Slang City Mail

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September 4, 2008

Slang of the Week: booster (noun)
a shoplifter, especially a professional shoplifter

Janice had planned to pay her way through medical school as a booster, but once she saw how much she could get for stolen Gucci bags, she decided a doctor’s salary was way too low.

Celebrity quote
“We’ve saved more than we’ve spent and our store employees are ecstatic. Before, they felt helpless. Boosters would come in and steal thousands of dollars of merchandise and they’d be gone before you know what had happened. Now we’re not so helpless.”
-Loss prevention specialist John Talamo

Earlier this week, I was reading the New Yorker (not normally a hotbed of unusual language) when I happened upon an article about the world of theft prevention in department stores. I was relieved to learn that personnel at Macy’s can no longer secretly watch me try on a bathing suit through a one-way mirror, but surprised by some of the scams people use to steal merchandise.

The most interesting of these was the “booster bag.” Apparently, if you line a shopping bag with enough aluminum foil, it blocks the store’s sensors from detecting security tags as the merchandise is walked out the door.

How much aluminum foil? According, which sells anti-booster bag security systems, 30 layers. Not surprisingly, such bags are pretty hefty, and can sometimes be spotted by security because they are very stiff and look shopworn.

But thieves don’t always get caught, and what they steal can also be surprising. I’d always assumed that when people shoplifted small items like batteries or razors, it was for their personal use. But King Rogers, one of the foremost loss prevention experts in the US, explains in the New Yorker article that shoplifting gangs sometimes work together to collect these small items, which are then resold at flea markets. Based on my experience of dodgy flea markets, I’d say you can fit a lot of tube socks into a booster bag.

Take a look in our bookstore for books and DVDs on all kinds of slang! This week’s pick: The Vulgar Tongue, a very vintage slang book by Francis Grose.