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I can't seem to find the difference on the internet between "getting robbed" and "getting mugged". I would appreciate it if you could explain it to me.

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    "Mug" has more implication of violence; "rob" is closer to "steal". – Matthew Read Feb 21 '15 at 6:37
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    You can also get robbed but not have it done to your person. I was robbed could mean my house was robbed. Mugged usually means someone stole from you, in person. – Catija Feb 21 '15 at 7:03
  • @Catija See my comment to Jasper's answer. – Ben Kovitz Feb 21 '15 at 7:43
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    Are you asking about how most people use these phrases, or about the legal definition of "robbery"? – Jasper Feb 21 '15 at 9:05
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    I can't resist this simple definition… "One costs, the other hurts." – gone fishin' again. Feb 21 '15 at 11:20
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Robbery vs. Mugging vs. Burglary

Robbery

Robbery is a pretty broad term that is used both legally and generally with slightly different meanings.

Definition of robbery in legal terms:

The taking of money or goods in the possession of another, from his or her person or immediate presence, by force or intimidation.

The emphasis here is that the person is actually present.

Definition of robbery in general terms:

The crime of stealing money or property : the crime of robbing a person or place.

This definition is much more general. There is no specific requirement that the person be present for this event or that there be any threat of (or actual) force.

Some examples:

Masked men with guns robbed the bank yesterday. They threatened to kill one of the employees if the manager didn't hand over the money in the vault.

This fulfills both the legal and general definitions of robbery.

When we came back from our vacation, we found out our home had been robbed. Fortunately, no one was there and all they took was our TV.

This is a perfectly valid use of robbery but only in the general sense. It does not satisfy the legal definition of robbery and would, instead, be considered burglary (see section below).

Notable idiomatic uses of robbery/robbed:

He was robbed. or You were robbed. or I was robbed.

  • In sports: A player was about to score (or did score) when the unexpected action of another player or a referee prevents the point from actually being scored.

  • In finance: (believing that you/someone were/was) being overcharged for a good or service.

The price of the soda and popcorn at the movie theater is highway robbery.

While this used to be a literal thing (think Robin Hood), it has now come to mean something similar to the phrase above I was robbed:

excessive profit or advantage derived from a business transaction

So, this would mean that a person feels they are being overcharged in a large way for something that is not of very high value.


Mugging

Mug (as a verb) is defined as:

to attack and rob (someone) in a public place.

Let's take the sections of this definition in parts:

Attack and rob

The general connotation of a mugging is that the person getting mugged is harmed in some physical way or is at least threatened with injury. Often, people who are mugged get beaten up or injured with some sort of weapon. The combination of attacking and theft of personal property is important to the definition of mugging.

Someone

Someone is important because it's an action committed against a person, not a place. You can't mug a bank or a jewelry store. This someone being mugged is also generally only one or maybe two people at a time. This is partially implied if you follow the legal sense of rob.

Public Place

I actually chose this definition over others because I think that it is important to call out the in a public place part. You can't really be mugged in your home. One is mugged on the street, in an alleyway, in a park, etc. That doesn't mean that it's in the sight of other people, though.

Takeaway

So, from this together, we can see that mugging is a subset of robbery with the added specificity of actual injury occurring and it being in a generally public place.

Example

I was walking home from work and I got mugged. He gave me a black eye and took my wallet and watch.

My husband and I were mugged last night. Our assailant had a gun and threatened to hurt us if we didn't hand over our valuables.


Burglary

Burglary is a little different but I thought worth mentioning here.

Definition of burglary:

The criminal offense of breaking and entering a building illegally for the purpose of committing a crime.

So, what's notably different here is that no one (other than the perpetrator) is involved in this. What's also notable is that item or monetary theft is not inherently implied in the term... though, in general use, people tend to assume that the goal is to steal something.

The definition does seem a bit specific as it calls out a building specifically, which would imply that a vehicle couldn't be the target of burglary. Fortunately, further down in the definition it also states:

Under modern statutes, the offense can occur in any enclosed structure, regardless of whether it is used for habitation.

Note that breaking does not actually require doing physical damage to the building. A thief finding a door unlocked and entering the building is still guilty of breaking into the building.

