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Noun. Archaic. Late Middle English.
[from CUT verb + PURSE noun.]
A person who stole by cutting purses from the girdles from which they were suspended;
a pickpocket, a thief.
On a recent trip abroad, my wife and I were advised to be aware of pickpockets and thieves (sound advice); apparently they're so audacious that they'll simply cut through the straps of your bag and make off with it. This modus operandi is quite ancient; thieves have been knows as cutpurses since at least the 1300s. Back then, when men wore their purse hanging from their girdle, a burglarious bounder would simply snip through the purse. Modern thieves are no less brazen, and do love to employ the old snip 'n snatch.
Or do they? I once had the pleasure of interviewing a reformed pickpocket, and we chatted at length about the various methods he and other thieves employ. Some, unsurprisingly, were exceptionally crude, such as bludgeoning someone from behind and then rifling through their pockets as they lay twitching on the ground; other methods involved a considerable degree of sophistication and sleight of hand. He didn't, however, mention any approach that first involved cutting through the straps of someone's bag and, when I was warned about the rampancy of this tactic, I must admit I was extremely skeptical.
That's not to say it never happens; a cursory search on the internet shows several specific reports of bags being stolen in this way, including one in Ashford, Kent, one in Reading, Berkshire, one in London, and one in New York in which the thief first tried to snatch the bag and, when the woman put up a fight, pulled a knife to cut the strap and nearly cut off her hand. However, in contrast to this meager smattering of specific strap-cutting incidents, page after page of warnings for this type of robbery are easily found. And many of these pages, unsurprisingly, also seek to sell you the solution, namely cut- and slash-proof bags and bag straps.
Herein lies a possible clue to the overabundance of warnings - there's a marketable solution. Therefore, it's in the interests of vendors to stoke concern about this type of attack, regardless of the actual frequency of this type of robbery; in fact, if bag strap cutting is rare, there is even more incentive for companies to promote the fear of it. As for these uncuttable straps, I would have to question whether, if a thief had snuck up behind me intent on slashing my bag strap, I would want him fumbling about at my back, getting frustrated while wielding a knife, scissors, or some other bladed instrument. I have travel insurance and, besides, there are other, completely free precautions I can take that will not likely lead me into a direct confrontation with a panicked thief (for example, not wearing a bag at all). Certainly, getting mugged or having my bag stolen will ruin my holiday, but it won't ruin it nearly as much as getting stabbed (accidentally or otherwise) by some bungling cack-handed cutpurse.
Have you ever had someone cut through your purse, bag or camera straps to rob you?
(and I'm interested in first-hand experience - not the "I know someone who knows someone" variety)
Do please comment in the box below.