JapanesePod101.com Blog
Learn Japanese with Free Daily
Audio and Video Lessons!
Start Your Free Trial 6 FREE Features

Thievery Refined: Part 2

Quick Links
Welcome to Kanji Curiosity | The Basics | Glossary

You know the expression “adding insult to injury”? The following term captures that feeling perfectly:

説教泥棒 (sekkyō dorobō: burglar who preaches at the victim about methods of preventing similar crimes)
     to preach + to instruct + thief (last 2 chars.)

First he breaks into your house, ties you up, and robs you. Then, as if that weren’t bad enough, he looks at you sternly and launches into a lecture: “You really need to be more careful about security, or else you’ll continue to be the victim of such crimes.” He has redeemed himself for his crime by teaching you a valuable lesson. Why, quite possibly you’re indebted to him!

We could consider him to be a refined burglar. And in today’s blog, we’ll see lots of ways in which thieves have refined their skills by creating thievery specialties. These niches could only exist in Japan, the land of highly specific words, exquisite attention to detail, and unthinkable levels of refinement.

If you’re to head down the road to refined robbery, you’ll need one basic word, which you saw in the latter half of 説教泥棒:

泥棒 (dorobō: thief; theft)     mud + tough guy

Notes on and

As you can see, 泥棒 refers either to the thief or to the theft.

泥棒 as “Thief” or “Theft” …


Thieving Specialties

If you choose to be a thief, you might do well to specialize so that you don’t step on other thieves’ toes and steal whatever someone else was planning to steal. (There must be a code of honor among thieves to avoid these problems.)

We find the following professional niches for thievery:

火事場泥棒 (kajiba dorobō: looter at the scene of a fire)
     fire + event + place + thief (last 2 chars.)
車泥棒 (kuruma dorobō: auto theft; car thief)
     car + thief (last 2 chars.)
墓泥棒 (haka dorobō: grave robber; grave robbing)
     grave + thief (last 2 chars.)

The English term “grave robbing” can refer to stealing valuables from a grave or even the corpse itself, particularly for medical dissection!

And speaking of professionalism, I wonder if this is what professional thieves put on their resumés:

泥棒(dorobō kagyō: professional thievery)
     thief (1st 2 chars.) + work + work

Together, the last two kanji mean “occupation.”

Think about the hundreds or thousands of times you’ve had to tell strangers what you do for a living, whether when filling out a government form or when mingling at a cocktail party. How do professional thieves answer the question? Whenever my husband hears that someone works in “import/export,” he suspects that that’s a euphemism for shady activity, so perhaps there’s the answer to my question.


To Act Like a Thief

Some of us haven’t bothered to hang out a shingle saying “professional thief,” because we’re simply too lazy. In fact, that very laziness has led some to deem us thieves:

月給泥棒 (gekkyū dorobō: freeloader; slacker; lazy worker who does not deserve his salary)     month + pay + thief (last 2 chars.)

The first word, 月給, combines , “month,” with the first half of 給料 (kyūryō: salary, pay + remuneration), resulting in “monthly salary.”

Here’s another type of freeloading (in certain people’s minds):

税金泥棒 (zeikin dorobō: person living off other people’s taxes; tax parasite; (derogatory term for) public servants)
     tax + money + thief (last 2 chars.)

This negative expression has two meanings. The first refers to those on welfare. The second meaning applies to people working for the government!


Colorful Expressions

If you’ve lived with a dog, you’ve undoubtedly seen all types of thievery, from stealing food off a countertop (or jumping on the dining table for a snack!) to burrowing into a purse to drag out a bag of nuts. And of course dogs steal from each other all the time.

But what about a cat burglar? In English this means a “burglar skilled at entering properties stealthily.” The same definition applies in Japanese, except with the first meaning below, it’s really a cat that does the breaking and entering!

泥棒猫 (dorobō neko: (1) cat that enters someone’s house (other than its owner’s) to steal food; (2) someone who secretly does bad things (i.e., an adulterer))     thief (1st 2 chars.) + cat

Then there’s the second meaning! The Japanese use 泥棒猫 for women who steal other women’s husbands—but the term doesn’t apply to men who steal wives! One male native speaker wonders whether husband-stealers have come to be called cats “because women’s seduction of men is like the meek way in which cats sneak into houses.”

If cats and dogs have crime wired into their personalities (except perhaps for crime-fighting animals, such as K-9s on the police force and beagles that sniff luggage in airports), what about humans? Is thievery a product of nature or nurture? Here’s the Japanese take on this topic:

泥棒根性 (dorobō konjō: underhanded character; thievish nature)
     thief (1st 2 chars.) + root + one’s nature

Judging from the breakdown, thievery is at the root of the personality! This expression refers to the greed inherent in all of us. If an employee fudges the numbers on travel expenses, claiming to have flown business class rather than coach, we could attribute that kind of fraud to his 泥棒根性.

A final expression reveals a Japanese philosophy:

Hito o mitara dorobō to omoe.
Don’t trust a stranger.

(hito: person)
(mi(ru): to see)
(omo(u): to think)

In the sentence, the verb appears in the imperative form.

That is, if you see someone you don’t know, think of that person as a thief! Hmm. This might protect you against pickpockets. But if you’re looking for the love of your life, you might want to find another strategy.

Time for your Verbal Logic Quiz!

Verbal Logic Quiz …

Epic Sale: Click Here to Get an EPIC 30% OFF Premium & Premium PLUS!