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[pil-fer] /ˈpɪl fər/
verb (used without object), verb (used with object)
to steal, especially in small quantities.
Origin of pilfer
late Middle English
1540-50; v. use of late Middle English pilfre booty < Middle French pelfre. See pelf
Related forms
pilferer, noun
unpilfered, adjective
thieve, purloin, filch, appropriate. Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2015.
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Examples from the Web for pilfer
Contemporary Examples
Historical Examples
  • The women and children beg and pilfer, and the men commit greater acts of dishonesty.

  • He had some sort of an idea that he might pilfer the hospitality of his enemies.

    The Eyes of the Woods Joseph A. Altsheler
  • The women make baskets, beg, pilfer, or sift and grind corn.

    Gipsy Life George Smith
  • If they win, they grab at booty; if they lose, they unhorse and pilfer their own side!

    The Bbur-nma in English Babur, Emperor of Hindustan
  • He never stooped to pilfer, until exposure and decay had weakened his hand.

    A Book of Scoundrels Charles Whibley
  • I suspect he has a plot with his apprentices to pilfer a portion of the metal.

  • And one day he brought not only a new tale, but a bottle of gin he had managed to pilfer from the camp of Professor No No.

  • The central idea of this modern folly about the potato is that you must pilfer the root.

    Custom and Myth Andrew Lang
  • Mr. Ritson says that Milton is frequently content to pilfer a happy expression from Shakespeareon this occasion, night-wanderer.

    Folk-lore of Shakespeare Thomas Firminger Thiselton-Dyer
British Dictionary definitions for pilfer


to steal (minor items), esp in small quantities
Derived Forms
pilferer, noun
pilfering, noun
Word Origin
C14 pylfre (n) from Old French pelfre booty; see pelf
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Word Origin and History for pilfer

1540s, from pilfer (n.) "spoils, booty," c.1400, from Old French pelfre "booty, spoils" (11c.), of unknown origin, possibly related to pelf. Related: Pilfered; pilfering.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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