Five finger discount

What is the meaning of the phrase ‘Five finger discount’?

Theft. (Usually in reference to the shoplifting of one or more small items.)

What is the origin of the phrase ‘Five finger discount’?

The phrase ‘Five finger discount’ is relatively new, believed to originate in the mid 20th century. The earliest recorded use of the phrase comes from the writing of J. M. Brewer in the year 1966.

The phrase is used to denote theft of small items because 1) getting something for free is a significant discount on the full price, and 2) because you’d need your whole hand, or five fingers, to pick up the item and collect it into your possession.

The phrase is thought by some to originate from America, specifically in New York. However, it is also heard in the UK and in Australia. 

The euphemism is used by thieves themselves, often in a light-hearted way to brag about their gains, or to describe how they intend to get something. However, shoplifting is a crime in most countries of the world and could result in prosecution. It’s also important to note that the phrase ‘Five finger discount’ is not a term of formal legal terminology.

What are some notable uses of the phrase ‘Five finger discount’?

The phrase ‘Five finger discount’ is occasionally found in modern literature, including Elmore Leonard’s novel “Bandits” published in 1987, and the book ‘White noise’ by Don DeLillo published in 1985.

The phrase is also used in song lyrics from time to time, and has also been used in the TV shows ‘The Simpsons’ and ‘Seinfeld’. But perhaps it’s most frequent use is in media and journalism.

Trend of five finger discount in printed material over time

Cari Mayhew - Author at Phrase Finder

Cari Mayhew

Lifelong learner, phrase fanatic, and lover of literature across multiple genres. Cari Mayhew has a passion for expression, and a keen curiosity for how phrases begin and how their use transforms over time. She is often found looking for the ideal idiom to convey her thoughts and musings.