Theft is the illegal taking of another person's property without that person's permission or consent. The word is also used as an informal shorthand term for some crimes against property, such as burglary, embezzlement, larceny, looting, robbery, shoplifting and fraud. In some jurisdictions, theft is considered to be synonymous with larceny; in others, theft has replaced larceny. Someone who carries out an act of or makes a career of theft is known as a thief. The act of theft is known by terms such as stealing, thieving, and filching.
- The moment the idea is admitted into society, that property is not as sacred as the law of God, and that there is not a force of law and public justice to protect it, anarchy and tyranny commence. If "Thou shall not covet," and "Thou shall not steal," are not commandments of Heaven, they must be made inviolable precepts in every society, before it can be civilized or made free.
- John Adams, Ch. 1 Marchamont Nedham : The Right Constitution of a Commonwealth Examined, A Defence of the Constitutions of Government (1787).
- “They do not know how to do right,” declares the Lord,
- “who store up in their fortresses
- what they have plundered and looted.”
- To live
On means not yours—be brave in silks and laces,
Gallant in steeds; splendid in banquets; all
Not yours. Given, uninherited, unpaid for;
This is to be a trickster; and to filch
Men's art and labour, which to them is wealth,
Life, daily bread;—quitting all scores with "friend,
Why this, forgive me,
Is what, when done with a less dainty grace,
Plain folks call "Theft."
- Edward Bulwer-Lytton, Richelieu (1839), Act I, scene 2.
- No Indian prince has to his palace
More followers than a thief to the gallows.
- Samuel Butler, Hudibras, Part II (1664), Canto I, line 273.
- Kill a man's family, and he may brook it,
But keep your hands out of his breeches' pocket.
- Thieves respect property; they merely wish the property to become their property that they may more perfectly respect it.
- G. K. Chesterton, as quoted in The Man Who Was Thursday (1908).
- Stolen sweets are best.
- Colley Cibber, The Rival Fools (1709), Act I.
- There is a passion for hunting something deeply implanted in the human breast.
- Charles Dickens, Oliver Twist, (1838), Chapter 10; referring to chasing pickpockets on the streets of London.
- Diogenes ... saw the officials of a temple leading away someone who had stolen a bowl belonging to the treasurers, and said, "The great thieves are leading away the little thief."
- Diogenes of Sinope, as reported in Lives of the Eminent Philosophers, 6.45
- All stealing is comparative. If you come to absolutes, pray who does not steal?
- Ralph Waldo Emerson, Essays, Second Series (1844), ‘Experience’.
- All over Tibet I had seen men who had been deprived of an arm or a leg for theft (...) Penal amputations were done without antiseptics or sterile dressings.
- Robert W. Ford Wind Between the Worlds: Captured in Tibet by (1957), p. 37.
- The Friar preached against stealing, and had a goose in his sleeve.
- George Herbert, Jacula Prudentum (1651).
- If something is stolen from you, don't go to the police. They're not interested. Don't go to a psychologist either, because he's interested in only one thing: that it was really you who did the stealing.
- Karl Kraus (1874-1936), Half-Truths and One-and-a-Half Truths (1990). Translated by Harry Zohn.
- I have a steed, to leave behind
The wild bird, and the wilder wind :
I have a sword, which does not know
How to waste a second blow :
I have a matchlock, whose red breath
Bears the lightning’s sudden death ;
I have a foot of fiery flight,
I have an eye that cleaves the night.
I win my portion in the land
By my high heart and strong right hand.
- Letitia Elizabeth Landon, Fisher's Drawing Room Scrap Book, 1835 (1834), 'Scene in Kattiawar'
- Abu Huraira reported Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him) as saying: Let there be the curse of Allah upon the thief who steals an egg and his hand is cut off, and steals a rope and his hand is cut off.
- Muhammad Sahih Muslim 17:4185
- The stinking puddle from which usury, thievery and robbery arises is our lords and princes. They make all creatures their property—the fish in the water, the birds in the air, the plant in the earth must all be theirs. Then they proclaim God's commandments among the poor and say, "You shall not steal."
- La propriété, c'est le vol!
- Property is theft!
- Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, What is Property? (1840)
- Property is theft!
- When as the sheriff of Nottingham
Was come, with mickle grief,
He talkd no good of Robin Hood,
That strong and sturdy thief.
- Robin Hood and the Golden Arrow 
- Thou hast stolen both mine office and my name;
The one ne'er got me credit, the other mickle blame.
- A cutpurse of the empire and the rule,
That from a shelf the precious diadem stole,
And put it in his pocket!