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    I'm not sure "mug" always means that the person is physically hurt: if someone points a gun at me while I'm walking home and demands I hand over my wallet, I'd consider that a mugging even if I didn't actually get shot. – cpast Feb 21 '15 at 23:53
  • @cpast possibly... but it may be another use/definition thing like robbery... Personally, I wouldn't call it a mugging if injury didn't happen (I'd call it a robbery) and (not that it means anything) all of the other answers here say the same thing. – Catija Feb 21 '15 at 23:58
  • I agree with @cpast – in a mugging, there needs to be at least a threat of violence. But if the victim happens to be lucky enough to get out of the situation unscathed, I'd still consider it a mugging. That's a minor point, though, on a very well-written answer. – J.R. Feb 22 '15 at 19:07
  • I think "highway robbery" is still metaphorical even today. Charging $5.00 for popcorn exploits a strong bargaining position in a way that people might literally call "gouging", but calling it "highway robbery" still makes people think of violent robbery on a road, and gets heard as an exaggeration when applied to prices. (Trying to cover every usage is hard! Probably impossible.) – Ben Kovitz Feb 22 '15 at 19:24
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    @BenKovitz I have it under idiomatic use... I'd argue that the example is pretty typical of its current usage. en.wiktionary.org/wiki/highway_robbery Even on the Urban dictionary : urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=highway+robbery – Catija Feb 22 '15 at 19:30
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Wiktionary defines mugging as:

A quick violent robbery of a person, usually in a public place.

For example, a typical mugging would be punching someone by surprise as they're walking along a street, grabbing a shopping bag they're carrying, and running off.

Robbery is more general. Robbery is the crime of using violence or fear to steal property or make someone give you their property.

For example, a typical robbery would be walking into a liquor store, pointing a gun at the person behind the counter, and demanding that they give you all the money in the cash register. If you search YouTube for "robbery", that's mostly what you'll see (well, mostly you'll see failed attempts to rob convenience stores). But see also Bank robbery, Highway Robbery, and Train robbery for other typical examples that the word "robbery" easily brings to mind.

An important difference between the two words is that "mugging" is an informal, loosely defined term, while "robbery" is a term of law as well as an everyday word. Legal definitions are more precise than everyday usage, of course, and they vary from place to place. A typical legal definition in the United States is:

The taking of money or goods in the possession of another, from his or her person or immediate presence, by force or intimidation.

(From the Federal Bureau of Investigation, quoted here.)

  • Could you at least mention that common use does not necessarily follow the strict, legal definition? – Catija Feb 21 '15 at 8:11
  • @Catija Thanks for the suggestion, but I'm a little afraid to! People do often use the word sloppily or ignorantly, like all words, but this doesn't seem like a good way to get someone started. Instead, I added some typical examples. Hopefully those will convey the word's strongest associations without getting caught up in exact definitions. I'll see if I can think of a nice way to indicate that the everyday meaning of the word isn't as precise (of course) as any of the legal definitions. – Ben Kovitz Feb 21 '15 at 8:23
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    @Catija Just updated it. But actually, how'd you like to write an answer? Your approach might be more useful to the OP than the one I took. (I'd rather see two answers, each of which is faithful to one approach, than a muddled answer that tries to follow both approaches.) – Ben Kovitz Feb 21 '15 at 8:30
  • If someone else hasn't by the morning, I'll do it. It's 2:30 am and I'm too tired to make intelligible answers. :) – Catija Feb 21 '15 at 8:31
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    @Catija - If you do that, you might want to talk about other ways these two words can be used. For example, on the football (soccer) field, "He got robbed!" could mean the goalie made a spectacular save, and "robbed" him of a goal, while "He got mugged!" might mean that another player pulled him down to the ground – i.e., that was no flop. – J.R. Feb 21 '15 at 14:04
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From an American English (almost Texan) viewpoint, there are some rather large differences between mugging and robbing.

I associate mugging with violent person-to-person robbery. Getting mugged means also getting assaulted for the things you are currently carrying (on your person). This typically happens when you are in a public place, especially walking alone in a shady part of a city. A related phrase is "getting jumped." Mugging is a very specific form of robbery.

Robbery, on the other hand, is much more general. Being robbed means just having something you possess stolen. It can apply to all sorts of situations in which someone losses something that was or should be rightfully theirs. And almost anything, physical or intangible can be "robbed" from a person. Some phrases that include robbery:

  • "A burglar robbed our home while we were on vacation." Related: "break-in"
  • "He was robbed of his sight." He became blind, especially to disease.
  • "Bad luck robbed her of the opportunity." This use of "robbed" implies that she deserved and expected the opportunity.

And finally, "getting robbed" can also be used for perceived theft or unfair deals. A common idiom is "getting robbed" at a store that charges too much for their merchandise.

UPDATE: As Ben points in the comments below, the primary use for "robbery" is for the illegal acts of stealing property you don't own. But it has been widely extended to include any kind of theft and many similar situations.

