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I'm looking for a chengyu or an idiom to colloquially describe small-time criminals, but without excessive negative connotation.

There are already words both in Chinese and English that come close:

坏蛋 scoundrel

贱人 cheap skate (colloquially)

But what I'm really thinking of when I say this is the Beagle Boys.

enter image description here

The Beagle Boys are criminals, but they are naive and unlucky to the point of being cute. So even when you see the Beagle Boys pulling off a robbery and splitting the take, the reaction they elicit in the reader is more of pity and ridicule, than awe and dread.

So in English, when I say: "You guys look like the Beagle Boys!" it's easy to take this as a joke — provided my interlocutor is familiar with Scrooge McDuck comics —, as the Beagle Boys are funny, before being obnoxious.

Now, I suspect that in Chinese I can't say: "你们啊,你们跟庀兄弟一样贱" to a similar effect...

I already know 狐朋狗友, but it's not really a playful description.

Is there an equivalent popular character, or some other chengyu or idiom to describe petty thieves and scumbags with a playful connotation?

  • Never heard 狐朋狗友 before. In Hong Kong, we say 猪朋狗友 and 狐朋狗黨. – Tang Ho Jul 28 '20 at 23:38
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鼠窃狗偷 (small-time thieves):

Remember the YouTube video that showed a rat pulling a pizza? That's cute; If you have a dog, does he steal your food when you are not looking? Mine did. And it was cute

毛贼 (small thieves):

A thief as small-time as a hair, how much damage can it cause?

笨贼 (dumb thieves/ dumb criminals):

There are many hilarious stories of dumb criminals doing stupid things during the crime. It fits The Beagle Boys' image

If you google '笨贼个案' or 'cases of dumb criminals', you will find a lot of examples

笨贼 is doubly funny for me because it sounds like "stupid dicks" in Cantonese

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  • 鸡鸣狗盗:

泛指小偷小摸的行为。

Refers to petty theft in general.

  • 梁上君子

汉代陈寔(shí)的家里,夜间来了一个窃贼,躲在房梁上,陈寔把它叫做梁上君子(见于《后汉书·陈寔传》)。后来就用“梁上君子”做窃贼的代称。

In the Han Dynasty, a thief came to Chen Shi's house at night and hid on the beam of the house. Chen Yu called him the Gentleman on the Beam of the House. (see "The Book of the Eastern Han, The Biography of Chen Shi in it"). Later, people used "the Gentleman on the Beam of the House" as a synonym for thief.

  • 偷鸡摸狗

指偷盗(多指小偷小摸)

Stealing common poultry such as chickens and dogs. Refers to theft (many refers to petty theft)

  • 贼眉鼠眼贼头贼脑

形容神情、举动鬼鬼祟祟。

The look and actions are sneaky, like a thief or a mouse. Describe sneaky looks and actions.

  • 一丘之貉(hé)

同一个山丘上的貉,比喻彼此相同,没有差别的坏人。

The raccoon dog on the same hill, a metaphor for the bad people who are the same, have no difference.

  • 狼狈(bèi)为奸

传说狈是一种兽,前腿特别短,走路时要趴在狼身上,没有狼,它就不能行动。比喻互相勾结做坏事。

According to legend, bei is a kind of beast with very short front legs. It has to lie on a wolf when walking. Without a wolf, it cannot move. Metaphor of colluding with each other to do bad things.

  • 臭味相投

思想作风、兴趣等相同,很合得来(专指坏的)。

The thinking style, interest, etc. are the same, which is very compatible (specifically refers to the bad).

  • 朋比为奸

互相勾结干坏事。

Collusion to do bad things.

  • 同流合污

随着坏人一起做坏事。

Doing bad things with the bad people.

  • 刁徒泼皮

刁恶的人;流氓。

A spoiler; a rogue.

  • 油头粉面

形容人打扮过分而显轻浮。

Describes people who are overdressed, makes him look frivolous (mostly describing men).

  • 油腔滑调

形容人说话轻浮油滑。

Describes people who speak frivolously and insincerely.

  • 油头滑脑

形容人狡猾轻浮。

Describe people cunning and frivolous.

All Chinese explanations are quoted from the "Modern Chinese Dictionary, the 7th edition"(《现代汉语词典》第7版) or slightly modefied from them, and the English explanations are slightly modified after the Chinese explanations have been translated by Google.

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