- A plague upon it when thieves cannot be true one to another!
- Let me tell you, Cassius, you yourself
Are much condemn'd to have an itching palm.
- The robb'd that smiles steals something from the thief:
He robs himself that spends a bootless grief.
- He that is robb'd, not wanting what is stol'n,
Let him not know't, and he's not robb'd at all.
- In limited professions there's boundless theft.
- The sun's a thief, and with his great attraction
Robs the vast sea; the moon's an arrant thief,
And her pale fire she snatches from the sun:
The sea's a thief, whose liquid surge resolves
The moon into salt tears: the earth's a thief,
That feeds and breeds by a composture stolen
From general excrement: each thing's a thief;
The laws, your curb and whip, in their rough power
Have uncheck'd theft.
- The Islamic historian Ibn Khaldūn says that looting is morally preferable to entrepreneurship or trade. Why? Because looting is more manly. In looting, you have to beat the guy in open combat to take his stuff.
It is true that the theory of our Constitution is, that all taxes are paid voluntarily; that our government is a mutual insurance company, voluntarily entered into by the people with each other; that each man makes a free and purely voluntary contract with all others who are parties to the Constitution, to pay so much money for so much protection, the same as he does with any other insurance company; and that he is just as free not to be protected, and not to pay any tax, as he is to pay a tax, and be protected.
But this theory of our government is wholly different from the practical fact. The fact is that the government, like a highwayman, says to a man: Your money, or your life. And many, if not most, taxes are paid under the compulsion of that threat.
The government does not, indeed, waylay a man in a lonely place, spring upon him from the road side, and, holding a pistol to his head, proceed to rifle his pockets. But the robbery is none the less a robbery on that account; and it is far more dastardly and shameful.
The highwayman takes solely upon himself the responsibility, danger, and crime of his own act. He does not pretend that he has any rightful claim to your money, or that he intends to use it for your own benefit. He does not pretend to be anything but a robber. He has not acquired impudence enough to profess to be merely a "protector," and that he takes men's money against their will, merely to enable him to "protect" those infatuated travellers, who feel perfectly able to protect themselves, or do not appreciate his peculiar system of protection. He is too sensible a man to make such professions as these. Furthermore, having taken your money, he leaves you, as you wish him to do. He does not persist in following you on the road, against your will; assuming to be your rightful "sovereign," on account of the "protection" he affords you. He does not keep "protecting" you, by commanding you to bow down and serve him; by requiring you to do this, and forbidding you to do that; by robbing you of more money as often as he finds it for his interest or pleasure to do so; and by branding you as a rebel, a traitor, and an enemy to your country, and shooting you down without mercy, if you dispute his authority, or resist his demands. He is too much of a gentleman to be guilty of such impostures, and insults, and villainies as these. In short, he does not, in addition to robbing you, attempt to make you either his dupe or his slave.
- Suppose to-day Negroes do steal; who was it that for centuries made stealing a virtue by stealing their labor?
Hoyt's New Cyclopedia Of Practical Quotations
- Quotes reported in Hoyt's New Cyclopedia Of Practical Quotations (1922), p. 786-87.
- Who steals a bugle-horn, a ring, a steed,
Or such like worthless thing, has some discretion;
'Tis petty larceny: not such his deed
Who robs us of our fame, our best possession.
- Francesco Berni, Orlando Innamorato, Canto LV.
- To keep my hands from picking and stealing.
- Book of Common Prayer, Catechism.
- 'Tis bad enough in man or woman
To steal a goose from off a common;
But surely he's without excuse
Who steals a common from the goose.
- Epigram in Carey's Commonplace Book of Epigrams (1872). Different versions of the same were prompted by the Enclosure Acts. One version given in Sabrinæ Corolla was written when Charles Pratt, first Earl of Camden, took a common strip of land in front of Camden House. Oct. 7, 1764.
- In vain we call old notions fudge
And bend our conscience to our dealing.
The Ten Commandments will not budge
And stealing will continue stealing.
- Motto of American Copyright League (written Nov. 20, 1885).
- Stolen waters are sweet, and bread eaten in secret is pleasant.
- Proverbs, IX. 17.
- Stolen sweets are always sweeter:
Stolen kisses much completer;
Stolen looks are nice in chapels:
Stolen, stolen be your apples.
- Thomas Randolph, Song of Fairies.
- Well, well, be it so, thou strongest thief of all,
For thou hast stolen my will, and made it thine.
- Alfred Tennyson, The Foresters, Act III, scene 1.