Green’s Dictionary of Slang

grafter n.1

[graft v.3 ]

1. a pickpocket, a thief.

[UK]Leaves from Diary of Celebrated Burglar 110/2: The door opened, and who should pop in but our old chum and fellow ‘grafter,’ little Jack.
[UK]Shields Dly Gaz. 9 Aug. 5/5: ‘My good man [...] why don’t you go?’ ‘Go! go!’ gasped the ‘grafter.’ ‘With that big strong-arm guy that I swiped the watch from laying for me outside? I guess not’.
[US] ‘Sl. of the Circus Man’ in Boston Daily Globe 17 Dec. 35: That class of circus followers whose methods are outside the pale of the law, such as pickpockets, gamblers and short-change men, are either ‘crooks’ or ‘grafters.’.
[US]F. Hutcheson Barkeep Stories 77: ‘Dem guns! Dem grafters de copper was tellin’ you ’bout’.
[US]A.H. Lewis ‘Mollie Matches’ in Sandburrs 45: When I was d’ pick of d’ swell mob, an’ d’ steadiest grafter that ever ringed a watch or weeded a leather!
[US]Ade Knocking the Neighbors 203: He is a prize Bunk, a two-handed Grafter, a Short-Change Artist and a Broadway Wolf.
[Aus]Truth (Perth) 1 Mar. 5/4: From your style, you aint no grafter / On the game, I don’t suppose .
[US]P. & T. Casey Gay-cat 303: Grafter — a pickpocket. The Swell Mobs or Good People are the pick of the dips and pickpockets, of the second-story men and of the safe-crackers.
[US]W.N. Burns One-Way Ride 67: Gangland held them in contempt as cheap skates, small-fry grafters and piker racketeers.
[US]Monteleone Criminal Sl. (rev. edn).
[US] ‘I Was a Pickpocket’ in C. Hamilton Men of the Und. 75: Living off women [...] does not appeal very long to the imagination of the genuine grafter.
[UK]P. Fordham Inside the Und. 37: He had been born and bred in the East End, the son of an old grafter.
[UK](con. 1950s–60s) in G. Tremlett Little Legs 123: Telling ’em all that I was a great little grafter.
[UK]B. Hare Urban Grimshaw 239: The trick to successful shoplifting is not to be greedy. Greed is death to the grafter.

2. a parasite.

[US]C.L. Cullen Tales of the Ex-Tanks 151: The place was full of hoboes and grafters.
[US]‘Hugh McHugh’ John Henry 49: No more Swell Sandwich Salons for me, where the grafters want to butt in all the while.
[US]R. Lardner You Know Me Al (1984) 101: And then she gets mad and tells me I should not ought to say her sister was a grafter.
[US]J. Callahan Man’s Grim Justice 62: Every prison doctor that I have ever known was a grafter and a dog in his heart.
[US]R.E. Howard ‘Waterfront Fists’ Fight Stories Sept. 🌐 I’m ashamed to be seen with you, you cheap grafters! A big killing! You don’t know what one is.

3. a swindler, esp. one who works at a fair, carnival, mock-auction etc.

see sense 1.
[US]F. Hutcheson Barkeep Stories 34: [A] grafter dat jest come to town, wid plenty o’ de coin, after bein’ out wid de circus all summer.
[US]‘O. Henry’ ‘The Chair of Philanthromathematics’ in Gentle Grafter (1915) 46: That was when the philanthropy idea struck me. I suppose every grafter gets it sometime.
[US]H. Hapgood Types from City Streets 14: The keenly individualized personality of an habitual ‘grafter’ of the lowlier type.
[US]N. Anderson Hobo 57: Only a small proportion of homeless men are grafters, beggars, fakers, or petty criminals.
[US]Irwin Amer. Tramp and Und. Sl. 90: Grafter. Anyone living by his wits, and not necessarily one who lives on money procured for favours or for influence used for another. A ‘fakir’ or street peddlar; a short-change artist; a ‘pitchman’.
[US]C.S. Montanye ‘Little Pieces’ in Exciting Detective Mar. 🌐 ‘Crooks, grafters! I know all about you kind of fellars!’.
[US]S. Bellow Augie March (1996) 25: Her father was a grafter, her brothers bums and cardsharks.
[UK]R. Cook Crust on its Uppers 20: Anzac Jack, a dead young grafter.
[UK]‘P.B. Yuill’ Hazell and the Three-card Trick (1977) 186: Balls to him [...] As a capitalist he was bearable but as a small-time street grafter he’s bad news.
[US]C. Hiaasen Tourist Season (1987) 315: A procession of grafters, con artists, Confederate deserters, geeks.
[UK]J.J. Connolly Layer Cake 207: Jimmy’s been rumped for thirteen million quid by a loada East European grafters.

4. one who is involved in corruption.

[US]J. Flynt World of Graft 4: A ‘grafter’ is one who makes his living, and sometimes his fortune, by ‘grafting’. He may be a political ‘boss,’ a mayor, a chief of police, a warden of a penitentiary, a municipal contractor, a member of the town council, a representative in the legislature, a judge in the courts, and the Upper World may know him only in his official capacity; but if the Underworld has had occasion to approach him for purposes of graft and found him corrupt, he is immediately classified as an ‘unmugged’ grafter — one whose photograph is not in the rogues’ gallery, but ought to be.
[US]Bliss From Boniface to Bank Burglar in Hamilton (1952) 45: The police grafters falling out, thieves began to get their dues.
[US]T.A. Dorgan Silk Hat Harry’s Divorce Suit 17 Jan. [synd. cartoon strip] The old grafter, he’s so crooked he could hide behind a corkscrew.
[US]G. Henderson Keys to Crookdom 314: The big grafter nominates and elects governors and state legislators, who are sent to the state capital pledged to deal lightly with the profiteer, the gouger and the beneficiary of special privilege.
[US]V.F. Nelson Prison Days and Nights 22: They’re [i.e. public officials] all a bunch of grafters.
[UK]V. Davis Phenomena in Crime 86: The dope game in [New York] was under the control of ‘big-shot’ grafters.
[US]H. McCoy Corruption City 91: I can breathe at the university. There’s no [...] grafters, no crooks, no killers.
[US]B. Hecht Gaily, Gaily 56: Along with crooks, bawds, swindlers, political grafters, and all of Satan’s sprightly retinue, they entertained my youth.
[US]J. Wambaugh Secrets of Harry Bright (1986) 57: The guy thought he was a grafter! He’d just been fucking bribed!
[US]‘Randy Everhard’ Tattoo of a Naked Lady 56: Showmen and lawmen — Grifters and Grafters.

5. a street salesman, a hawker.

[UK]P. Allingham Cheapjack 189: Grafters speak a language comprised of every possible type of slang.
[UK]S. Jackson Indiscreet Guide to Soho 62: A grafter of a different type was Joe. [...] I knew that some of these men made as much as £15 a week selling their stuff from the kerb in Oxford Street.
[UK]P. Manning ‘Sl.’ in Kray (1989) 62: You will understand grafters who live on their wits, / And most of the women will love you to bits.
[UK]Observer Mag. 15 Sept. 8: That’s why she’s advertising for ‘grafters’ – market-stall holders for a couple of her fairs.

6. (UK drugs) a drug dealer’s assistant.

[UK]Guardian Society 13 July 🌐 My grafter, who works for me, is still making the money. [Ibid.] I started out as a grafter, I started out working for someone else. Here’s how it was: I was driving, I give him a lift, he said, ‘if you do this for me I’ll give you £30.’.
[UK]K. Sampson Killing Pool 69: We only really got the grafters and the middlemen.