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In English:

  • a burglar is usually associated with someone who breaks into a house (victim is usually unaware during the burglary)

  • a robber is usually associated with that person who uses weapons and threatens you to give him your property (victim-aware of course)

  • a mugger is usually associated with a robber on the street (victim-aware)

  • a thief is usually one who sneakily steals things without resorting to violence (victim-unaware)

  • a pickpocket is usually associated with a thief on the street (victim-unaware)

So what exactly is the exact nuance of a 泥棒? perhaps most likely there isn't a 1-to-1 match so probably could someone write an explanation of 泥棒 without using words like robber/mugger/thief/pickpocket/burglar etc

Side question: if we change 泥棒 to the hiragana form どろぼう, does it affect the nuance in any way?

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up vote 7 down vote accepted

In this particular case, I can see quite straghtforward correspondence between English and Japanese. But 泥棒 is also the cover term that can be used to widely refer to all of these.

  • 空き巣 'burglar'
  • 強盗 'robber'
  • 泥棒 'mugger'
  • 盗人 'thief'
  • スリ 'pickpocket'
  • ハンバーグラー 'Hamburglar'

Writing it in hiragana does not change the nuance.

There is a stereotypical image for 泥棒: http://www.google.com/search?q=%E6%B3%A5%E6%A3%92&tbm=isch&biw=1272&bih=1055

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+1 for Hamburglar! LOL – istrasci Jul 26 '11 at 21:30
Yes, I like the reference to 泥棒 being the general term. I have been warned not to take persimmons from trees even though NO ONE will eat them otherwise they would call me 柿泥棒 (かきどろぼう) – Gerard Sexton Jul 27 '11 at 14:22
@Gerard 柿泥棒 was common among children in earlier days. They are usually grown for actually eating. – user458 Jul 27 '11 at 15:27

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