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Percussive Pickpocket

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"Hey, stop him! That guy just stole that suit's man!"

"This fell out of her pocket when I accidentally bumped into her. Took me four goes."
The Doctor, Doctor Who, "The Beast Below"

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 a 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. Also compare to Shake Someone, Objects Fall, where the action is more aggressive.


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    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.
  • Kill la Kill: When Ryuko Matoi is pickpocketed by a group of street kids, she sees the theft coming and gives them a half-eaten lemon instead of her wallet.
  • Rurouni Kenshin: Yahiko tries to pull this on Kenshin. Kaoru catches him in the act, and when Kenshin gives the kid the wallet anyway, Yahiko throws the money back into his face.
  • Samurai Champloo, Episode 7: Fuu's money bag is stolen in this manner by a street urchin trying to fence off enough money to pay for his mother's illness. He later gets into a lot more trouble pickpocketing something else, only realizing after the fact that the victim was a gangster and the item he stole was very valuable.
  • Slayers: A little boy does this to Lina Inverse. She catches him and makes him her slave.
  • Cowboy Bebop:
    • Spike lets the bad guy Asimov bump him (actually grab and start to strangle him) in order to steal a vial of the drugs Asimov was carrying.
    • And in another case, he slips the current bad guy's bioweapon vial into her own pocket, resulting in it breaking open in a later scene and taking her out just as she realizes what happened.
    • Another variant occurs in the movie, when Spike slips a listening device into Electra's pocket while fighting her.

    Comic Books 
  • In the Chick Tract "Framed!", the opposite happens when a kid bumps into Joe Harris so that one of his accomplices can plant a gun on him.
  • During a flashback in Criminal, veteran pickpocket Ivan tells a young Leo that "the bump is for amateurs". Leo is later shown being able to lift people's wallets and weapons without them ever noticing.
  • A Street Urchin attempts this on Mechanika in Lady Mechanika: The Tablet of Destinies #2. It doesn't work.
  • In The Death of Clark Kent storyline from the Superman franchise, Lois Lane steals a policeman's radio phone using this technique when she was on the run in Metropolis, and uses the phone to get in touch with "Terrible" Turpin.
  • In Baker Street #2, Sharon collides with a constable and lifts his keys off him, which she tosses to Domino, who is handcuffed in the back of a police car.
  • The Oracle Code: Babs bumps into one of the therapists in order to steal their employee I.D. card.

    Film — Animation 
  • The Adventures of Tintin: The pickpocket in the 2011 movie.
    • Or the one in the comic: All the Thompson twins initially remember of him is that they bumped into him.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • Felix does this in The Fifty First 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 the The Three Stooges short Loco Boy Makes Good, Curly manages to lift $50 and a pocket watch off a debt collector harassing the elderly owner of a hotel in renovations.
  • 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".
  • We see the protagonist do this in Bulletproof 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.
  • Used for a Brick Joke in Casablanca. At the start of the movie, we see a pickpocket at work. Later the pickpocket bumps into one of the main characters, who frantically checks his pockets to make sure his wallet is still there.
  • In movies, this trope dates at least as far back as 1912 and The Evidence of the Film. In this example, a corrupt stockbroker retrieves $20,000 in bonds by knocking over a messenger boy on the street, switching out packages as they're tangled together on the ground.
  • Gangs of New York: Amsterdam is pickpocketed by Jenny in this exact manner.
  • 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 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.
  • 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.
  • In My Blue Heaven, Steve Martin's character Vinnie, an ex-mobster, warns two boys about it at a baseball game. One of the boys waves his wallet while calling the hotdog vendor, and Vinnie tells him not to wave it, because a pickpocket will watch where he puts it. Vinnie then demonstrates, bumping into the boy and handing his wallet back a moment later.
  • 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.
  • In Shoot-Out at Medicine Bend, Devlin uses a staged collision with Sanders to lift his wallet, and then a second one to plant it on Walters.
  • In Robin Hood (2018), Tuck collides with Lord Pemberton and spills a drink on him, using the opportunity to lift his keys at the same time.
  • In Laughter in Paradise, Captain Russell shoplifts several strings of pearls in an attempt to get arrested. As he is headed for the door, he is accosted by a pair of pickpockets: one of whom bumps into him and apologises profusely while the other picks his pocket. Captain Russell is nabbed by the store detectives who search him but cannot find the pearls. When Captain Russell checks his own pockets, he discovers that the pickpockets have stolen not only the pearls but also his wallet.

  • Subverted in one urban legend. A jogger is out for his morning exercise when another man bumps into him. He suddenly realizes he doesn't have his wallet and assumes the other man took it. So he chases the man down, shouting "give me that wallet!" Terrified, the man pulls a wallet out of his pocket and gives it to him. When the jogger arrives back home, his wife tells him he'd left his wallet on the dresser.

