Why does the law use the word "Grand" when describing Grand Theft Auto. It's almost like they're glorifying it. Is there a lesser type of theft auto?

  • 25
    Because the only answer so far doesn't make this clear, the series was named after the existing phrase grand theft, (of the) auto (variety). "Grand theft, auto" is a phrase police would have been familiar with long before the first GTA game came out.
    – user428517
    Commented Jan 16, 2018 at 22:31
  • 22
    @sgroves I don't think the question has anything to do with the video game. Commented Jan 16, 2018 at 22:36
  • 5
    @JustinLardinois Given the capitalisation, I'm not so sure.
    – Mast
    Commented Jan 17, 2018 at 9:19
  • 9
    Your question reminds me of the closing lyric from Guns N' Roses' Civil War: "What's so civil 'bout war anyway?" :)
    – Deepak
    Commented Jan 17, 2018 at 12:57
  • 3
    Because Taking Without Owners Consent (TWOCking - the UK version of GTA) doesn't sell nearly as many games. Commented Jan 17, 2018 at 16:00

1 Answer 1


Grand theft, a term which is used in some jurisdictions, is "big theft". It is defined in California in terms of what and how much you steal, for instance "over $950" except over $250 for domestic fowl (and other things). It also includes any auto theft. Otherwise, it is known as petty theft ("small theft": the terms derive from French and sometimes spelled "petit"). On the other hand, Washington state does not use those terms, instead they have 1st, 2nd and 3rd degree theft, as well as theft of motor vehicle, two degrees of taking of motor vehicle, and so on.

  • 37
    I never realized until just now that "petty" was the anglicization of "petit", as in "petty theft". Commented Jan 16, 2018 at 21:16
  • 11
    Similarly, a "grand" jury is so named because it's larger than a trial jury. Commented Jan 16, 2018 at 21:18
  • 9
    So then I guess one can answer the OP's question with: If you steal a lemon, it might not be expensive enough to trip the "grand theft" clause in your jurisdiction, so you'd have to get charged with "petty theft auto?"
    – Cort Ammon
    Commented Jan 16, 2018 at 22:41
  • 6
    @user6726 In CO we have a unified theft statute and the value of the auto is the only thing relevant to defining the grade of the crime. The fact that it is an auto is irrelevant.
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Jan 17, 2018 at 3:17
  • 5
    @CortAmmon From the comments, the qualifier in "Grand theft, auto" is more about what's being stolen than the size. So it's not "_Grand theft, auto" vs. "Petty theft, auto" but more vs. "Grand theft, plasma TV".
    – TripeHound
    Commented Jan 17, 2018 at 9:48

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