What's up with this odd usage of the word "steal"?
February 6, 2014 12:29 PM   Subscribe

In the early 1990s, the boys in my middle school used to threaten to "steal" each other, meaning hit/punch/sock/pop/smack. It was most commonly heard as, "I'mma steal you in your eye!" or "I'm gonna steal him upside the head!" I found it strange even then, and I haven't heard or seen reference to it since. Have you heard "steal" used like this before? Where could it have come from? Relevant details: This was in Nash County, North Carolina. I recall hearing it exclusively from white boys. The couple times I asked someone who was self-aware enough to discuss it, they were adamant that it was "steal" and not "steel."
posted by rhiannonstone to Writing & Language (17 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
I've always heard it as either "steel" or "steel on" someone. I figured it was referencing a pipe or something. I've heard it plenty in Southern Indiana and still use it with my brothers.

I'm laughing right now thinking of my brother chasing me yelling "I'm gonna steel on you!"
posted by Tchad at 12:39 PM on February 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

One meaning of "steal" is "sneak". In other words, this doesn't mean "to take", it means to hit someone surreptitiously so that the teachers don't notice.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 12:39 PM on February 6, 2014

I heard it growing up in the DC area. It's used (with the "steal" spelling) in the comments in this WashPo article on DC slang.
posted by amarynth at 12:40 PM on February 6, 2014 [2 favorites]

I heard it a lot in certain DCPS middle schools to mean "fight" or "hit", yeah. These were entirely black schools and I heard it from girls as well as boys. It's interesting to hear about this in North Carolina as well because the schools in which I taught were generally very insular communities with their own jargon. See also "busting" to mean "cutting in line" or "queue jumping".
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 1:08 PM on February 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

I heard it growing up in the DC area.

Me too -- in Jr High, in 1967.
posted by Rash at 1:38 PM on February 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

Heard it used like that in middle school, Houston, TX, early 2000s.
posted by thack3r at 1:46 PM on February 6, 2014

Definitely a dc thing along with 'jone' and 'sike'
posted by empath at 2:02 PM on February 6, 2014 [3 favorites]

Urban Dictionary shows this usage (dating back to the early 2000s), but the Dictionary of American Regional English does not.
posted by Sybil Stockwell Oop at 2:16 PM on February 6, 2014

This is what urban dictionary says:


To punch someone

Yo son, that mofo be frontin. I'm gonna go steal him in his mouf.

Damn son, you just got stole in your dome.

FWIW, I have never heard steel used in this way before, but I'm old... :-(
posted by xammerboy at 3:07 PM on February 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

Yeah, I heard it growing up in north St. Louis County. You got stolt. Or I stolt him upside the head. That's the past tense.

We had jonin' and sike too.
posted by limeonaire at 4:02 PM on February 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

I also heard "steal on" and "stole on" in the Chicago neighborhood I grew up in, usually to refer to a particularly hard, first, or surprising punch in a fight. I'm guessing at the spelling because I've never seen it written out.
posted by sundaydriver at 6:06 PM on February 6, 2014

My friend teaches middle school in DC; his students are almost all black. He says that "stole" is a current term: "He got stole in the head" means that someone got punched, usually hard. Stole on is apparently a variant.

I'm from Pittsburgh, and had never heard this term before.
posted by Oxydude at 6:33 PM on February 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

'Got stole' is past tense.
posted by empath at 6:37 PM on February 6, 2014

Definitely a dc thing along with 'jone' and 'sike'

This cracked me up. Steal (= punch), jone, sike, tight, balls up, etc are all kid-slang from when I was growing up in the DC area (90s/00s). Everybody used it, it wasn't divided along racial/gender/anything lines that I remember.

Also concur with "got stole" as the past tense.
posted by rue72 at 8:17 PM on February 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

Another DC triangulation point: I taught in Anacostia in 1993-1995 and heard 'steel'/'steal' pretty much every day. I also asked how it was spelled and nobody really knew. My students used it exactly as you've heard it.

Oh, and none of my students was white.
posted by yellowcandy at 8:19 PM on February 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

My ex-boyfriend from Philadelphia (white) used this quite often. Apparently it was a word his cohort used growing up, I had never heard it before.
posted by Aubergine at 11:14 AM on February 7, 2014

Much older than many of the other posters, this was used in the late 80s/early 90s in VA about 65 miles from DC.
posted by SuzySmith at 11:34 AM on February 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

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