  • In Discworld, one character steals some diamonds from someone by bumping into him in the market despite the fact that he had swallowed the diamonds for safe keeping.
  • 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.
  • Fraternity of the Stone by David Morrell. The protagonist wants to be a spy like his Cool Uncle, who gets a Hong Kong Street Urchin to teach him this technique. In order to graduate, he has to rob the urchin without him noticing. As a distraction, he hires another urchin to throw a fruit at his head.
  • Meparik and Crislie’s first meeting in Heralds Of Rhimn, unbeknownst to Crislie until later, when she notices her missing wallet. Cue Meparik lamenting how few coins she had on her in the next chapter.
  • Take a Thief refers to a two-person version of this as the "shake and snatch". The "shaker" bumps into the mark (fairly hard) on the street, the "snatcher" pickpockets the mark while helping him catch his balance.
  • 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.
  • Oliver Twist: Happens to Fagin when he runs into a gang of young pickpockets.
  • Star Wars Legends: 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 Twisted Thing, Mike Hammer gets The Glomp from the murderer, who takes the opportunity to remove the magazine from his Colt automatic.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Parodied in an episode of Angie Tribeca, when Dr. Scholls gets a ferret out of a cage simply by bumping into the Fish & Game officer holding it. Taken Up to Eleven in the slow-motion flashback, which reveals that during the bump she took the cage, swapped the ferret for a box of Pop-Tarts, applied lipstick, gave a passionate kiss to a nearby policeman, returned the cage to the officer, and then apologized for the bump.
  • 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.
  • 1960s Batman (1966) 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.
  • CSI: NY:
    • One 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.
    • Arc Villain Shane Casey uses this trope to sneak a cell phone *into* Mac's pocket in "Raising Shane."
  • Doctor Who: In "The Beast Below", the Doctor does this to Mandy Tanner to get her wallet to give Amy an excuse to look for her. Thing is, he's not especially subtle: it took him four goes, so when Amy goes looking for Mandy, she finds the girl waiting for her because Mandy noticed the attempts.
  • The Equalizer. Inverted in "Dead Drop" where the object is to plant something in their pocket, rather than steal it. Jimmy hasn't done this for a while, so another operative helps by gaining the person's attention first. Mickey Kostmayer, who's more comfortable with shooting people than the mundane aspects of intelligence work, fumbles this so awkwardly he just gives up and hands it to the person.
  • 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.
  • The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries: "Voodoo Doll" has the Hardy Boys wandering the streets of New Orleans during Mardi Gras. As they're distracted by the parades, the camera focuses on a passing woman moving through the crowd & deliberately bumping into them, lifting both brothers' wallets and walking away. It takes the Hardys a few seconds to realize their wallets are gone, and when they try to chase the woman, she's vanished into a nearby bar, kicking off the plot & getting the Hardys involved in The Villain's plot against a visiting ambassador.
  • Harrow: While trying to find out who framed her in "Aegri Somnia" ("Hallucinations"), Fern deliberately bumps into a pharmacist and lifts his car keys.
  • 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.
  • Inverted on NCIS during a flashback to Vance's probie days. Another agent bumps into him and discretely hands him a passport for an op in Amsterdam.
  • Happens several times in Person of Interest, including an electronic example in "Blue Code" where Fusco does this to spoof a magnetic ID card. In "Trojan Horse", Finch comes up with a complicated plan to get a USB stick from an executive, only for Reese to do this trope instead.
  • A sci-fi version occurs in the Star Trek: Voyager episode "Random Thoughts". On a planet of telepaths where there's a black market for violent thoughts, someone bumps into B'Elanna Torres and 'steals' her instinctive mental response, which is to imagine herself punching him in the face.
  • This trope shows up a number of times, along with the other pickpocketing variants, on White Collar.

    Tabletop Games 
  • 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 Hunter: 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.
  • A skit commonly performed at Boy Scout camps and the like is "The World's Fastest Pickpocket." It consists of two scenes, often framed as a newscast: first the thief and the mark cross paths and briefly bump together in keeping with this trope. Then it's repeated in super slow motion; this time the thief physically assaults the mark, even to the point of literally picking him up and shaking stuff out of his pockets. Played for Laughs, of course.

    Video Games 

  • Bumper from Dominic Deegan, to the point that it's where his nickname came from.
  • The Order of the Stick: A pair of children successfully do this to Durkon in a notorious city of thieves (taking, to their surprise, a bag full of diamonds he needed to resurrect a fallen comrade). Later, another pair try it in Sandsedge, but this time the party's own thief is there watching his back.
  • The title image comes from Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal's The Greatest Pickpocket In The World, who is so talented he can "accidentally" bump into a man, disrobing and kidnapping him from a single bump, and the clothes will walk in humanoid form as if they were still attached to their method of locomotion.
  • In Widdershins, Sydney and the King of Thieves have the misfortune to do this to each other. The King of Thieves snag's Sydney's wallet, and Sydney's curse activates, stealing the King's mark and making him the new King, all without even knowing!

    Western Animation 

    Real Life 
  • A real-world variation is used by two pickpockets working in tandem. One does the clumsy bump but doesn't steal anything. The genre-savvy victim thinks this has happened and reflexively puts a hand in/on the pocket holding his wallet. The second pickpocket spots this, tails the victim, and lifts the wallet without the victim even noticing their presence.


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