had to be the badger game.

2. (US Und.) any crime that depends not upon violence/coercion but on ‘lightness of touch and quickness of wit’ (Maurer, The Big Con 1940), e.g. professional confidence trickery, pickpocketing, professional gambling, circus/carnival work.

[US]Jackson & Hellyer Vocab. Criminal Sl. 39: grift [...] Graft; an opportunity for plying criminal talents.
[US]D. Hammett ‘Corkscrew’ Story Omnibus (1966) 221: I couldn’t find out what her grift was.
[US]R. Chandler ‘Spanish Blood’ in Spanish Blood (1946) 21: What’s the grift?
[US]D. Maurer Big Con 1: The grift has a gentle touch. It takes its toll from the verdant sucker by means of the skilled hand or the sharp wit.
[US]C. Hamilton Men of the Und. 322: Grift, The act of stealing.
[US]J. Ciardi Good Words 218: Grift. One’s racket. One way of turning a dishonest dollar.
[US]J. Ridley Love Is a Racket 266: Con, grift, bunko. You don’t got many aspirations, do you, Kittridge?
[US]St Petersburg Times (FL) 17 Apr. 🌐 Watching Swain, one comes to realize that he has enough ‘grift sense’ (expertise in scams and cheating) to make a good living at it.
C.J. Ross ‘Three Days Ahead’ in ThugLit Nov.-Dec. [ebook] ‘It’s a longer game than a grift [...] Get in close with the target. Close enough to skim a few thousand’.

3. in attrib. use of sense 1.

[US]C. Rawson Headless Lady (1987) 31: A grift show [...] That [...] is definitely a bloomer.

4. as the grift, the world of crime; confidence trickery.

[US]D. Hammett ‘The Second-Story Angel’ Nightmare Town (2001) 220: He was as slick a burglar as there was in the grift!
[US]C. Rawson Headless Lady (1987) 34: Last I heard this was a Sunday School show. When did the grift come back?
[US]F. Brown Madball (2019) 122: [D]uring the depression, he’d been on the bum or on the grift.
[US]J. Ridley Love Is a Racket 149: All it takes is one time; doesn’t matter if it’s on the grift or at the tables, all it takes is one hit.
[US]J. Ellroy Widespread Panic 7: I joined the LAPD [...] I went on the grift faaaaaast.

5. in ext. use of sense 1, a non-criminal occupation.

[US]D. Hammett Dain Curse (2007) 210: ‘How’s the literary grift go?’ I asked.

6. the monetary proceeds of corruption, political bribery etc.

[US]Hostetter & Beesley It’s a Racket! 227: grift — Graft; money accepted as a bribe; money dishonestly obtained through the influence of official position.

7. (US Und.) the proceeds of a theft.

[US]Ersine Und. and Prison Sl.

8. a plan, a scheme, an intention.

[US]C. Ford Coconut Oil 88: That’s our grift: we’re puttin’ this African big-game hunting racket on a sound Chicago basis.
[US]R. Chandler Lady in the Lake (1952) 29: What’s your grift, then? We don’t like peepers down here. 15 Dec. 🌐 I’ve arrived with an arsenal of hacks, tricks and grifts that can level the playing field.

9. an opinion.

[UK]A. Sinclair My Friend Judas (1963) 113: Winkie, for once, must have given her the right sort of grift on me. She treated me good.

10. see grifter n. (1)

In phrases

on the grift

working as a confidence trickster, gambler etc.

A. Kopkind Thirty Years’ Wars 458: And as for Tully — he was on the grift and went to jail.
A. Anderson Snake Oil, Hustlers and Hambones (2005) 106: A master con artist, Will was older than Violet and had been ‘on the grift’ for years.
[US]S.A. Crosby Razorblade Tears 60: ‘My old man was on the grift’.