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[klee-verz] /ˈkli vərz/
noun, plural cleavers.
a North American plant, Galium aparine, of the madder family, having short, hooked bristles on the stems and leaves and bearing very small white flowers.
any of certain related species.
Also, clivers.
Also called catchweed, goose grass.
Origin of cleavers
before 1000; Middle English clivre, Old English clife burdock (-re probably by association with Middle English clivres (plural) claws, or with the agent noun from cleven to cleave1, whence the modern spelling)


[klee-ver] /ˈkli vər/
a heavy, broad-bladed knife or long-bladed hatchet, especially one used by butchers for cutting meat into joints or pieces.
a person or thing that cleaves.
First recorded in 1325-75, cleaver is from the Middle English word clevere. See cleave2, -er1 Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018.
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Examples from the Web for cleavers
Contemporary Examples
Historical Examples
  • A tremendous noise of cleavers and pans came from the kitchen.

  • The antique fireplace and the ancient mantelpiece were forced to keep company with meat blocks and butchers' cleavers.

    Duffels Edward Eggleston
  • Before him was a glass counter wherein were displayed knives and cleavers and scissors and other cutlery.


    George Looms
  • The town might follow us to church with a serenade of marrowbones and cleavers, as they do the butchers.

  • "Galium tricorne," very much like common goose-grass or cleavers, but rare in England, and quite unknown in this neighbourhood.

    In a Cheshire Garden Geoffrey Egerton-Warburton
  • Then there arrived the butchers, with their marrowbones and cleavers, and began to make their music with zeal.

    The Lady of Lynn

    Walter Besant
  • It was formerly the custom for butchers' assistants to provide themselves with marrow-bones and cleavers for musical effects.

    Charles Dickens and Music James T. Lightwood
  • The men who play the bells have got scent of the marriage; and the marrow-bones and cleavers too; and a brass band too.

    Charles Dickens and Music James T. Lightwood
  • And now the bark is sailing up the Thames, with bells ringing, bonfires blazing, and "bones and cleavers" clashing.

    Alexander Pope Leslie Stephen
British Dictionary definitions for cleavers


(functioning as sing) a Eurasian rubiaceous plant, Galium aparine, having small white flowers and prickly stems and fruits Also called goosegrass, hairif, sticky willie
Word Origin
Old English clīfe; related to clīfan to cleave²


a heavy knife or long-bladed hatchet, esp one used by butchers
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Word Origin and History for cleavers



late 15c., "one who splits," agent noun from cleave (v.1). Originally "one who splits boards with a wedge instead of sawing;" attested as part of a surname from mid-14c. Meaning "butcher's chopper" is from mid-15c.

This last ["Marrowbones and Cleaver"] is a sign in Fetter Lane, originating from a custom, now rapidly dying away, of the butcher boys serenading newly married couples with these professional instruments. Formerly, the band would consist of four cleavers, each of a different tone, or, if complete, of eight, and by beating their marrowbones skilfully against these, they obtained a sort of music somewhat after the fashion of indifferent bell-ringing. When well performed, however, and heard from a proper distance, it was not altogether unpleasant. ... The butchers of Clare market had the reputation of being the best performers. ... This music was once so common that Tom Killigrew called it the national instrument of England. [Larwood & Hotten, "The History of Signboards from the Earliest Times to the Present Day," London, 1867]

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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cleavers in Science
A bifacial stone tool flaked to produce a straight, sharp, relatively wide edge at one end. Cleavers are early core tools associated primarily with the Acheulian tool culture.
The American Heritage® Science Dictionary
Copyright © 2002. Published by Houghton Mifflin. All rights reserved.
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