Burglarious? That’s just hilarious!

I recently read a police-blotter sort of article noting that the accused had been charged with “possession of burglarious tools.” That raised my eyebrows. Clearly, “burglar” and “burglary” are implied, but I’d never come across the adjective burglarious before. My thought was that it must be a strictly legal term, not much seen in colloquial use.

It turns out that this is true; but even in law the word is uncommon. It’s apparently not a term used universally, either. A (non-exhaustive) search shows that “possession of burglarious tools” is a law on the books in at least Massachusetts (where this report was filed) and also in Wisconsin, California, Idaho, Nevada, and Virginia. Almost every state has a similar statute, but most opt for the plain language “burglar’s tools.”

I bow to the Volokh Conspiracy for some good research on the term. In summary, the word dates back to at least the 1740s, with the adverbial form “burglariously” seen even earlier (the 1720s, perhaps even the 1640s). It doesn’t seem to have ever been in common use, and when even a law blog (Volokh) suggests that the term only be used for humorous effect, it’s probably safe to assume that it never will be.

In practice, the burglarious tools charge is usually used when someone is caught during a burglary, or immediately after, and it’s a way to pile on an additional charge. In some cases, it’s used to go after suspects after an unsuccessful burglary, or before they actually break in.

The idea of being charged with “possession of burglarious tools” strikes me as dangerously approaching thoughtcrime. What constitutes a burglarious tool? In what situations? If, because I have a leatherman tool on my keychain – complete with file, scissors, knives, and two sizes of screwdriver (all tools which could assist my nefarious, burglarious intent) – could I be slapped with such a charge in the absence of an obvious crime? That sort of thing is simply too easily abused. Especially when, at least for the states I checked, this charge alone carries up to a 10 year prison sentence.

This case from Richmond, Virginia, proves that the abuse isn’t simply theoretical. It’s one thing to convict someone of larceny for shoplifting. It’s quite another to add an additional charge of “possession of burglarious tools” only because the shoplifter had the gall to stick the stolen items in her purse. This is the kind of arbitrary and punitive law enforcement that gives police everywhere a bad image.

Lets hope burglarious continues to spend more time on the funny pages and less in court.

= = =

Additional reading:
Here’s a more opaque article about someone charged with possession of burglarious tools for having a laptop computer with him; here’s one charged because he had a plastic bag in his possession. I just want to remain clear: in none of these cases are the victims claiming to be innocent of theft. It’s the burglarious piling on that’s the issue.

Original reference:
The story that put me on to this one: Metro Boston, Monday, December 12, 2011. Charitable Marine helps nab would-be burglar.


About thebettereditor

Chris holds a BA degree in history from the University of Virginia and a Master of Fine Arts (MFA) Degree in writing from the University of Southern Maine (Stonecoast). He has worked extensively with professional and semi-professional writers and enthusiastic amateurs for about 20 years. He has several years experience in scientific publishing, but has also worked in information technology, insurance, health care, and education (he taught writing at the university level for a number of years). Since 2011, he's also specialized in helping small business meet their writing and editing needs on a budget.
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6 Responses to Burglarious? That’s just hilarious!

  1. Pingback: Exfiltrate has infiltrated the language (If only it would exfiltrate itself) | thebettereditor

  2. ron says:

    Thanks for the write up, I see this quite frequently on arlington, va crime reports.
    I agree w you, this makes it way to easy to prosecute someone for nothing.

  3. ron says:

    edit: i have never seen arlington police abuse this e.g.
    “..an officer observed a subject riding a bicycle while pulling another bicycle alongside him in an area that has had a number of recent bike thefts. When the officer questioned the subject, he attempted to flee but was taken into custody after a brief struggle. The subject had in his possession a power grinder with numerous blades ..”

  4. Mark Wallace says:

    Burglarious is a great word which I’d like to see used more often. Can it be applied to people? As in a “burglarious” person is one who is given to acts of burglary.

    • I don’t see why not. In the US, the word is used almost exclusively in a legal sense. But the definitions (using OED) aren’t so restrictive:
      (1) Of or pertaining to burglary; addicted to burglary; involving the guilt of burglary.
      (2) Burglar-like.
      It’s a mouthful, but if a word like “felonious” can be used and commonly understood, there’s no reason “burglarious” can’t see more use.

  5. Alan Hills says:

    They just used that word in a story about the capture of the guy in WI that sent the manifesto to Trump. I could not believe that was a real word.

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