Big things are happening on TV Tropes! New admins, new designs, fewer ads, mobile versions, beta testing opportunities, thematic discovery engine, fun trope tools and toys, and much more - Learn how to help here and discuss here.
"Hey, stop him! That guy just stole that suit's man!"
In short, a thief pickpockets something off of someone, disguising the act as an accidental bump on the street. The theory goes that a brief, seemingly harmless touch presents all the opportunity a skilled thief needs in order to take what he wants off an unwitting target.
The marking quality of this type of encounter is that the thief usually tries to make as small a deal about bumping into the victim as possible, hurrying away before the mark realizes what happened. This is usually accomplished by a quick "Sorry," and brisk walk away from the protagonist.
Bumping into someone in fiction can indicate a wide range of events, from an early romance, to introducing a clumsy character to showing that the new character is simply prone to shoving people out of the way. What these events all have in common however, is that it is usually made apparent right away why the collision took place. There are times though, when someone will bump into the protagonist, and despite a suspicious amount of attention being given to the moment, the protagonist will play off the event as nothing, and little further attention is given to the collision even though it obviously happened for a reason. In nearly every such case, it is almost guaranteed that the colliding stranger introduced in this scene is a pickpocket at work.
There are a couple signals that indicate this trope:
The thief tends to have a disproportionate amount of screentime/attention dedicated to him/her for such a brief moment.
The victim tends to brush off the encounter and assumes that it happened for no reason. The same goes for any of his traveling companions.
The thief doesn't make a big deal about bumping into the protagonist. The thief doesn't give his name, doesn't try to engage in any extended conversation with the victim, and generally tries to get away from his mark as quickly as possible. In general, the scene is played off to be as seemingly insignificant an event as possible.
To make it even easier, the thief tends to look shady or untrustworthy in general. If he is child, you can expect him to be a Street Urchin. If the stolen item was something important to the plot, you can be certain that the protagonist and the thief will meet again later sometime after discovering the loss of his missing item, having deciphered what exactly happened.
This can happen in real life, but pickpocketing in the real world is usually more complicated than how this trope is typically portrayed in fiction. Professional pickpockets tend to work in groups, and employ a variety of hybridized techniques to distract their victims that involve far more than a simple bump on the street.
While the term "percussion" is usually attributed to the family of musical instruments, as a word it simply refers to the act of one body striking another, hence the trope's name.
A subtrope of Five-Finger Discount. Compare to Affectionate Pickpocket, where contact with the mark is achieved in a more forward manner.
open/close all folders
Anime & Manga
Gintama: Seita and Gintoki first meet when Seita pretends to accidentally bump into Gintoki and steals his wallet. Hilariously enough, not only does Seita find out that Gintoki wasn't carrying that much money but he also finds out that Gintoki had pick-pocketed him at the same time.
In the film Harry in Your Pocket, James Coburn plays Harry, the leader of a band of pickpockets. Part of their stealing technique involves bumping into people.
In the beginning of Payback, the Porter has just recovered from his wounds and is out on the streets with no money. He spots a man with a passing resemblance to him so he bumps into the man to steal the man's wallet. Porter not only takes the cash but also uses the man's ID to make a number of fraudulent credit card purchases.
The Sting. While Doyle Lonnegan is walking through the train to the poker game, Billie (Gondorff's girlfriend) bumps into him and steals his wallet. He doesn't notice until after he loses big at the poker game and tries to take it out to pay off his debt.
Inverted in Lincoln. Lincoln's lobbyists deliberately crash into a Democrat they hope to bribe a vote from, apologize, and help him recollect his papers. It takes a second or two for the Congressman to realize that they're piling money into his folder.
We see the protagonist do this in Bullet Proof Monk during Rush Hour on the subway. One pocket turns out to have a handcuff in it, but Kar gets away. Later, the Monk does this to him to return the wallet he just took to its original owner.
Felix does this in The 51st State to a lawyer, in a police station no less. He does it under the guise of being a confrontational ass, but he gets the key to a really nice car.
In Inception, Eames bumps into Fischer and steals his wallet, which he then gives to Cobb so that he can return it to Fischer and thus have an excuse to talk to him.
