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putpocket also put-pocket or put-pocketer

noun [countable]

someone who puts money or other objects into a person's pocket or bag without that person knowing

putpocketing or put-pocketing

noun [uncountable]

'Put-pocketers giving away cash … Visitors to London's tourist hotspots may be pleasantly surprised if they are targeted by a put-pocket this summer.'

myfinances.co.uk 21st August 2009

'Put-Pocketing is the act of secretly putting money into someone's pocket without them noticing, and is the challenge faced by a team of 20 specialist put-pockets in a current scheme being rolled out nationwide.'

LondonNet 21st August 2009

Imagine slipping your hand into your coat pocket and discovering a £20 note that definitely hadn't been there a few minutes earlier? It sounds too good to be true, but this is exactly what happened to some lucky folk on the streets of London during August 2009 – the fortunate victims of putpockets.

Anyone who has spent time in crowded cities, especially key tourist destinations, will be familiar with the threat of pickpockets, those unscrupulous types who surreptitiously take money, wallets or purses from the pocket or bag of an unsuspecting individual. Pickpocketing requires a considerable amount of dexterity, and also the technique of misdirection – forcing someone to focus on one thing in order to distract their attention away from another. Putpocketing, however, turns pickpocketing on its head, employing exactly the same skills to place something into a person's pocket or bag.

every time I put money back in someone's pocket, I feel less guilty about the fact I spent many years taking it out

Masquerading as a ray of cheerfulness in gloomy economic times, the concept of putpocketing recently hit the spotlight because of a publicity stunt masterminded by UK telecommunications provider TalkTalk. In a £100,000 giveaway, people who are put-pocketed find money ranging from £5 to £20 miraculously appearing in their pocket or bag, and attached to each note – surprise surprise – a small card carrying a short message from TalkTalk. The company uses a team of former pickpockets to carry out the scheme, among them head put-pocketer Chris Fitch, widely quoted as saying: 'Every time I put money back in someone's pocket, I feel less guilty about the fact I spent many years taking it out.'

Despite the fact that few people would grumble at unexpectedly finding a £20 note in their pocket, the advertising campaign has sparked some controversy, with police arguing it could lead to misunderstandings, confrontation, and act as a cover for actual pickpocketing.

Background of putpocket

Though the recent campaign sponsored by TalkTalk has brought the expression putpocket into the public eye, it is in fact not the first time it has been used. The technique of put-pocketing is well-recognized by professional magicians, who use the same skills of distraction and sleight of hand to make objects 'magically' appear in the pockets of unsuspecting spectators.

Putpocket is of course a creative manipulation of the word pickpocket, with put chosen as the converse of pick. The word pickpocket was first attested in 1591, so an antonym has been a long time coming. Putpocket follows the derivational patterning of pickpocket to give putpocketer and putpocketing. The verb put has a different syntactic distribution to pick however, usually requiring a direct object and an adverbial or prepositional phrase. This means that, though it might be possible to say that someone has been putpocketed, it seems unlikely that the usage picking someone's pocket would be mirrored with putting someone's pocket.

by Kerry Maxwell, author of Brave New Words

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This article was first published on 25th November 2009.

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