  • "Robbery" certainly gets used in many loose and metaphorical ways, but I think it's misleading to an EFL learner to put them on an equal footing with the primary meaning. A native speaker easily sorts this out, knowing that you can be imprisoned for robbery, having heard of bank robberies, knowing the cliche of a "robber" holding a gun and wearing a mask, etc. Lacking this experience, an EFL learner reads a broad list usages as defining a broad category, covering all ways of losing something pretty equally. – Ben Kovitz Feb 21 '15 at 19:41
  • One other point of confusion: People say their home was "robbed" but they don't usually say a "robbery" occurred there. What's happening is that people lack a verb for burglary ("burgle" is extremely uncommon and sounds funny; "burglarize" is OK but unnatural), so they reach for the nearest verb—which easily stretches but is anchored elsewhere. – Ben Kovitz Feb 21 '15 at 19:47
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Mugging is usually a violent attempt to steal thing(s) that a person is known (or expected) to wear or carry. For example, a wallet, a purse, jewelry, gold chains, or shoes. Sadly, the phrases "mugged and raped" and "killed by a mugger" are well-known.

Mugging necessarily involves an in-person interaction between one or more criminals and one or more victims. The interaction includes either physical violence (such as punching, slapping, knocking down, knifing, or shooting), or a credible threat of such violence (such as the open display of fists or weapon(s)). Mugging usually involves pedestrians, or riders of buses or subway trains.

Mugging is often prosecuted as "strong-arm robbery" or "armed robbery". Many Americans carry guns, mace, tasers, or pepper-spray to deter muggers.

Hijacking and carjacking are similar to mugging, but are in the cramped confines of a car or a plane cockpit, with the goal of stealing the vehicle. Ship piracy is similar to mugging, but aboard a ship, with the goal(s) of stealing the ship and/or kidnapping the crew. Despite the similarities, hijacking, carjacking, and piracy are not usually considered to be mugging.

Robbery is theft -- the taking of something with neither permission nor forgiveness. The victim does not need to be present to be robbed. There are several forms of robbery, including shop-lifting, pocket-picking, fraud, and theft during a burglary. Many American homes and stores rely on video-taping and alarm systems to deter theft.

Permission can be granted ahead of time, or voluntarily at the time. Some people "borrow" things without permission, but the "lender" retroactively gives permission later -- this is effectively forgiveness. For example, when Paul Revere "borrowed" a horse for his midnight ride, he probably did not have permission. In the culture of Boston at the time, he was expected to either return the horse unharmed, or make good the owner's loss.

For legal purposes, some jurisdictions treat "robbery" as a near synonym for "mugging" (as described above), not as a near synonym for "theft" (as described above). For example, the Revised Code of Washington defines "theft" and "robbery" as follows:

RCW 9A.56.020 (1) "Theft" means:
(a) To wrongfully obtain or exert unauthorized control over the property or services of another or the value thereof, with intent to deprive him or her of such property or services; or
(b) By color or aid of deception to obtain control over the property or services of another or the value thereof, with intent to deprive him or her of such property or services; or
(c) To appropriate lost or misdelivered property or services of another, or the value thereof, with intent to deprive him or her of such property or services.

RCW 9A.56.190 A person commits robbery when he or she unlawfully takes personal property from the person of another or in his or her presence against his or her will by the use or threatened use of immediate force, violence, or fear of injury to that person or his or her property or the person or property of anyone. Such force or fear must be used to obtain or retain possession of the property, or to prevent or overcome resistance to the taking; in either of which cases the degree of force is immaterial. Such taking constitutes robbery whenever it appears that, although the taking was fully completed without the knowledge of the person from whom taken, such knowledge was prevented by the use of force or fear.

  • Excellent answer, but I have one doubt: I believe robbery is normally defined as taking property from your very person or in your presence, by violence or the threat of it. (I was once a juror in a trial where the matter at issue was whether the victim was close enough to the property to count as "in his presence", since the punishments for robbery are much more severe than for burglary.) – Ben Kovitz Feb 21 '15 at 7:40
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    @BenKovitz I guess it's a matter of legal definition and actual use. I was on vacation and my home (legally speaking) was burglarized... I still usually say that my house was robbed. – Catija Feb 21 '15 at 7:48
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    I like this answer (not my downvote – you got robbed!), but I didn't quite agree with this one part: "Mugging does not necessarily involve robbery. It can include rape and/or murder." In my mind, that's blurring the lines between mugging and assault. I'd say that you can get robbed without getting mugged, but mugging usually has the ultimately goal of securing a billfold by force. However, that's just how I'm accustomed to hearing these two words used. – J.R. Feb 21 '15 at 14:01

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