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The Fortune Teller (c. 1630) by Georges de la Tour, from the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, New York, USA. The painting depicts a wealthy young man having his fortune read by a gypsy fortune teller (right), while unaware that his coin purse is being filched from his pocket (left) and a medal he is wearing is being cut from its chain (centre).

From Middle English filchen (to pilfer, steal). The further origin of the word is uncertain, but it is likely from or related to Old English fylċian (to marshal troops) and Old English ġefylċe (band of men, army, host), which would make it also related to folk.



filch (third-person singular simple present filches, present participle filching, simple past and past participle filched)

  1. (transitive) To illegally take possession of (something, especially items of low value); to pilfer, to steal.
    Synonyms: (Australia, slang) flog, (Cockney rhyming slang) half-inch, (slang) jack, (slang) knock off, lift, nick, pilfer, pinch, pocket, rob, steal, thieve; see also Thesaurus:steal
    Hey, someone filched my wallet!
    • 1592, Tho[mas] Nashe, “The Arrainment and Execution of the Third Letter”, in Strange Newes, of the Intercepting Certaine Letters and a Convoy of Verses, [], London: [] Iohn Danter, [], →OCLC; republished in J[ohn] Payne Collier, editor, Illustrations of Early English Literature (Miscellaneous Tracts; Temp. Eliz. and Jac. I), volume II, London: Privately printed, [1867], →OCLC, page 46:
      You would foiſt in non cauſam pro cauſa ["I do not bring into question"], have it thought your flight from your olde companions, obſcuritie and ſilence, was onely, with Æneas, to carry your father on your backe through the fire of ſlaunder, and by that shift, with the false plea of patience, unjuſtly driven from his kingdome, filch a way the harts of the Queenes liege people!
    • c. 1595–1596 (date written), William Shakespeare, A Midsommer Nights Dreame. [] (First Quarto), London: [] [Richard Bradock] for Thomas Fisher, [], published 1600, →OCLC, [Act I, scene i]:
      This man hath bevvitcht the boſome of my childe, / Thou, thou Lyſander, thou haſt giuen her rimes, / And interchang'd loue tokens vvith my childe: / [] / VVith cunning haſt thou filcht my daughters heart, / Turnd her obedience (vvhich is due to mee) / To ſtubborne harſhneſſe.
    • c. 1603–1604 (date written), William Shakespeare, The Tragœdy of Othello, the Moore of Venice. [] (First Quarto), London: [] N[icholas] O[kes] for Thomas Walkley, [], published 1622, →OCLC, [Act III, scene iii], page 46:
      But he that filches from me my good name, / Robs me of that, vvhich not inriches him, / And makes me poore indeed.
    • 1785 September 6, John Wolfe, The Parliamentary Register: Or, History of the Proceedings and Debates of the House of Commons of Ireland, the Second Session of the Fourth Parliament in the Reign of His Present Majesty; which Met at Dublin on the 20th of January, and Ended the 7th of September, 1785, volume V, Dublin: [] P[atrick] Byrne, [], and W[illiam] Porter, [], →OCLC, page 501:
      He [Wolfe] therefore hoped, that every county in the kingdom would, [] meet, and conſult, and expreſt their moſt ſtrenuous diſlike and abhorrence of this ſcheme of deceit, to filch from them their liberties and commerce.
    • 1860, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, “Napoleon III in Italy”, in Poems before Congress, London: Chapman and Hall, [], →OCLC, stanza XV, page 16:
      You think he could barter and cheat / As vulgar diplomates use, / With the people’s heart in his breast? / [] / And filch the dogman's meat / To feed the offspring of God?
    • 1916 April, Jack London, chapter XXIX, in The Little Lady of the Big House, New York, N.Y.: The Macmillan Company, →OCLC, page 342:
      His very cocksureness is filched from [Charles] Darwin's morality of strength based on the survival of the fittest.
    • 2010, Steve Zimmerman, “Hunger”, in Food in the Movies, 2nd edition, Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland & Company, →ISBN, page 131:
      The film [The Kleptomaniac (1905)] begins when a prosperous matron leaves her home to go on a shopping trip to a large department store where she filches several items before she is apprehended by the store detective and escorted to the police station to stand trial before a judge.
    • 2015, Cynthia J. Buckley, “Back to the Collective: Production and Consumption on a Siberian Collective Farm”, in Stephen Kotkin and David Wolff, editors, Rediscovering Russia in Asia: Siberia and the Russian Far East, Abingdon, Oxfordshire; New York, N.Y.: Routledge, →ISBN, page 230:
      The farm drivers were often found to be filching from the cars for spare parts or moonlighting with trucks for personal gain.

Derived terms[edit]



filch (plural filches)

  1. Something which has been filched or stolen.
  2. An act of filching; larceny, theft.
    • 1860, Lawrence Peel, “To John B[acon] S[awrey] Morritt, Esq., Portland Place, London [letter from Sir Walter Scott]”, in A Sketch of the Life and Character of Sir Robert Peel, London: Longman, Green, Longma, and Roberts, →OCLC, page 173:
      By the appropriation clause, which is here referred to, it was proposed to apply a part of the property of the Irish Church to secular purposes, that is, to work a transfer of property, with an alteration of its uses. Call this as you will, a spoliation, or wise application, it implies a loss to one and a gain to other, of the same property. In the evil sense, it means spoliation, or wrongful deprival, appropriation, or "conveyance" in the sense of a filch.
  3. (obsolete) A person who filches; a filcher, a pilferer, a thief.
    • 1803, William Hogarth; Thomas Cook, engraver, “Southwark Fair”, in Anecdotes of Mr. Hogarth, and Explanatory Descriptions of the Plates of Hogarth Restored. Engraved by Thomas Cook, London: Printed for the engraver, no. 38, Tavistock Street, Covent Garden; and G. and J. Robinson, Paternoster Row, →OCLC, page 2:
      A ſimple lad, with a whip in one hand, and the other locked in the arm of a young girl, is ſo loſt in gaping aſtoniſhment, that an adroit branch of the family of the Filches is clearing his pockets of their contents.
  4. (obsolete) A hooked stick used to filch objects.
    • 1930, Thomas Dekker [?], “O Per Se O (1612)”, in A[rthur] V[alentine] Judges, editor, The Elizabethan Underworld: A Collection of Tudor and Early Stuart Tracts and Ballads Telling of the Lives and Misdoings of Vagabonds, Thieves and Cozeners, and Giving Some Account of the Operation of the Criminal Law, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, →OCLC, page 380; reprinted as The Elizabethan Underworld: A Collection of Tudor and Early Stuart Tracts and Ballads (Key Writings on Subcultures, 1535–1727: Classics from the Underworld; I), London; New York, N.Y.: Routledge, 2002, →ISBN, page 380:
      Thus much for their fraternities, names, lodgings, and assemblies, at all which times everyone of them carries a short staff in his hand, which is called a filch, having in the nab, or head, of it, a ferme (that is to say, a hole) into which, upon any piece of service, when he goes a filching, he putteth a hook of iron, with which hook he angles at a window in the dead of night, for shirts, smocks, or any other linen or woollen. And for that reason is the staff called a filch.