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[neyv] /neɪv/
an unprincipled, untrustworthy, or dishonest person.
Cards. jack1 (def 2).
  1. a male servant.
  2. a man of humble position.
Origin of knave
before 1000; Middle English; Old English cnafa; cognate with German Knabe boy; akin to Old Norse knapi page, boy
Can be confused
knave, naval, nave (see synonym study at the current entry)
1. blackguard, villain, scamp, scapegrace. Knave, rascal, rogue, scoundrel are disparaging terms applied to persons considered base, dishonest, or worthless. Knave, which formerly meant merely a boy or servant, in modern use emphasizes baseness of nature and intention: a dishonest and swindling knave. Rascal suggests shrewdness and trickery in dishonesty: a plausible rascal. A rogue is a worthless fellow who sometimes preys extensively upon the community by fraud: photographs of criminals in a rogues' gallery. A scoundrel is a blackguard and rogue of the worst sort: a thorough scoundrel. Rascal and rogue are often used affectionately or humorously (an entertaining rascal; a saucy rogue ), but knave and scoundrel are not.
hero. Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018.
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Examples from the Web for knaves
Historical Examples
  • The knaves led them from the stables, but fled without them.

    The White Company Arthur Conan Doyle
  • Why should you leave all the gains to the gluttons, knaves, and impostors?

    Little Dorrit Charles Dickens
  • Assisted by a couple of knaves, Ganymede went about attending to the rebel at once.

    Bardelys the Magnificent Rafael Sabatini
  • And so, what think you these two knaves—this master knave and his dupe—have determined?

    The Suitors of Yvonne Raphael Sabatini
  • And so I pushed on to Blois with my knaves close at my heels.

    The Suitors of Yvonne Raphael Sabatini
  • Let a couple of your knaves be in attendance, and do you come too, Martino.

    Love-at-Arms Raphael Sabatini
  • But the people—the people—the people are neither fools nor knaves!

    The Long Roll Mary Johnston
  • Was not his common talk, When the knaves have railed their fill, then will they hold their peace?'

    John Knox

    A. Taylor Innes
  • He regarded towns as the abodes of vice, and citizens as rogues and knaves.

  • Break your alliance with these people if you wish—an alliance of fools with fools, knaves with knaves!

    The Lion's Brood

    Duffield Osborne
British Dictionary definitions for knaves


(archaic) a dishonest man; rogue
another word for jack1 (sense 6)
(obsolete) a male servant
Derived Forms
knavish, adjective
knavishly, adverb
knavishness, noun
Word Origin
Old English cnafa; related to Old High German knabo boy
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 knaves



Old English cnafa "boy, male servant," common Germanic (cf. Old High German knabo "boy, youth, servant," German knabe "boy, lad," also probably related to Old English cnapa "boy, youth, servant," Old Norse knapi "servant boy," Dutch knaap "a youth, servant," Middle High German knappe "a young squire," German Knappe "squire, shield-bearer"). The original meaning might have been "stick, piece of wood" [Klein]. Sense of "rogue, rascal" first recorded c.1200. In playing cards, "the jack," 1560s.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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