Tom Canboro in the Apocalypse film series movie Tribulation disguises stealing a phone out of somebody's pocket with this, and then conveniently distracts his victim by pointing to a passing jogger, saying that he noticed that the jogger doesn't have "the mark".
Oliver Twist: Happens to Fagin when he runs into a gang of young pickpockets.
Raiders of Gor: A girl is sentenced to slavery for being a pickpouch (Goreans don't have pockets) of this type. Bosk buys her and insists that she keep her skills sharp by allowing her to steal anything in camp, with the caveat that she must return whatever she steals within an hour or face serious consequences.
A pair of Bothans pull this stunt on Wedge Antilles and Corran Horn in Vision of the Future, with one of them doing the bumping and grabbing while the other distracts the marks by loudly berating his companion's clumsiness. Corran, a former police officer, is naturally suspicious of the incident but doesn't realize what happened until a little too late (and is incredibly embarrassed at having fallen for it).
In "The Man Who Was Clever," a mysterious stranger collides with Jerry Stannard in the street, mere seconds before one of Scotland Yard collars him for drug trafficking. No one is more astonished than Jerry when the bobbies find nothing on him. Of course, Jerry is eternally grateful when the pickpocket who relieved him of a package of pure cocaine reveals himself to be Simon Templar.
Babylon 5: Happens to Sheridan, where the thief steals the comlink.
Crusade: Happens to Max. Dureena recovers it, and tells Max that the pickpocket was clumsy, which is the only reason she took it back.
An episode of CSI: New York's Cold Opening has Mac catching a pickpocket (who manages to hide his stash before they grab him) just before running into the Victim of the Week. They later find a security camera video of said pickpocket bumping into their suspect and realise that he stole a camera with vital evidence on it.
1960s Batman episode "The Joker's Last Laugh". Batman discovers a tiny loudspeaker built into Commissioner Gordon's cufflink. He deduces that the Joker, who is a "master conjurer" (AKA stage magician), brushed into Gordon and switched cufflinks. Batman then reveals that in that single bump the Joker also managed to wrap several feet of an induction-receiving antenna around Gordon's waist and down his left trouser leg! Gordon then remembers that an oddly dressed person did bump into him on the subway that morning, confirming Batman's theory.
In an episode of Firefly, Mal is rambling on about something, when a kid bumps into him in passing. Without missing a beat, Mal grabs the kid by the collar, takes his money out of the kid's hand, and sends him on his way.
On Leverage, Parker often does this. A key element for her is that her character has no concept of personal space. Interestingly the actress was actually trained in how to do the lifts for real and was told that the key is soft hands, often combined with this trope.
In the second season episode where they face off against a team of rival counterparts, Parker and the other team's master thief get into a competition doing this to the owner of the auction house. Unfortunately, between the two of them they get a little too aggressive and steal so many things from him in such a short amount of time that he notices (his pockets are suddenly empty, his watch is gone, and his security badge is no longer attached to his jacket) and immediately closes the public viewing, doubles security, and puts the police on alert about a potential pending break-in.
Starblazer Adventures, based on the 1970's-80's British science fiction comic book. The "Bump and Grab" stunt allows you to take advantage of a distraction (such as bumping into someone) to pickpocket them.
Chaosium's Thieves' World RPG (1981). The Game Master's Guide to Sanctuary had a plethora of random encounter tables. A couple of the entries had pickpockets bumping into the PCs in order to steal from them. Other encounters mentioned a NPC bumping into a PC so players wouldn't think that everyone bumping into them was a pickpocket.
Witch Bunter: The Invisible World. The Grab and Run talent allows the user to brush into a target and relieve them of their belongings.
In the opening scene of Cyrano de Bergerac, a pickpocket includes this technique in his lesson as he teaches some young trainees the art of pickpocketing while at the theatre.
Mass Effect 2: During the mission ''The Crime in Progress," a volus on the Citadel accuses a quarian of doing this to him and stealing his credit chit. The chit was actually forgotten by the volus at the last place he went shopping.
In Pokemon Mystery Dungeon: Gates to Infinity, a Scraggy does this to the two protagonists after they've retrieved some blue stones from a nearby dungeon. The duo is very Genre Blind about this; they start looking around for dropped stones after they realize they're gone, and when they see the Scraggy again, they think about asking him if he saw where they might have landed.