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[pen-nahyf] /ˈpɛnˌnaɪf/
noun, plural penknives.
a small pocketknife, formerly one used for making and sharpening quill pens.
Origin of penknife
late Middle English
late Middle English word dating back to 1400-50; See origin at pen1, knife Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018.
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Examples from the Web for penknife
Contemporary Examples
Historical Examples
  • She shut the penknife which lay upon the table, and put it into her pocket.

  • Cut off as much of it as is soft with a penknife or scissors.

  • The husband mused and twirled his penknife between a finger and thumb.

    Dr. Sevier George W. Cable
  • Henry would have given his penknife not to have written that essay.

    A Great Man Arnold Bennett
  • Once when Drury cut his thumb with a penknife he fainted at the sight of his own blood!

    In a Little Town Rupert Hughes
  • "I have got a sharper knife," said he, drawing his penknife out of his pocket.

    The Teacher Jacob Abbott
  • With his penknife he slit the envelope open, and looked inside.

    From Farm to Fortune Horatio Alger Jr.
  • It was made by his own hands with a penknife during the hours allotted to him for rest.

    Gov. Bob. Taylor's Tales Robert L. Taylor
  • And with the point of a penknife she pulled out the little leaden shot.

    The Champdoce Mystery Emile Gaboriau
British Dictionary definitions for penknife


noun (pl) -knives
a small knife with one or more blades that fold into the handle; pocketknife
Word Origin
C15: so called because it was originally used for making and repairing quill pens
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 penknife

early 15c., from pen (n.1) + knife (n.). So called because such small knives were used to sharpen quills.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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