Sticks Up – Meaning, Origin and Usage

Would you like to refer to the fact that someone has said or done something to defend someone else, or would you like to make a reference to a robbery where there were guns involved? Hopefully it’s the first, and not the second: the term ‘sticks up’ can be used to apply to both situations! This post unpacks the meaning and origin of this term.


The term ‘sticks up’ or sometimes used as ‘stick up’ can be used to mean two different things depending on the context in which it gets used.

The first meaning of the term ‘sticks up’, ‘stick up’ or ‘sticking up’ is to signify that a robbery has happened at gunpoint, with the term ‘stick up’ referring to the act.

The second meaning of the term can be to say that someone has defended someone else, and thus has ‘stuck up’ for them. In the present tense, the term that can be used is ‘sticking up’ for someone if it is used as a verb (or action).

When the first meaning of the term is assumed, then it can be said that someone was ‘involved in a stick up’ or that the robbery itself was a ‘stick up’ referring to the action.

When the second meaning of the term is used, then someone can ‘stick up’ for someone else.

Someone can also be referred to as being a ‘stuck up’, which is generally meant as an insult to say that someone is overly reserved.

Example Usage

“If you’re going to go down to the tavern, just let them all know that you’re new in town. You don’t want  them to think you’re there to get involved in a stick up.”

“It’s a good thing to have the kind of friends who will stick up for you at every opportunity. At the same time, it’s not good to have friends who will involve you in a stick up. It’s weird how one term can mean two different things.”

“If you don’t want to be involved in a stick up at the bar, don’t show up with a coat that looks like it could be hiding a gun. That’s the kind of thing you don’t want to be involved in.”

“If you and the guys at the office want to stick up for each other in front of the boss, that’s fine, but I’m going to ask you to leave me out of it.”


The origin of the term ‘stick up’ is said to track back to the mid-1800s, when the term was first used to indicate that someone has been robbed with the implication of a gun being involved.

Gun robberies were only referred to as a ‘stick up’ after bank robberies became more common in the United States, owing to the common command of ‘sticking up’ hands in front of a gun.

After the term achieved wide popularity throughout the United States in the 1800s, the term would later spread to popular use throughout books and newspapers that referenced the term – mostly in the context of gun-based robberies.

If someone has been involved in a stick up, then it can be said that they have been involved in a robbery as a victim or as the perpetrator: the context is usually clear from the rest of the sentence.

Phrases Similar to Sticks Up

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Phrases Opposite to Sticks Up

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What is the Correct Saying?

  • Sticking up [for someone]
  • Stuck up [for someone]
  • [Involved in] a stick up

Ways People May Say Sticks Up Incorrectly

There are several ways in which someone can understand the context of the term ‘stick up’ wrong, or use the term in the wrong context.

The most common way to refer to a ‘stick up’ is to refer to a robbery, with the immediate implication that the robbery occurred at gunpoint (or involved the use of firearms).

Acceptable Ways to Phrase Sticks Up

The correct way to use the term ‘stick up’ is to use it to indicate a robbery, or to use it as an indication that one person has stuck up for another – thus, defend them in some verbal or physical manner.

The context of the sentence will usually indicate which meaning is meant.

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