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Encyclopedia > Beggar
Beggars in Samarkand, 1905

Begging includes the various methods used by persons to obtain money, food, shelter, or other necessities from people they encounter during the course of their travels. It is also referred to as panhandling, peddling, or sponging.


In larger cities, it is common to see beggars asking others for money, food, or other items. They may also offer services, such as washing car windows. They may attempt to sell items to others to make money. An unfortunate outgrowth of begging, particularly among young women, is to turn to prostitution to obtain resources to live on. One method of begging that is particularly dangerous is for beggers to station themselves either in or near vehicle traffic in order to peddle goods or solicit donations, for example walking between lanes at a red light. In these cases, beggars run the risk of being struck by passing vehicles.


Begging is often, but not always, combined with the concept of busking to some degree, where beggars attempt to offer some form of minor entertainment to entice passersby to sympathise or simply to attract attention. Additionally, beggars will often share successful approaches or 'spange lines' which seem to attract more attention or to entice or entertain passersby. Examples include:

  • Long, often exaggerated stories of the mendicant's plight or some task they are trying to accomplish, such as travelling cross-country often for some noble goal
  • A direct request for money for alcohol or drugs, in the hopes that the "honesty" approach will gain sympathy
  • Clever approaches such as "I'll bet you a dollar I have your name tattooed on my arse" (where the beggar has the actual words "Your Name" tattooed, or lines like "Do you have change for a dollar?" (since people are more likely to trade change than give it away) followed by "Can I have it?" when the mark shows he or she does in fact have change.
  • Requests for something other than expected (i.e. something other than money, food or cigarettes), such as "Can you spare a kidney?"
  • Displays of bohemian audacity, such as "I'll lick my tit for a dollar"

In many larger cities, such as Chicago, Illinois, peddling has been banned. In Chicago, there are a number of signs at regular intervals reminding people that peddling is banned. This rarely dissuades the beggar, and the constitutionality and ethics of such bans are questionable.


Famous beggars

See also





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